Hypersensitive facial skin with a tendency to redness
In contrast to many other skin problems, very sensitive facial skin does not always show visible signs despite the severe discomfort. The problem is quite common. Studies have shown that skin subjectively perceived as sensitive is widespread in industrialized countries, and according to dermatologists around the world, the number of claims in this regard is increasing. However, in view of the subjective symptoms, no exact figures can be given.
Hypersensitive skin – or very sensitive skin – is often complained about and is usually an unpleasant skin experience with no visible signs, i.e. only the person affected notices the signs, such as burning, itching or stinging. Hypersensitive skin can also be associated with visible signs (dry skin, irritation, eczema, pimples, redness, desquamation). Special attention should be paid to the redness of the skin in order to rule out developing rosacea or to treat it in time.
Hypersensitive facial skin is more susceptible to irritation due to a disturbed skin barrier and hypersensitive nerve fibres. While many signs of very sensitive skin are not visible, the appearance of the skin is accompanied by redness in some people. The skin reacts quickly to stimuli that are unproblematic for normal skin. Red spots appear on the face, especially on the cheeks, in the T-zone, on the forehead and on the chin.
Which signs appear with very sensitive facial skin?
The three characteristics of very sensitive skin are: a disturbed protective barrier, hypersensitive sensory receptors in the epidermis and reddened skin, often caused by inflammation. The skin reacts quickly to stimuli that are unproblematic for normal skin. These stress factors can cause erythema, a reddening of the skin, in the long run.
There are numerous reasons why facial skin can redden, some (but not all) of which are associated with hypersensitive skin.
In the worst case, behind the reddened facial skin, spontaneous redness and inflammation is a chronic skin disease: rosacea. Their symptoms occur in attacks when triggers are present.
Skin with a tendency to couperose also experiences the stinging, burning and other sensations described for hypersensitive skin, but the facial skin shows small dilated veins in addition to the redness. The facial skin is often tight and irritated.
The disrupted skin barrier also causes increased water loss through the skin, which can lead to dry facial skin.
The nerve fibres in the epidermis react much faster and stronger than in normal skin. They are activated by stress factors that cause unpleasant sensations. These are often described by those affected as stinging, burning or a feeling of tension. As a result of the disturbed skin barrier, the skin reacts susceptible to external stress factors in case of hypersensitivity.
These skin sensations, which are not visible, can only be assessed on the basis of the description of the affected persons. This makes diagnosis difficult, as both the sensation of pain and the description of the signs vary from person to person.
The skin sensations change depending on the presence of the triggers. Hypersensitive facial skin is particularly susceptible to psychological, environmental, mechanical and hormonal factors. Sensitive skin often reacts to external factors such as chemicals, fragrances and detergents. These factors are rarely the source of irritation in normal, healthy skin.
Hypersensitive skin is defined as skin which reacts excessively to different, differently aggressive factors which are unproblematic for normal skin. In the heavier and more common version of sensitive skin, hypersensitive skin, an uncomfortable skin sensation and visible reactions are typical, which occur on contact with normally harmless internal or external stress factors such as extreme temperatures, chemicals or UV rays. The sensations and their intensity vary from person to person and can make diagnosis difficult.
Three common signs are usually present in those affected: a disrupted skin barrier, very rapidly irritable nerve fibres in the epidermis and redness, often caused by inflammation. Together these are known as the triad of hypersensitive skin.
The disrupted skin barrier leads to increased water loss through the skin, which is more prone to irritation.
The excessively irritable nerve fibres in the epidermis react faster and much more strongly than in normal skin. As a result, the nerve fibres trigger unpleasant skin sensations, which are described as stinging, burning or tightening of the face or scalp and are not visible.
Sensitive to hypersensitive skin can also be observed with dry skin or acne during a treatment. If a reddening of the skin occurs on sensitive to hypersensitive skin, couperosis or rosacea has to be excluded.
Although dry skin or acne may occur due to hypersensitive skin, such skin is not considered hypersensitive unless uncomfortable skin sensations occur. In the same way, redness that occurs in addition to sensations can lead to skin prone to couperose and eventually to rosacea, but redness does not only occur in hypersensitive skin.
Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting up to 10% of adults. Signs include redness of the cheeks, chin, nose and forehead, and in more advanced stages, the appearance of papules and pustules. In the worst case, a rhinophyma develops – a thickening of the skin and excess tissue that gives the nose the appearance of a bulb. The first stage of rosacea is couperosis with dilated skin vessels that no longer contract. Eye involvement is also possible, which manifests itself in a feeling of dry eyes or irritation.
Hypersensitivity can also occur in connection with dry skin and skin prone to acne
Redness due to hypersensitivity usually occurs on the cheeks, in the T-zone and on the chin
More information about hypersensitivity in general. Check our article
More information about acne prone skin. Check our article
More information about rosacea and skin prone to couperose. Check our article
If you suspect that you have rosacea, you should consult a doctor or dermatologist as early treatment can reduce the likelihood of progression.
Causes and triggers of hypersensitive skin
In case of hypersensitive skin reactions may be triggered by environmental, psychological external and mechanical factors.
- Spontaneous skin redness (also called flushing) – a physiological reaction in the face and other parts of the body that is accompanied by a distinct redness – for example, due to medication, fever, stress, alcohol or spices.
- Blushing (also known as blushing) – a milder form of skin redness that can occur quickly when the blood vessels in the face dilate. This happens, for example, when the skin is overheated (during sports, high ambient temperature or hot flushes during menopause) and needs to cool down, but also in embarrassing situations or during stress.
- Sunburn – Reddening and sometimes inflammation of the skin in response to harmful UV radiation.
- Allergic reactions – stained spots due to contact with allergens.
