What does it mean to have intolerant skin?

Intolerant skin, which may also be called sensitive or reactive skin, consists of an exaggerated and unpleasant sensitivity of the skin caused by various stimuli such as casual or prolonged contact with cosmetic products or irritants, and an increased susceptibility to environmental, occupational or psychological factors.

However, some authors define it as a skin condition rather than a clear pathology.

In general, most epidemiological studies state that about 50 % of the population in our environment claims to have sensitive or very sensitive skin. In general, it is somewhat more frequent in women and in young people (under 35 years of age). In older age ranges the incidence decreases.

With respect to skin type, it is more frequent in patients with dry skin (whether or not they have atopic dermatitis), although it can also appear in patients with oily skin. It is more frequent in fair skin phototypes, and with a lower incidence in the Chinese population.


Appearance of redness and/or burning, itching, tightness, stinging or even pain immediately or somewhat delayed after exposure to physical (solar radiation, heat, cold, wind), chemical (cosmetics, soaps, pollution), psychological (stress) factors.

Such unpleasant sensations characteristically have an intensity disproportionate to the clinical findings observed and usually affect the person’s quality of life.

The development of this condition is influenced by both intrinsic factors, such as alteration of the skin barrier, increased neurosensory stimulation and enhanced immune response, and extrinsic factors, such as temperature changes, sun exposure, pollution, cosmetics, body care products, topical medications, rough clothing and textiles, shaving, stress.


The most frequent triggers are the inappropriate and simultaneous use of cosmetic products in women and shaving in men.

In some cases skin intolerance may indicate the presence of an underlying dermatological disease, such as subclinical contact dermatitis, couperose or rosacea, or present as an additional symptom in the course of other diseases such as atopic or seborrheic dermatitis.


The treatment is complex, although in the first place the triggering factors should be avoided, the treatment of underlying dermatological diseases (if any) should be assessed and a pattern of recommendations for daily skin care should be followed.

These recommendations include using the smallest number of cosmetics, always choosing those indicated for intolerant skin, using products free of fragrances and preservatives, using cosmetics with no more than 10 components, avoiding the use of products containing alpha-hydroxy acids, tretinoin or retinaldehyde without prior medical evaluation, all products should be easily removable with water, (do not use cosmetics that contain alpha-hydroxy acids, tretinoin or retinaldehyde without prior medical evaluation, all products to be used should be easily removable with water, (do not use cosmetics that contain alpha-hydroxy acids, tretinoin or retinaldehyde without prior medical evaluation). waterproof, use recently purchased products, dispose of old cosmetics, avoid leaving caps open and store them away from heat sources.

Do not reuse any product for daily use that has caused previous irritation without prior medical evaluation.

In case of prolonged hyperreactivity, the two-week strategy can be used by eliminating all cosmetic products, except for syndets detergents, for two weeks and reintroducing the necessary cosmetics by first applying a 5-night test applying the product on the antecubital fold and assessing reactions and sensations.

Calcineurin inhibitors, which can be prescribed by your dermatologist, have a potential inhibitory or desensitizing effect on nerve endings, helping to improve symptomatology.

Can it be corrected over time?

Given that it is a condition that, according to epidemiological studies, is less frequent at older ages, it tends to be thought that cutaneous reactivity decreases with the passage of time. In addition, the skin has hardening mechanisms to withstand sustained external aggressions.

It is therefore a dermatological condition that with the passage of time and proper daily care could be calmed down quite a bit.