Sensitive Skin Syndrome: Relationships Among Factors

Nov 1, 2008 | Contact Author | By: Miranda A. Farage, PhD, P&G; and Howard I. Maibach, MD, Univ. of Calif., San Francisco
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Title: Sensitive Skin Syndrome: Relationships Among Factors
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Sensitive skin is a subjective, lay term that many consumers claim affects their comfort when using products that contact their skin. Approximately one-half of individuals surveyed in two research studies considered themselves to have sensitive skin.1,2 Researchers know this condition exists, yet it is notoriously difficult to quantify in a meaningful and uniform way. Individuals with sensitive skin typically experience a more rapid and intense sensory response to irritating substances than do people with “normal” skin. In some individuals, this response is reported as stinging (see Stingers) and burning. Moreover, in most cases sensory responses to irritation are not accompanied by erythema or other visible signs of irritation.3

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Stingers

Among sensitive skin individuals, there is a subgroup known as stingers, so named because in response to chemical irritants, they experience unusually strong sensations of stinging and burning. Beyond subjective sensory responses to irritants, some stingers also exhibit greater erythematous (objective) responses to irritant exposure.

Early research in 1977 on this subject found that stingers had heightened susceptibility to general irritation.21 However, more recent studies22,23 found no evidence that strong reactivity to one nonimmunological irritant was predictive of such a response to other irritants.22

Evaluating Skin Sensitivity of the Vulva

Studies of skin sensitivity utilizing irritants may be conducted on exposed or partially occluded skin. The characteristics of the vulva differ greatly when compared to exposed skin. In contrast to exposed skin, the vulva is considered occluded tissue, and it also has increased hydration,11 more hair follicles, sweat glands and increased blood flow.10

The current authors recently found that individuals with vulvar erythema at study enrollment also reported significantly more facial erythema resulting from a topical product.24 In many cases, sensitivity in the vulvar region may result from overuse of topical hygienic and medicinal preparations.25 Safety testing of feminine hygiene products considers the potentially higher permeability of vulvar skin and increased secondary sensitization.10

The best method of evaluating vulvar sensitivity to irritation utilizes the combined methods of assessing blood flow, pH and color reflectance.16

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