Sensitive skin (or reactive or hyper-reactive skin) is defined as skin that reacts by erythema and/or subjective symptoms (pricking, burning, pain, pruritus etc.) to stimuli that are not pathogens in themselves (e.g. wind, heat, cold, water, cosmetics, stress). This phenomenon is very frequent, occurring in about 50% of the European population.
Sensitive skin is always reported on the face. The aim of our study was to determine if it can occur in other localizations.
We have performed this study in two centres. One was a department of dermatology in a university hospital while the other one was a centre for cosmetological studies. A questionnaire was given to women aged > 15 years. The questions were: Do you have sensitive skin? If yes, in which localization? What are the symptoms and triggering factors?
Four hundred subjects were included in the study (200 in each centre). The two populations were similar in terms of age, sex, and most of the results. The mean age was 40 years. Eighty-five per cent of the 400 subjects declared that they had sensitive skin on the face, and 70% had sensitive skin in another area: hands (58%), scalp (36%), feet (34%), neck (27%), torso (23%) or back (21%). Triggering factors included cold (66%), heat (28%), stress (61%), sun exposure (51%), wind (42%), water from a shower (29%) or a swimming pool (40%), soaps (42%), cosmetics (28%) and pollution (18%). Friction from clothes was reported in 28% of cases. Sensitive skin was observed as redness in most cases along with various subjective symptoms.
The proportion of subjects presenting with sensitive skin is probably overestimated. However, the main result of this study is that sensitive skin is not restricted to the face but rather it is also present at other localizations, mainly the hands, and often the scalp and feet.