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Sensitive vs. Sensitized Skin: What's the Difference?

woman applying face cream while looking in the mirror

Skincare may be a touchy subject for you if you struggle with sensitive skin. While the benefits skincare products offer are appealing, if it seems like everything that comes into contact with your face causes dryness, breakouts and irritation… even reading yet another article about skincare can seem daunting!

Reactive or sensitive skin can be frustrating, depending on how severe your reactions tend to be. But if you’ve never spoken to a dermatologist about your problem skin, you may have taken for granted what the issue actually is!

There’s a difference between having sensitive skin and sensitized skin. If you have never heard of sensitized skin, let us enlighten you.

Let’s talk about the difference between having sensitive skin and sensitized skin.

What Is Sensitive Skin?

Sensitive skin is a skin type nobody envies. You probably became aware of your sensitive skin at a young age, and it’s likely been a lifelong frustration. If almost any product tends to break you out, and even seemingly minor irritations like a change in the weather, a new laundry detergent or moving to an area with more pollution can leave you red-faced and itchy— you probably have sensitive skin.

Whether or not you have sensitive skin is mostly determined by genetics, like any other skin type — if your family tends to have oily skin, you probably do, too. If your family tends to have dry skin, ditto. It’s the same for sensitive skin.

You’re more likely to struggle with sensitive skin if your skin is fairer. The less pigment your skin has, the less of a protective barrier it has, enabling environmental factors that wouldn’t bother most people to penetrate your skin and cause a negative reaction.

What Is Sensitized Skin?

Sensitized skin sounds the same, but it’s actually quite different when it comes to the root cause and how you handle it. In appearance, though, much like in the name, sensitized skin presents very similarly to sensitive skin. The primary difference is that sensitized skin isn’t a skin type at all — it’s a skin condition.

If your skin has negative reactions to things like medication, certain foods, sun or certain skincare products, it might be sensitized skin rather than sensitive skin. The main way you’ll be able to spot the difference is if your skin hasn’t seemed sensitive your whole life. Your skin can become sensitized after a change in your routine, environment or product — but it isn’t due to genetics, and you aren’t born with it.

Obviously, the best way to get to the bottom of what’s really going on with your complexion is to speak to a trusted professional or dermatologist. They’re best suited to help give you the road map you need to re-chart your relationship with your skin so you can get it glowing. But understanding the difference between things like sensitized skin and sensitive skin yourself can be a good place to start!

Why This Matters to You

It matters a lot, actually! Because sensitized skin and sensitive skin can present similarly, and both are conditions that result from contact with an irritant, most people aren’t really aware that the negative reactions their skin has could be the result of something totally solvable rather than the result of a skin type they can’t really change.

Of course, there are things you can do to give even sensitive skin a helping hand to reduce the instances of breakouts or irritation. Often, the treatment for the two skin complaints will be quite similar. The difference is that if a product or environmental factor merely sensitizes your skin, once you isolate the product that’s causing the issue and discontinue use, your problem should clear up. Unless you discover something else that causes your skin to pitch a fit, it shouldn’t come back.

On the other hand, sensitive skin is your permanent state of being — for better or worse. There are things you can do to help your skin stay healthy, nourished and even-looking, but those things are going to be lifelong changes to your skincare routine and possibly even your diet or lifestyle.

If you’ve assumed your skin was sensitive but are now realizing that nobody in your family seems to have the same issue, you might be wondering if you actually have sensitized skin after all and what you can do about it.

What Can You Do About It?

If your skin breaks out, dries out or otherwise shows signs of irritation regularly, the best thing to do is stop using your current skincare routine. Seriously.

When it comes to your skincare routine, you’ll want to put every product on the shelf except for one. Reduce your routine to one simple product, and see if your skin improves after several days. If your skin seems to be getting better or hasn’t had any further breakouts after a week, you can bring one more product back into your routine. Carry on until you’ve re-integrated your skincare routine entirely with no negative effects — or until you bring in a product that makes your skin react!

If your skin shows a negative reaction to one of the products you use, you know that you’re going to have to get rid of it or replace it. Don’t just chuck it in the trash, though — we totally get the urge, especially if it’s something pricey. Make sure to take note of the ingredients so that you can try to get a clearer idea of what it is exactly that’s bothering your skin so much. That way, you’ll be able to avoid it in the future.

While you can totally get back to a more elaborate skincare routine even with sensitized skin as long as you introduce everything slowly and methodically, we think it’s best to stick to a simple plan if your skin is sensitive, or if you’re recovering from sensitized skin.

Other than cutting back on your skincare routine, we’d recommend cutting out any products like laundry detergent containing many harsh ingredients like perfume. Keep it simple is the golden rule, whether your skin is temporarily sensitized or sensitive overall.

In Conclusion

Although sensitized and sensitive skin is largely present in the same way and can mostly be taken care of with the same process, it’s important to understand the difference. While one is a lifelong skin type you’ll need to learn to manage, one can be cleared up by cleaning up your act. Whatever the case, it’s always a good idea to look at the products that come into contact with your skin a little more closely.

By: Tiesha Bridges Licensed Aesthetician & Customer
Service Representative