The complex problem of sensitive skin


Marie Marriott
Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre
Unilever Colworth Laboratory
Bedfordshire MK44 1LQ
Tel: +44 01234 222627
Fax: +44 01234 264848


There exists within the population subsets of individuals who display heightened skin reactivity to materials the majority find tolerable. In a series of investigations, we have examined interrelationships between many of the endpoints associated with the term ‘sensitive skin’. In the most recent work, 58 volunteers were treated with 10% lactic acid, 50% ethanol, 0.5% menthol and 1.0% capsaicin on the nasolabial fold, unoccluded, with sensory reactions recorded at 2.5 min, 5 min and 8 min after application. Urticant susceptibility was evaluated with 1 m benzoic acid and 125 mM trans-cinnamic acid applied to the volar forearm for 20 min. A 2 × 23-h patch test was also conducted using 0.1% and 0.3% sodium dodecyl sulfate, 0.3% and 0.6% cocamidopropyl betaine and 0.1% and 0.2% benzalkonium chloride to determine irritant susceptibility. As found in previous studies, increased susceptibility to one endpoint was not predictive of sensitivity to another. In our experience, nasolabial stinging was a poor predictor of general skin sensitivity. Nevertheless, it may be possible to identify in the normal population individuals who, coincidentally, are more generally sensitive to a range of non-immunologic adverse skin reactions. Whether such individuals are those who experience problems with skin care products remains to be addressed.