Sensitive skin

Does your skin feel like a diva that you can’t please? This is frustrating, but don’t panic: There are ways and means to soothe sensitive skin. Find out where dangers lurk for your skin and why too much care is sometimes counterproductive.

  • Sensitive skin reacts to harmless stimuli with irritation.

  • The top priority when caring for sensitive skin is to avoid possible irritants.

  • Fragrances, preservatives, exfoliants and some anti-ageing products can be problematic for sensitive skin.

Empfindliche Haut - Ursachen und Pflege
From Head of Cosmetics:

From Head of Cosmetics:

Medically reviewed by:

Medically reviewed by:

Empfindliche Haut

What does sensitive skin look like?

Sensitive skin can appear completely unchanged on the outside. In fact, skin irritations are sometimes only noticeablethrough subjective symptoms, such as:

  • Itching
  • Feeling of tension
  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Stitching

However, objectively visible signs such as redness, dilated veins or scales are also possible if your skin reacts to irritants. Wheals, blisters or skin blemishes can also occur.

The face is most frequently affected by these skin irritations, and unfortunately this is where they are particularly unpleasant.

How does sensitive skin develop?

Although sensitive skin is so common, the causes are still not fully understood. The following reasons are discussed in the research world:

Weakened skin barrier

Healthy skin has a sophisticated system of defense mechanisms to protect itself from harmful external influences. For example, the skin’s protective acid mantle, which you have probably already heard of, plays a key role. However, our skin’s protective systems can easily be damaged – for example by washing too often. This can lead to suddenly sensitive skin.

In many people, the skin barrier is chronically weakened. This is very likely if you have dry (low-fat) and / or dehydrated (low-water) skin. Skin dryness is therefore an important risk factor.

Altered skin microbiome

Our skin is a playground for billions of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms. This so-called skin microbiome is normally not only harmless, but actually very beneficial. The tiny organisms stabilize the healthy pH value of the skin and act as a kind of bouncer for other germs.

However, if “bad” microorganisms get out of hand, this could weaken skin health and promote hypersensitivity reactions.

Increased irritability of the skin nerves

Have you ever experienced tingling, burning or pain in your skin even though you can’t see anything? This may be due to hypersensitivity of the skin nerves. As our facial skin has a particularly large number of nerves, it stands to reason that the symptoms are particularly pronounced there.

When does sensitive skin become a problem?

Not every tingling sensation and every hint of redness is a case for the dermatologist’s office. If you know your triggers and what to look out for, you can live well with sensitive skin.

However, it is sometimes unclear what exactly triggers the skin irritation. And sometimes the discomfort is so severe that you can no longer ignore it. Then a professional should get to the bottom of it. Your sensitive skin could be hiding a contact allergy, for example. Food allergies are also often reflected in the appearance of the skin.

Sometimes the boundaries between sensitive but healthy skin and genuine skin diseases are blurred. Some people with sensitive skin are prone to conditions such as neurodermatitis, psoriasis, acne or rosacea (“copper rose”), which can and should be treated medically.

Sensitive skin: the right cleanser

Even daily cleansing makes your skin rebel? Then you may be using unsuitable products. In general, you should use pH-neutral cleansers that leave your skin’s protective acid mantle intact. They should also be tailored to your skin type – if you have dry skin, for example, they should have as little degreasing effect as possible.

Cleansing products based on sugar surfactants, for example, are considered mild and generally well tolerated by dry, sensitive skin. You can recognize them by names such as coco glucose, decyl glucoside or lauryl glucoside. In general, surfactants are essential for a good cleaner. Unfortunately, 99% of surfactants for cosmetics are made from coconut or palm oil – both of which are known for their climate-damaging properties. Keyword: rainforest deforestation and long transportation routes.

Pure, lukewarm water is even more skin-friendly and ecological. Especially if you have dry skin, you can skip the cleansing milk for your face in the morning. You only need it in the evening to remove make-up or sunscreen.

Oily skin or the oily parts of combination skin are usually more robust. It can be a good idea to remove excess sebum.

Sensitive skin: the right care

What makes sensitive skin so frustrating is that if you mean well and take particularly good care of it, it sometimes gets really rough. In fact, cosmetics are among the most important trigger factors for sensitive skin.

