Bioderma South Africa | Sensitive skin: A touchy subject…

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01 December 2018

Sensitive skin: A touchy subject…

Research shows that skin sensitisation is on the rise around the world




Long underestimated, sensitive skin syndrome is finally being recognised for the reality it is. Even if the links between sensitive skin, age and skin type are still being debated, dermatologists now agree on the symptoms for sensitive skin. The International Forum for the Study of Itch (IFSI) has even prepared an official definition:

Sensitive skin is a syndrome defined by the occurrence of unpleasant sensations (stinging, burning, pain, itching and tingling) in response to stimuli that normally should not provoke such sensations. Sensitive skin can have a normal appearance or be affected by lesions. The syndrome can affect all parts of the body, and in particular the face.

BIODERMA partners with the experts 

In partnership with an international expert on sensitive skin, Prof Laurent Misery, BIODERMA dermatological laboratory pioneered an extensive observational and epidemiological study with close to 5,000 people for the first time in 2017, to try to understand and quantify the burden of sensitive skin (Burden of Sensitive Skin Project). The study demonstrated that there is a real impact on quality of life, which pushes sufferers to modify their behaviour during their daily activities. They will dress differently, consider how they will wash, ponder which products they can use… 

This impact on quality of life is particularly important in their psychological perception. Significantly, the different epidemiological studies show that the number of people who say they have sensitive skin increases every year around the world.


A move to generalised sensitivity?

The epidemiological study, led by BIODERMA, has underlined that sensitivity is increasing among fair and young skin (between 15 and 34 years old). Moreover, in countries such as France, United States and China, the increase in prevalence of sensitive skin affects more and more people, indiscriminately.

In Africa, this trend is also being felt. A French dermatological study has identified that sensitivity in African skin is underestimated. African women’s skin is sensitive to external factors such as UV light, solar light, to high temperatures, changes in temperature, and the natural female cycles. However, this is not commonly known as African women tolerate and accept the symptoms of skin sensitivity often without complaint.


Internal factors


Priority is given to the skin's protective role in the face of environmental stresses. It is fully occupied as a barrier. To prepare the skin for this mission, it is extremely important to cleanse away all toxins and impurities, eliminated by the skin during the night, before the application of the skincare. Otherwise, they will stay captured on the skin and sensitise it all day long.

Night time

As evening arrives, skin activates its renewal functions and its metabolic synthesis processes. It is a moment of its detoxification and regeneration. Skin is more permeable than during the day and irritations might appear in advantage. 


External factors


If not properly removed, make-up can be a mighty pollutant! A British blogger’s experience of not removing her make-up during a month created a buzz in 2013. Skin experts concluded that her skin had aged ten years in one month. It became very sensitive and redness appeared – something to think about when we know that one third of all women skip removing their make-up at least twice a week. Stifled beneath the products and the dirt, the skin no longer functions normally.


As the interface with the environment, skin is first in line to face numerous ambient pollutants, both inside and out. Dust, cigarette smoke, exhaust, fine and ultra-fine particulate matter, heavy metals, ozone, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide all bombard the skin day and night throughout its permanent contact with the atmosphere all around it. While contemporary life is spent mostly inside, it doesn’t reduce in any way our exposure to pollutants, also present in buildings (furniture, electronic appliances, heating systems, air conditioning…)



In theory, skin adapts to environmental stresses, but it doesn't have time… The organism gets carried away, a permanent subject to three major dysfunctions that generate a vicious circle with harmful effects on skin's sensitivity:

OXIDATIVE stress: Type of aggression of the constituents of the cell due to reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive oxygen nitrogen species (RONS)