Dry and sensitive facial skin – Understanding the causes and finding the right care

6 min. read
Show more

When skin lacks moisture it looks dull and feels dry and is unable to work effectively as a barrier, protecting our bodies from external irritants. It becomes sensitive as a result.

The underlying causes and symptoms of dry, dehydrated and sensitive skin vary, but all have a disturbed moisture balance in common. Regular moisturisation with appropriate products can address this issue by supporting skin hydration. Sound skincare and lifestyle decisions can also help to alleviate the symptoms of sensitivity.

Once skin’s moisture balance is restored, its barrier function is strengthened and it is better able to protect our bodies from external aggressors. Hydrated skin is less prone to sensitivity, looks radiant and feels smooth and supple.

Signs & Symptoms

How to recognise dry and sensitive facial skin

All four skin types – dry, normal, oily and combination – can be sensitive
Sensitive skin can appear dry and dehydrated

Sensitive skin is a condition which can be experienced by all four skin types – dry, normal, oily and combination.

Some people don’t show visible symptoms but comment on how certain products can make their skin feel uncomfortable. As the level of sensitivity increases, symptoms may include:

  • Sensations of tightness and discomfort.
  • More extreme symptoms, such as prolonged redness, rashes, itching, prickling, burning, swelling and scaling lead to skin being categorised as hypersensitive.

It is hard to distinguish between dry skin and sensitive skin because these conditions often coexist. Dry skin is particularly prone to sensitivity and sensitive skin is often dry. This can make it difficult to identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment. You can read more about the signs and symptoms for both conditions in dry facial skin and sensitive facial skin.

Both dry skin and dehydrated skin show signs of dryness, but their underlying causes are different. It is not uncommon for sensitive skin to be dehydrated in some areas (for example the cheeks) while being oily and breaking out in other areas (especially the T-zone).

Causes & Triggers

What causes facial skin to become dry and sensitive?

Dry skin is a skin type which is characterized by lack of lipids (oil). It can proceed to dehydration because, as a result of reduced lipids, skin is unable to effectively bind in water and its evaporation from skin increases. Dehydrated skin describes a condition caused by insufficient water content.

The common denominator for dry, dehydrated and sensitive skin is a disturbed moisture balance. When skin lacks the moisture it needs to work as an effective barrier layer, further moisture is lost and it is unable to protect itself against external irritants such as bacteria or pollution. This leads to feelings of tightness and discomfort.

When skin’s moisture balance is disturbed it is unable to prevent further moisture loss
The Aquaporins – skin’s own moisture distribution system – keep skin hydrated

To form an effective barrier, skin needs the right balance between:

  • Lipids (oil)
  • Water
  • Natural Moisturising Factors (which include naturally produced substances such as Urea, Lactic Acid or Glycerol)

Glycerol (also known as Glycerine), a sugar alcohol produced naturally by our bodies, is used by the skin to help bind in water. It is one of the key components of an effective barrier function. Glycerol, along with water, is delivered to the outer layers of skin by skin’s own moisture distribution channels – the Aquaporins. When the Aquaporins are compromised, skin dehydrates, looks and feels dry and may become sensitive.

There are a range of internal and external factors that can alter the effectiveness of skin’s own moisture distribution channels, causing skin to become dehydrated or sensitive:

Certain medications can affect skin’s natural moisture balance
Frequent washing in hot water can cause skin to dry out

Internal factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Hormonal influences
  • Skin diseases

External factors include:

  • Environmental influence such as UV radiation or pollution
  • Medication
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle: lack of sleep, too much stress, smoking, improper skin care regimen

Find out more about each of these factors in factors that influence skin.

Contributing Factors

Factors that exacerbate dry and sensitive facial skin

Once skin has become dry and sensitive, some of the factors also associated with causing the condition can exacerbate and prolong sensitivity.

Harsh cleansing products can cause discomfort to sensitive skin
Over-exposure to the sun can exacerbate skin sensitivity

Skin care choices

  • Washing skin too frequently in water that is too hot strips skin of its protecting lipids and can cause it to dry out further.
  • Ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulphate, menthol or high concentration of denatured alcohol – contained in some cleansing products and moisturisers – can also cause discomfort for sensitive skin.
  • Chemical peels and exfoliators can cause irritation to already sensitive skin.
  • Shaving; both the exfoliating action and the products used afterwards can cause sensitivity.


  • Over-exposure to the sun and lack of appropriate UV protection.
  • The dry air of aeroplane cabins, as well as the lack of humidity caused by central heating, affects skin hydration.


  • Drinking water: if the body becomes dehydrated then the skin’s moisture supply is affected.
  • Smoking: the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke dry and irritate skin.

Find out more about each of these factors in factors that influence skin.


Treating and relieving dry and sensitive skin

While causes, symptoms and descriptors vary, what all dry, dehydrated and sensitive skin needs is intense and long-lasting hydration. This can be provided by selecting and using an appropriate moisturiser. Look for:

  • Products that have been tested on, and proven to be kind with, sensitive skin.
  • Products free of perfume or any other ingredients that you know may irritate your skin.
  • Products that suit your particular skin type – normal, dry, oily or combination.

The following measures can also help to control and minimise sensitivity by avoiding the triggers that cause discomfort:

Good nutrition can help to control and minimise skin sensitivity
Use a moisturiser that has been specially formulated for sensitive skin

The Eucerin AQUAporinACTIVE range of moisturisers has been specially formulated to provide intense, 24-hour moisturisation for all types of dry and dehydrated sensitive skin. It works on three levels to deliver smooth, supple and radiant skin:

The Eucerin AQUAporinACTIVE range provides 24-hour moisturisation for sensitive skin
Eucerin products are proven to be compatible with sensitive skin

  1. Enhancing skin’s own moisture system – the Aquaporins – helping to ensure that skin gets the hydration it needs from within.
  2. Binding in more water in outer layers of the skin.
  3. Strengthening skin’s own moisture protection shield, helping it to hold on to water for longer and supporting its resistance to external irritants.

The products in the range are proven to be effective at significantly improving skin hydration. All products are fragrance and paraben-free and have been tested on, and proven to be compatible with sensitive skin.

Related Articles

Our brand values

Pioneers in skincare

We deliver a holistic dermo-cosmetic approach to protect your skin, keep it healthy and radiant.

Recommended by dermatologists

We work together with leading dermatologist and pharmacist partners around the world to create innovative and effective skincare products they can trust and recommend.

Committed to innovation

For over 100 years, we have dedicated ourselves to researching and innovating in the field of skin science. We believe in creating active ingredients and soothing formulas with high tolerability that work to help you live your life better each day.

You May Also Like