Understanding the 4 Subtypes of Sensitive Skin

Generally speaking, sensitive skin occurs when the skin barrier is weak or damaged. This means that pollutants and other harmful substances can more easily penetrate the skin than is the case for those with resistant skin. It also means that many skincare products can lead to rednes or irritation. More than 40 percent of people report having sensitive skin. However, many people don’t know that there are actually four different subtypes that could affect the way that they care for their sensitive skin. Here is an overview of each of these subtypes and how to best care for them.

1. Acne Subtype

Although acne is most common between the ages of 11 and 25, anyone of any age can struggle with this skin condition. Acne happens when excess oil traps dead skin cells, dirt, makeup, and other debris inside your pores, forming either a blackhead or a whitehead. Then, when bacteria moves into the pore, redness and inflammation appear, forming a pimple. Because there are three main causes of acne–excess oil production, clogged pores, and bacteria–the most effective treatment will address each of these.

2. Rosacea Subtype

Many people with rosacea do not realize that they have this condition. The most common symptoms are red flushing of the skin, visible blood vessels in the face, and small pimple-like bumps, and these symptoms tend to worsen when exposed to certain triggers. These triggers can be things like sun exposure, warm weather, exercise, spicy foods, and alcohol. Although the exact causes of rosacea are still unknown, this condition is believed to be linked to genetics, immune system function, and possibly H. pylori, a specific type of bacteria (American Academy of Dermatology). If you struggle to manage redness, flushing, and other symptoms of rosacea, talk to your doctor about your treatment options. RHOFADE™ is a new topical cream that has been shown to help reduce redness for at least 12 hours. This may be a great option for you if other treatments have failed to improve your skin in the past.

3. Stinging Subtype

When your skin stings after applying a certain product, this is not an allergic reaction, but rather a sign of sensitive nerve endings. Unfortunately, many people have come to associate a stinging or tingling sensation as a sign that a particular product is working. This, however, is not the case, and you should discontinue use of any product or ingredient that causes your skin to react in this way. Some of the most common ingredients that cause stinging are:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids
  • Benzoic acid
  • Propylene glycol
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Sorbic acid
  • Urea
  • Vitamin C

If you’re having trouble pinpointing the cause of your stinging, consider bringing in your skincare products to your next visit to your dermatologist. He or she should be able to help you narrow down the probable cause and help you design a more appropriate skincare routine for your sensitive skin.

4. Allergic Subtype

Skin allergies can occur either internally via certain foods, or externally, when allergens and other harmful substances are able to make their way through your skin’s outer barrier. In either case, you may develop a rash or other adverse side effect after eating a particular food or using a certain topical ingredient. The most common allergens found in skincare products are fragrances and preservatives, and dry, sensitive skin types are more likely than other skin types to have these allergies. The only way to know for sure what you are allergic to, though, is to have a patch test at your dermatologist’s office.

The Bottom Line

Sensitive skin is a common concern, although many people may not be caring for their subtype of sensitive skin in the most effective way. Someone with acne-prone skin, for example, should have a slightly different skincare routine than someone struggling with rosacea. If you suspect that you have sensitive skin but aren’t quite sure, consider finding an STS-approved physician in your area who can administer the Baumann Skin Type Questionnaire. Once you know which of the 16 Baumann Skin Types you are, you can choose from a list of STS-approved skincare products that are an excellent match for your needs.


Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her team at Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology believe in proof, not promises. World-recognized for both cosmetic and general dermatology, our treatment strategies rely exclusively on evidence-based, scientifically verified products and procedures that promote skin health and a natural appearance. We combine effective medical procedures with individualized instruction on proper skincare, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle in order to maximize the health of the skin and body as a whole while minimizing the effects of aging. For more, visit Dr. Baumann’s blog for daily updates Monday through Friday, or inquire about an appointment through

June 14, 2017 Acne, Rosacea, Skin Type