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Sensitive Skin Syndrome: Relationships Among Factors
By: Miranda A. Farage, PhD, P&G; and Howard I. Maibach, MD, Univ. of Calif., San Francisco
Posted: October 30, 2008, from the November 2008 issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries.
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A recent study has proposed that sensory responses to cutaneous irritants may be related to innervation, although more research will be necessary to further evaluate this possibility and to study the role of nerve density variation in the epidermis.8
Host Factors Affecting Sensory Responses
Understanding the complex issue of sensitive skin requires consideration of the various host factors that differ from person to person and between different anatomic sites. Numerous studies have identified differences in skin sensitivity according to factors such as gender, age, race and body site, as well as cultural, environmental, and other factors.
Gender: It is commonly believed that sensitive skin is more common in women than in men. However, one study testing reactivity to 11 different irritants, including sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), found no differences in skin irritation between men and women.9
Self-reported sensitive skin is especially common among women. Two studies found that a nearly identical percentage of women surveyed on two continents stated that they had sensitive skin-52% in a US study and 51.2% in a UK study.1,2 An epidemiological study conducted in England surveyed men and women to assess the prevalence of sensitive skin and any cosmetic-related adverse reactions.2 The study found that 51.4% of women and 38.2% of men believed they had sensitive skin. It is not known what factors are responsible for these differences, although one study found that the epidermis was thicker among men (p < 0.0001).10 In addition, hormonal differences may cause increased inflammatory sensitivities in women.6 Cultural factors as well as habits and practices, such as practicing fastidious vulvar hygiene cleansing with good intent, are often responsible for irritation.11
Age: There are few documented changes in skin related to aging. Tactile sensitivity, sensory nerve function, and skin innervations have been shown to decrease with advancing age, as did the appearance of visible irritation.9 Younger adults have more sensitive skin than elderly individuals.9 Even though elderly subjects demonstrated less of a reaction to an irritant as opposed to younger subjects, the irritated site required more time to heal.6