Objectives  To investigate the prevalence and the factors related to the sensitive skin in China.

Methods  A community-based study was undertaken in three major cities in China, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, from November 2009 to January 2010. The participants in the study were screened by cluster sampling, and were investigated by interview at their own homes. A questionnaire, including skin sensitivity, the occurrence of burning, prickling or irritating sensations correlated with the factors, history of skin diseases and skin types, was given to each participant aged over 15 years.

Results  Totally 9154 questionnaires were completed (3931 men and 5223 women). The mean prevalence of very sensitive and sensitive skin in three cities was 13% (17.12% in Beijing, 9.10% in Shanghai and 22.39% in Guangzhou.) The mean prevalence was 8.62% in men and 15.93% in women, with significant difference between men and women in three selected cities (< 0.001). The total prevalence of very sensitive and sensitive skin was 16.44% in <25 years group, 14.14% in 25–49 years group and 9.73% in ≥50 years group. Moreover, 18.54% of participants claimed with dry skin, 16.70% with greasy skin and 8.04% with normal skin claimed to have the symptoms of sensitive skin.

Conclusions  The prevalence of sensitive skin in the three cities of China is much lower than that in Europe and the United States. There was significant difference of the prevalence of sensitive skin among three cities located in different climatic and latitude regions and between men and women. The prevalence gradually decreased with the increasing age. The skin sensitivity was associated to the positive history of atopic dermatitis.