Of course, this does not mean that you should stop caring for your sensitive skin. However, you should be very careful when selecting products. Here are a few tips:

Pay attention to the ingredients

Because sensitive skin is so common, cosmetics manufacturers are courting you with special product lines. Products “for sensitive skin” are a good start. Unfortunately, however, there are no binding criteria as to what properties these products must have. That’s why you should take the time to check the ingredients yourself.

Tip: Lists of ingredients in cosmetics often resemble a Spanish village. Special apps that provide you with clear information about the ingredients and their properties are useful. In most cases, all you need to do is scan the barcode on the packaging.

The following could be problematic for sensitive skin:

  • Fragrances: As irritant. Also for your skin. Everything that comes into direct contact with your skin should therefore be as fragrance-free as possible. And your favorite perfume? It’s better to spray it in your hair or on your clothes.
  • Preservatives: Although the subject is somewhat controversial, some preservatives are suspected of causing skin irritation. However, there are safe substances with a preservative effect, such as glycerine or vitamin E.
  • Exfoliants: If you have sensitive skin, it is better to avoid conventional mechanical and chemical exfoliants. The abrasive particles or acids they contain are often far too aggressive and can worsen the appearance of your skin.
  • Alcohol: Is often contained in deodorants, after shaves or sun protection products. If the concentration is too high, it strongly degreases the skin and can destroy the protective acid mantle, including the “good” microorganisms.

You may think that you are on the safe side with natural cosmetics. Unfortunately, not quite: even “natural” ingredients such as essential oils and plant extracts can cause skin irritations or allergic reactions in some people. This also applies to traditional medicinal plants such as camomile, yarrow, marigold and arnica.

For acutely irritated skin: Back to the start

If your skin is acting up, you may be inclined to apply a lot of cream. But be careful: you may be overstressing your skin.

Omitting is often the better strategy. Because the fewer products you use, the fewer potential irritants get onto your skin. Sometimes doctors even recommend avoiding all skincare and cosmetic products for a few weeks if the skin is acutely irritated. You can then test individually which ones you can and cannot tolerate.

It’s generally good for your skin to take a complete make-up break every now and then. The only thing you shouldn’t do without outside is sun protection, as UV radiation can also irritate the skin.

Sensitive skin and anti-ageing – a sensitive topic

Mature skin also often reacts sensitively. However, you should be careful with care products specifically for mature skin. This is because some typical ingredients can irritate sensitive skin: for example, retinol or fruit acids, which are often used to treat age spots or facial wrinkles.

But the dose makes the poison. Creams with a low active ingredient content may be individually tolerated. There are also alternatives such as products with hyaluronic acid, which even have a soothing effect on the skin. If you want to be on the safe side, seek medical advice before using anti-ageing products.

Also remember: the most effective anti-ageing measure is to keep your skin healthy and protect it from the sun. This is because chronic inflammatory processes damage your skin just as much as too much UV radiation, both of which cause it to age more quickly.

Do you have any other questions about your sensitive skin or are you unsure whether you are doing everything right in your daily skincare routine? We would be happy to advise you personally.

Any questions? Our FAQ section has the answers!

Suddenly sensitive skin can have numerous causes. This is often because your skin is too dry and its barrier function is weakened. Another possible reason is cosmetic ingredients or detergent residues if you have recently used new products. Hormonal changes such as the menopause or pregnancy, your diet and, last but not least, psychological stress can also influence the sensitivity of the skin.

Active ingredients with a proven skin-soothing effect include dexpanthenol, polidocanol, licochalcone A, hamamelidis, glyczyrrhetinic acid, oat extract, bisabolol, vitamin E or vitamin B (niacinamide). There are also prescription-only active ingredients that a doctor can prescribe to soothe acutely irritated skin.

Unfortunately, there is no patent remedy because the conditions and trigger factors for sensitive skin are very individual. In general, care products that help to build up the skin barrier and at the same time do not contain any problematic ingredients help. Moisturizing creams that contain moisturizing and skin-soothing active ingredients and are as free from fragrances and preservatives as possible are suitable for basic care. Look out for products with short lists of ingredients.

More questions? Simply make a personal consultation appointment online.


Last updated: 28.05.2024