To begin, hypersensitivity isn’t an official diagnosis or dermatological term. It’s simply a way to explain skin that’s over reactive to a noticeable degree. Those with moderate to severe cases of inflammatory skin conditions, like rosacea or eczema, likely consider their skin hypersensitive—or those with a laundry list of allergies would fall under the category too.
In general sensitive skin is skin that does not do well with external or internal aggressors. “Sensitive skin is characterized by skin that is not able to tolerate harsh conditions, chemicals, environments, or even diets,” explains board-certified dermatologist Purvisha Patel, M.D. Perhaps it seems like a broad stroke definition, but that’s because sensitive and hypersensitive skin is very complex. In fact, the complexities of sensitive skin are so profound that there’s really no scientific consensus on its true definition.
The one throughline that ties it all together—and that all derms can agree on—is that those with sensitive skin have a compromised skin barrier. See the organ’s purpose to act as a shield: “It protects us from mechanical injury, low humidity, cold, heat, sun, wind, chemical exposure, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens,” explains board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., stating that, “a healthy barrier is critical to normal skin function.” When that shield is weakened, it isn’t as able to perform this role, allowing irritants to penetrate the skin and cause major and chronic disruptions in the form of rashes, inflammation, texture changes, burning, and so on.