Sensitive skin and its difference from rosacea and sensitized skin

What is the difference between rosacea, sensitive skin and sensitized skin?
Hillary Robinson, LE
March 22, 2021
Hillary has been an esthetician for ten years and loves talking about anything and everything related to skincare. She especially loves identifying and customizing skincare routines for all skin concerns.
Cheek of a female with red skin on her face.
Is my skin sensitive? Why is my skin red and irritated? What is sensitized skin? These questions seem to pop up quite often in the skincare world. And rightly so. I've had many conversations with clients about this topic because most of us have experienced redness and/or irritation on our skin at least once in our lives (myself included). Hopefully through this post I can help provide some answers and guidance about rosacea, sensitive skin, and sensitized skin. First, let's talk about the differences between these terms.
Sensitive Skin VS. Rosacea
Rosacea is classified as a skin disorder, or condition, whereas sensitive skin is a skin type. Other skin disorders include acne, eczema, and psoriasis and other skin types include dry, normal, oily, and combination. Rosacea is a chronic disorder (think persistent redness or constant flushing) that usually starts after the age of 30 and symptoms can progress or worsen over time without treatment. Because rosacea is a skin disorder, a dermatologist can provide a diagnosis and treatment options. (Click here to read more about Rosacea). Sensitive skin, on the other hand, is a skin type that someone is born with that will frequently exhibit inflammation or rashes as a response to many factors. This is because of this skin type's genetic predisposition to irritant response. This is no different than someone with an oily skin type and their predisposition to excessive oil production. Irritant factors for sensitive skin types can be many things including foods, fabrics, and fragrances. And, sensitive skin types tend to experience skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis and non-skin related sensitivities like asthma and allergies as well.
    A black girl wiping her face with a cotton round showing an expression like her skin is feeling sensitive
    Where it can get confusing is that there are some overlaps in symptoms between rosacea and sensitive skin. For example, sensitive skin can exhibit characteristics similar to rosacea such as redness or warmth in the skin. Sensitive skin, however, is prone to more skin rashes and irritation because of its predisposition. This is because sensitive skin tends to be on the thinner side and has a weaker protective moisture barrier than other skin types. Sensitive skin types can develop rosacea just like normal or oily skin types can develop rosacea. Because again, the difference is that one is a disorder and one is a skin type.
    Sensitive Skin VS. Sensitized Skin
    What about sensitized skin? What is this? As mentioned above, sensitive skin is a skin type—you're born with your skin type because of genetics. Sensitized skin, however, is a term that describes skin that is exhibiting signs of distress due to the weakening of its barrier due to an internal or external factor. Internal and external factors include things like chronic over-exfoliation, using too harsh of ingredients, fragrances, dyes, silicones, medication reactions, smoke, pollution, wind, and sun exposure. For example, a normal skin type can become sensitized by overuse of exfoliation and acids. This is because the overuse has weakened or impaired the skin's barrier function to protect itself. Sensitized skin exhibits signs of distress in the form of dry patches, redness, irritation, stinging, and blotchiness. Because sensitive skin is a skin type, people with this skin type must be mindful of their skincare and exposure to irritants their entire life. Sensitized skin, on the other hand, is a temporary status of skin that can be reversed, improved, and brought back to a healthier state.
      Skincare Solutions for Rosacea, Senstive Skin and Sensitized Skin
      Skincare routines for sensitive skin types and those with rosacea are similar in that the focus should be on gentle and simple products. Harsh ingredients, fragrances, exfoliants, and dyes should be avoided or limited. The fewer the ingredients, the better as to not encourage additional redness, warmth, or irritation. And it is always a good idea for sensitive skin types to try a patch test when using a new product to see how the skin responds and to make sure there are no hidden allergies.

      Treatment for sensitized skin also should be gentle and simple. The first step for sensitized skin, however, is to go back to a super basic routine and omit things like astringent ingredients, physical and chemical exfoliants, and other acids. The basic routine should instead focus gentle cleansing, restoring skin hydration, and repairing the skin's barrier to get the skin back in balance. By doing so, the skin will begin to heal and better protect itself from internal and external factors. Once the skin's moisture barrier has been restored, additional products can be added back into the routine to help support the skin's health.
      A girl with curly hair taking care of her sensitive skin with a cotton round.
      Those with rosacea, sensitive skin, and sensitized skin can still get facial treatments as long as the focus is on calming and soothing the skin. This typically means no steam, limited or no facial massage, and the application of neutral and simple products. Make sure to list any allergies, medications, or prescribed topicals that you're using on your intake form. I also advise contacting the establishment prior to the appointment to discuss how they treat these skin considerations to make sure it is a good fit for your skin's needs.
      I hope this post has helped clarify the differences between these terms. And, I hope you feel better equipped with information on how to treat your skin if you are managing rosacea, have sensitive skin, or are dealing with sensitized skin.

      If you need additional guidance on products that might be good for your skin, sign up with Glowism today. Our team of advisors is happy to help!
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