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Keywords:

  • sensitive;
  • irritation;
  • sensory;
  • neural

Background: In the USA, Europe and Japan 40 to 50% of women report that they have sensitive skin, defined as abnormal sub-clinical sensory responses to drugs, cosmetics and toiletries in the absence of visible signs of irritation. Itching, burning, stinging and tightness are the commonest complaints, which mainly afflict women. Manufacturers of skin care products have made available a large variety of products which are designed for persons with sensitive skin. Such products are not required by regulatory agencies to submit evidence of safety and efficacy, allowing marketers to make claims that are often exaggerated, irrational and even preposterous. The consumer with self-assessed sensitive skin has no way of judging which products are likely to be most beneficial and least harmful. The marketplace is awash with products for which there is no evidence that the rosy claims have been substantiated by appropriate testing procedures. There is no internationally accepted consensus regarding the criteria which define sensitive skin. Many papers have been published in the last 15 years, mainly originating from industry, which express widely differing views regarding what constitutes sensitive skin. For some, any adverse reaction to a product topically applied to sensitive skin, including breakouts, redness, scaling etc., a panoply of adverse reactions which is virtually meaningless. Others include environmental factors as causative, including cold, dry wind, heat and high humidity, solar radiation, etc., which add to the manifest complexities of the subject.

Methods: This is the first paper in a series which provides a comprehensive review of the subject, emphasizing the all too many controversies and confusions arising from the lack of a consensus regarding the identification, classification, epidemiology, prevalence and pathogenesis of sensitive skin. Sensitive skin is a biologic reality and not a psychological, fashionable fantasy on the part of impressionable women.

Result/Conclusion: There is an urgent necessity to establish rigorous methodologies for estimating the quality and severity of sensitive skin, a heterogeneous condition involving multi-factorial factors. Subsequent papers in this series will describe in detail the experimental approach our group has used to bring some clarity and credibility to this querulous, but important subject.