How to Distinguish Between Skin Sensitivity and Allergies?

In recent years, with the increased awareness of skincare, the widespread use of skincare products, and a growing concern for personal skin issues, we have noticed a rising number of individuals with sensitive skin. The incidence of sensitive skin is on the rise. However, many people find it challenging to differentiate between skin sensitivity and allergies.

I. Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin refers to a highly intolerant state of the skin, where specific areas of the skin are sensitive to mild external stimuli. After using everyday skincare products, cleaning agents, or exposure to certain environments, the skin may exhibit sensations such as itching, burning, stinging, tightness, or pain. In severe cases, it can manifest as skin erythema and peeling.

Sensitive skin is primarily a subjective symptom, and the majority of individuals with sensitive skin have a normal skin appearance. In a few cases, redness, erythema, dilated capillaries, and fine scales may be present. Skin sensitivity represents a suboptimal health condition of the skin(sources from

II. Skin Allergies

Skin allergies occur in a minority of patients who experience inflammatory reactions in response to specific allergens. This immune response results in symptoms such as skin redness, swelling, itching, and, in severe cases, the formation of blisters, erosion, and oozing. Peeling may occur during the recovery phase.

III. Commonalities between Skin Sensitivity and Allergies

Both conditions share the common clinical feature of local skin manifestations, such as erythema, papules, and itching, following exposure to external substances. They can be treated with antihistamines (e.g., oral levocetirizine hydrochloride solution or oral fexofenadine capsules) and anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., topical hydrocortisone cream or topical betamethasone cream).

IV. Differences Between Skin Sensitivity and Allergies

Different Mechanisms

The primary mechanisms behind sensitive skin may include a reduction in the skin’s barrier function, increased sensory nerve signal input, inflammatory or vascular responses, and genetic factors in patients. Overuse of skincare products, excessive cleansing and moisturizing, and the use of products containing corticosteroids can weaken the skin’s inherent barrier function, making it sensitive to external stimuli.

The occurrence of skin allergies is primarily related to the skin mistakenly identifying harmless substances as harmful or reacting too strongly to harmful substances.

Different Populations

With the exception of a very small portion of individuals with congenital sensitive skin, theoretically, almost anyone can develop secondary sensitive skin. Overuse of skincare products, excessive cleansing and moisturizing, and the use of products containing corticosteroids can weaken the skin’s inherent barrier function, leading to skin sensitivity to external stimuli.

Skin allergies mainly affect a small portion of people with a genetic predisposition.

Different Inducers

Sensitive skin generally cannot tolerate everyday skincare products, and it is also sensitive to climate conditions like cold, heat, humidity, and dryness. Psychological factors and physiological factors (such as menstruation) contribute to its occurrence. Patients often experience redness, dryness, itching, and discomfort with minor provocation.

Skin allergies primarily target specific allergens, such as certain chemical components or fragrances in skincare products, ultraviolet rays, pollen, and airborne particles(quotes from

Different Testing Methods

For sensitive skin, assessments can be conducted using tests like the lactate stinging test, capsaicin test, and questionnaires.

In the case of skin allergies, patch tests and skin prick tests are commonly used to confirm allergens.

Different Treatments

For sensitive skin, the focus is primarily on promoting skin barrier repair, controlling inflammatory responses, and enhancing skin tolerance. A combination of treatments, such as radiofrequency, red and yellow light therapy, intense pulsed light, and skin barrier repair, is used. This approach may require a longer duration for complete treatment.

For skin allergies, the main treatment involves identifying and avoiding the allergen, along with providing anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory treatment. As long as patients no longer come into contact with the respective allergen, relapses are rare.