Women's Concepts Logo

Why Is Your Skin So Sensitive All Of A Sudden And How To Manage It

Why is my skin so sensitive all of a sudden? We wondered too!

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Luisa Fanzani, a Los Angeles-based cosmetic chemist dedicated to educating people on skincare.

I remember the first time I struggled with sensitive skin. It was practically spontaneous – one day, I felt perfectly normal, and the next, I woke up with itchy, burning, irritated skin. It wasn’t very nice! All I could ask myself was, why is my skin so sensitive all of a sudden?

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey by Frontier in Medicine, as much as 70% of women report struggling with sensitive skin. Thousands of women are searching for the causes of their reactive skin and a solution that will bring them relief. But rest assured, as this post explores the common causes of trouble-y skin and sheds light on why spontaneous sensitive skin isn’t as uncommon as you might think.

What is sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin is characterized by complexion with reduced tolerance to the use of certain skincare products, dryness, and irritations, often manifesting in stinging, burning, and itching sensations. Often, sensitive skin encompasses concerns like eczema and rosacea, but for many, sensitive skin occurs without such conditions.

Why is my skin so sensitive all of a sudden?

There are numerous causes for sudden skin sensitivity, but most result from a disrupted protective barrier. I know you’re asking yourself, what’s a skin barrier? Scientists refer to the barrier as the stratum corneum or the topmost layer of skin that protects the body against external foes. A broken barrier allows environmental aggressors such as sunlight and air pollution, chemicals, and harsh substances to penetrate the skin and cause damage on a cellular level, resulting in sensitivities.

While a broken barrier makes it easier for skin to become sensitive, other underlying factors can increase the severity of this condition.

Use of chemical-based products

The last decade has seen an enormous pushback against chemical-based products, emphasizing natural formulas are becoming more prevalent in beauty. Harsh chemicals like alcohol, synthetic fragrances, and sodium lauryl sulfates (SLS) are irritants commonly found in skincare products that can cause sensitivities. Luisa also adds that “sudden sensitivity can be because of metals like nickel that are present in many cosmetics.” Thus, if your skin is sensitive all of a sudden, you should dodge the use of chemical-based products, at least for a while.

Overuse of exfoliants

Generally, the skin sheds old cells every thirty days, but sometimes it needs a little help. Exfoliation is, in essence, a faster way of shedding old cells to achieve a glowing, baby-soft texture. Yep, everyone loves having silky smooth skin, and many use exfoliants to achieve that dreamy, soft complexion. But unfortunately, over-exfoliating can cause sensitive skin. Exfoliants boost cell turnover at an accelerated rate, and the new cells lack the necessary adhesion (lipids), making the barrier unable to defend the skin. That’s why the skin needs a break from exfoliation.

If you apply exfoliants too often, you don’t give your skin the time to repair, which in turn may cause sensitivities. The same goes for using exfoliants at too high of a concentration. However, you don’t want to skip out on exfoliating altogether – it is healthy for your skin when used sparingly. The solution? You need to build tolerance before going all-in.

Environmental factors

A change in environment could be another reason your skin became sensitive all of a sudden. Temperature changes, particularly in hot or cold extremes, and prolonged sun exposure are known causes of increased sensitivity. It’s not uncommon to experience sensitive skin in wintery conditions; that’s actually expected, the reason you should focus more on heavy moisturizing. And, no matter who you are, too much sun and a gnarly sunburn will result in irritation.

Lack of moisture

Without adequate hydration, skin loses elasticity and becomes less able to heal. In addition, dryness can lead to a broken barrier, leading to sensitive skin. Drinking more water, using an alcohol-free moisturizer, and maybe adding a humidifier in your bedroom can bring back that moisture.

Allergic reaction

Experiencing sudden skin sensitivity may occur as a result of an allergic reaction. Observe how your skin reacts whenever you add a new product to your routine. Does it appear red? Is it dry, itching, or burning after applying it? Sensitive skin is commonly caused by allergic reactions that usually clear up once you stop using the product and rely on replenishing ingredients, such as ceramidespeptides, and hyaluronic acid

Skin conditions

Skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and dermatitis can spontaneously appear at any point in your life, making your skin sensitive all of a sudden. Often, they have to do with genetics, a weakened barrier, or even stress, making your complexion prone to cracking and allowing harmful chemicals and irritants to bypass the protective layer. If this is your case, you should address a dermatologist to make a plan of the best treatment for you.

How to fix sudden sensitive skin

If your skin is suddenly sensitive, first thing first, cut alcohol-based products and avoid fragrances as much as you can. Also, dodge harsh exfoliants like glycolic acid and embrace hydrating and restoring ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and peptides.

As sudden sensitive skin is mostly a matter of disrupted barrier, you need something to replenish it and accelerate its recovery. And, you guessed it, ceramides are the MVP for that. Furthermore, opt for a gentle cleanser and toner and ensure your skin is properly moisturized all day long. Finally, antioxidants are your BFF, as they fortify the body’s defense against environmental aggressors, a common cause of sudden sensitive skin.

The takeaway 

There are many causes of sensitive skin. However, by eliminating one factor at a time, you can analyze and treat the causes of your sudden sensitive skin and start building back up a healthy barrier to prevent another onset of irritation in the future.


  1. Duarte I, Silveira JEPS, Hafner MFS, Toyota R, Pedroso DMM. Sensitive skin: review of an ascending conceptAn Bras Dermatol. 2017;92(4):521-525.
  2. Kanwar AJ. Skin barrier functionIndian J Med Res. 2018;147(1):117-118.
  3. Fan, L., He, C., Jiang, L., Bi, Y., Dong, Y. and Jia, Y. (2016), Brief analysis of causes of sensitive skin and advances in evaluation of anti-allergic activity of cosmetic products. Int J Cosmet Sci, 38: 120-127. https://doi.org/10.1111/ics.12283
  4. Rosso JD, Zeichner J, Alexis A, Cohen D, Berson D. Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology PractitionerJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2016;9(4 Suppl 1):S2-S8.
  5. Fan, L., He, C., Jiang, L., Bi, Y., Dong, Y. and Jia, Y. (2016), Brief analysis of causes of sensitive skin and advances in evaluation of anti-allergic activity of cosmetic products. Int J Cosmet Sci, 38: 120-127. https://doi.org/10.1111/ics.12283
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter to get access to exclusive content, offers, and products.
Was this article helpful?
Awesome! Would you like to share it?
That's too bad. Thank you for your feedback!
More topics for you
Women's Concepts Logo
Join Us