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    Common terms in skincare marketing: Sensitive skin

    Q. What is a sensitive skin moisturizer?

    Many terms are used in cosmetic marketing that have consumer appeal, but little medical meaning. Yet, it is important for the dermatologist to understand the value of such terminology and the associated implications.

    One of the most commonly used terms is “sensitive skin.” This wording is found on many moisturizers; howevwer, there is no definition of sensitive skin that is universally recognized and no agreed upon testing terminology used to make this determination. Some companies will state that their products are tested on sensitive skin. This has some meaning in that some type of evaluation has been conducted, but again the methodology is inconsistent.

    When I perform sensitive skin testing to support this claim, I develop a panel of subjects with rosacea, eczema/atopic dermatitis, and cosmetic intolerance syndrome. I use rosacea subjects because any irritation will cause increased redness, possibly accompanied by heightened stinging and burning; eczema/atopic dermatitis subjects due to their barrier defects; and cosmetic intolerance syndrome subjects have a history of difficulties with many different cosmetic formulations and demonstrate heightened neurosensory product awareness.

    If a panel with these varied skin attributes finds a given formulation acceptable, there is a better chance the product will perform well in the general marketplace.

    In summary, products that carry the wording “tested on sensitive skin” have a lower chance of causing problems than products simply stating “sensitive skin.” Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of sensitive skin and thus no agreement on the sensitive claim meaning


    Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D.
    Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., is a consulting professor of dermatology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. She is investigator, ...


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