5 signs of skin sensitivity and how to defend against it

Our guide to figuring out the problem and formulating a plan

Digital Beauty Editor / October 11 2021

Ever found out after the fact that someone was having a hard time, and felt dreadful that you didn’t do anything to aid them? It can be a super frustrating scenario, we know. 

Because, after all, how on earth can you help if you don’t even know there’s something that needs to be helped?!

Well, luckily your skin is actually pretty damn great at communicating, especially when it comes to issues like sensitivity.

Are the signs it uses to tell you pleasant? No. But hey, it’s your skin’s way of saying “hi, help me, please”, so it must be done in a way that will make you sit up and take notice. 

It’s better to know, right? If you’re aware of the issue, you can get to the bottom of the cause, and work on actioning a solution. Once said solution is in play, your skin should be back on the road to recovery – a welcome change.

So without further ado, here are five signs of skin sensitivity to look out for, and what to do if you notice them…

#1 Weakened skin moisture barrier

Think about it this way: if you had holes in your front door, there’s a good chance that some of your beloved belongings may make their way out, while some other not so ideal things might also sneak in.

That’s basically how the skin barrier works, too – it’s important to keep it intact to make sure the good stuff (like moisture) stays in and the bad stuff (AKA irritants) stay out. As for the ‘how to tell’ aspect, a weakened skin moisture barrier will often beg for help in the form of dryness, dullness, itchiness or irritation, so be on the lookout for (sometimes literal) red flags.

What kind of things can weaken it, you ask? Any skin care habits or ingredients that are too harsh or abrasive can do damage. You’ll want to avoid stripping your skin by not only avoiding harsh cleansing and exfoliating routines, but specifically searching for cleansing products that actually strengthen the moisture barrier rather than breaking it down further.

Yes indeed, get a good hydrating cleanser like the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($7.69 for 250ml at Chemist Warehouse) on your skin barrier’s side ASAP and reap the rewards; it actually hydrates while it cleanses – genius.

#2 Irritation

Irritation basically serves as the skin’s version of a desperate cry for attention. You’re always going to notice a stinging sensation, unrelenting itch or angry patch of redness after all, right?

Inflammation is downright unpleasant (and sometimes even straight up painful), so if you’re facing it, we recommend taking these steps to bid it adieu ASAP.

For starters, limit the length (and lower the temperature) of your showers. Yes, we know long, relaxing steam sessions are delightful, but you know what’s not? Irritated skin.

Aside from that, we advise being extra diligent with your SPF for added protection, and sticking to a skin care routine that’s specifically designed to both address current spouts of irritation, and also prevent future ones. Look for keywords like ‘fragrance-free’, ‘hydrating’ and ‘gentle’ to know you’re on the right track.

#3 Roughness

Another tell-tale sign of sensitivity? Uneven, almost scaly skin texture that seems so unhappy it wants to flake right off your face and body.

Roughness seems like a cruel side effect of sensitivity, though, right? Because you know your skin is begging to be exfoliated, but um hello, it’s already angry – won’t a harsh scrub only make matters worse?

Technically, yes – a harsh one may exacerbate the issue, but a gentle one designed to suit sensitive skin will work wonders, helping to clear away uneven texture without triggering further reactions.

Try to find an exfoliating cleanser that specifically shouts about being gentle enough for daily use, like the Cetaphil Daily Exfoliating Cleanser ($11.99 for 178ml at Chemist Warehouse) – that’s a pretty good indicator re: the whole ‘suitable for sensitive skin’ thing.

#4 Dryness

Dehydration and sensitivity go together like the uncomfortable skin versions of Mary Kate and Ashley; they just tend to come as a package duo.

Of course, many things can play into dryness of the skin, with causes ranging from the fact you’ve been neglecting your moisturising routine to a particularly dry or cold climate. 

But while we can’t exactly control the weather (oh if we could), we can work on nourishing our skin from the outside in.

A replenishing hydrator that’ll help you ramp up your moisture levels? Cetaphil Moisturising Cream ($15.99 for 550g at Chemist Warehouse), a fragrance-free option designed to provide plenty of long-lasting hydration. We advise applying diligently and generously after every (say it with us) lukewarm and swift shower.

#5 Tightness

Firmness is one thing; tightness is another, and it can also be a sign of sensitivity. How to tell the two apart? Firmness is more of a feeling to the touch, whereas tightness almost feels like an overzealous awareness of your skin’s existence and a feeling that it’s overly or uncomfortably taut to your face or body.

Because this dreaded ‘tight’ feeling is something that can happen all over, be sure to keep up a replenishing wash-and-moisturise routine from top to toe to bring back elasticity and reduce discomfort.

Remember those nourishing, hydrating cleansers and moisturisers we’ve been harping on about? They’ll help here, too. Talk about some dynamite allies to keep up your sensitive skin-friendly sleeve…

Main image credit: @haileybieber

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