- Injuries, infections or inflammations.
Psychological factors include
- powerful emotions
External factors include:
- unsuitable skin cleansing and care products
- spicy food
- Additives in swimming pools
- especially hard water
Although the signs are individually different, continuous tingling, stinging, burning or similar skin sensations are typical for hypersensitive facial skin. Some people have dry or pimply skin, while others have a tendency to redness (couperose or even rosacea).
These visible and non-visible signs can be triggered by various internal and external stress factors. Here, too, the triggers are individually different, but there are general irritating factors that are known to worsen the skin’s appearance. These are:
Environmental factors such as strong temperature changes, extreme heat or cold, wind, sun and air pollution. Air pollution, especially in the cities, is blamed for the increasing number of very sensitive facial skin
External factors. These are usually skin irritating chemicals or inappropriate ingredients in cosmetics, such as certain facial cleansers, fragrances, inappropriate detergents, particularly hard water, baths, showers and swimming pools. The increasing number of reports of allergic reactions has raised awareness of “pure” or “0%” cosmetics and detergents in recent years. These contain only a limited number of selected ingredients.
Psychological factors such as stress, anger or strong emotions can trigger hypersensitivity, as can hormonal factors, for example the menstrual cycle
Mechanical factors exerting pressure on the skin can damage the already disrupted skin barrier and irritate the underlying nerve fibres.
Other additional factors
There are other factors that play a role in reddened facial skin: age, genetic factors, hormonal factors, dry skin, ethnicity, pigmentation, previous illnesses and lifestyle. According to an article in the dermatological journal International Journal of Dermatology*, the majority of test subjects with “sensitive” or “very sensitive” skin, whose skin reddens quickly after sunbathing, suffered sunburn in childhood. This could be due to the light sensitivity of the individual skin type, as sensitive skin occurs mainly in fair-skinned people.
Especially in urban areas, increasing air pollution has led to a more frequent occurrence of hypersensitive facial skin. Because the skin barrier is constantly exposed to aggressive substances in the air and the nerve fibres in the skin are continuously irritated, the skin becomes more vulnerable.
For very sensitive facial skin there is a rule of thumb: less is more. In other words, less effort is better. Do not use products with fragrances and preservatives.
You should also be careful with your diet, as spicy food and alcohol can be stress factors.
Everyone reacts to different irritants, so it is important to determine the individual factors. In the case of cosmetics and skin creams, for example, it makes sense not to use several new products at once, but one after the other. Ideally, they are first tested on a small area of the forearm. It is possible that a reaction only becomes apparent later, so that a new ingredient should only be used when the previous one has definitely not caused any side effects.
Another way of avoiding triggers is to keep a diary in which temperature, pollution, emotional state and contact with cosmetics or cleaning products etc. are recorded every day and compared with visible or invisible reactions. By determining the triggers, you can adjust your lifestyle to minimize the consequences. Psychological factors can be reduced by yoga or meditation, for example.
For some people the sunlight, sometimes even only the SPF additives of certain sun creams are a problem. But there are also numerous sun creams with “pure” formulations, whose containers protect against impurities.
Increasing global air pollution, especially in cities, and the fact that allergic reactions are on the increase, leads more and more often to hypersensitive skin.
Other triggers suspected are skin-irritating chemicals (e.g. surfactants such as SLS or SLES), certain preservatives and alcohol, and some additives in adhesive plasters and plaster strips and herbs. Sometimes hormonal factors, such as the menstrual cycle, are also suspected.
Certain substances, dyes and chemicals used to impregnate clothing can also irritate hypersensitive skin. Synthetic and non-iron materials in particular contain a number of chemicals such as formaldehyde, which can cause skin irritation and allergies.
Care recommendations for hypersensitive facial skin
Prevention is always the best medicine, so all known triggers should be avoided. However, this is not always practicable, therefore at least skin care products should be used which repair and protect the disturbed skin barrier. In order to minimize the probability of intolerance or allergic reactions, only “pure” or “0%” creams with a limited number of ingredients should be used, e.g. without fragrances or preservatives. You should also look for products in containers that prevent contamination.
Very sensitive skin without redness is a problem that does not have to be a permanent burden and can even return to normal. It requires a coordinated, preventive skin care in combination with some rules of conduct. Successful care for very sensitive facial skin counteracts all three characteristics of very sensitive skin (known as the triad of very sensitive skin):
- Disturbed protective barrier: With very sensitive skin, the skin barrier is disturbed. It is therefore more prone to irritation and more quickly.
- Hypersensitive sensory receptors: In sensitive skin, the sensory receptors react faster and more irritated than in normal skin. This then triggers an unpleasant skin sensation
- Redness: Internal and external factors can lead to increased stress on the skin and thus to redness. If necessary, a medicinal therapy is required which should be combined with the right skin cleansing and care.
The function of the disrupted barrier can be improved by regular moisturising to counteract water loss through the skin and prevent dehydration. Moisturizing products for hypersensitive skin should contain only a limited number of ingredients to reduce the likelihood of intolerance and allergic reactions. To prevent oxidation of the formulations, the container should protect against contamination.
Eucerin is now using a new active ingredient in its new UltraSENSITIVE skin care range: SymSitive*. SymSitive* reduces the excessive reaction of nerve fibers and balances the skin’s sensitivity threshold. The active ingredient immediately soothes irritations and unpleasant skin sensations such as stinging and burning for a long-lasting feeling of well-being for the skin.
For skin prone to redness, Licochalcone A, a natural anti-inflammatory antioxidant, immediately soothes skin irritations and visibly reduces redness. With hypersensitive skin, more water is lost through the skin. Regular moisturising care is therefore necessary.