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Pilot study evaluates sensitive skin burden in persons of color


AT AAD 2023

Among individuals who were surveyed at a health fair, most of whom were persons of color, 57% self-reported having sensitive skin.

Respondents also reported high rates of reactions to skin care products marketed for sensitive skin, and most said they had visited a dermatologist about their condition.

Those are among the key findings of a pilot study designed to assess the prevalence, symptom burden, and behaviors of self-identified persons of color with sensitive skin, which senior author Adam Friedman, MD, and colleagues defined as a subjective syndrome of cutaneous hyperreactivity to otherwise innocuous stimuli. “Improved understanding of sensitive skin is essential, and we encourage additional research into pathophysiology and creating a consensus definition for sensitive skin,” Dr. Friedman, professor and chair of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington, said in an interview in advance of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, where the study was presented during an e-poster session. The findings were also reported online in JAAD International.

In May of 2022, Dr. Friedman, first author Erika McCormick, a 4th-year medical student at George Washington University, and colleagues invited individuals attending a community health fair in an undeserved area of Washington, to complete the Sensitive Scale-10 (SS-10) and to answer other questions after receiving a brief education about sensitive skin. Of the 58 respondents, 78% were female, and 86% self-identified as a person of color.

“Our study population predominantly self-identified as Black, which only represents one piece of those who would be characterized as persons of color,” Dr. Friedman said. “That said, improved representation of both our study population, and furthermore persons of color, in all aspects of dermatology research is crucial to at a minimum ensure generalizability of findings to the U.S. population, and research on sensitive skin is but one component of this.”

Nearly two-thirds of all respondents (63.8%) reported having an underlying skin condition, most commonly acne (21%), eczema (17%), and rosacea (6%). More than half (57%) reported sensitive skin, 27% of whom reported no other skin disease. Individuals with sensitive skin had higher mean SS-10 scores, compared with those with nonsensitive skin (14.61 vs. 4.32; P = .002) and burning was the main symptom among those with sensitive skin (56%), followed by itch (50%), redness (39%), dryness (39%) and pain (17%).

Compared with those who did not meet criteria for sensitive skin, those who did were more likely to report a personal history of allergy (56.25% vs. 8.33%; P = .0002) and were nearly seven times more likely to have seen a dermatologist about their concerns (odds ratio, 6.857; P = .0012).

In other findings limited to respondents with sensitive skin, 72% who reported reactions to general consumer skin care products also reported reacting to products marketed for sensitive skin, and 94% reported reactivity to at least one trigger, most commonly extreme temperatures (34%), stress (34%), sweat (33%), sun exposure (29%), and diet (28%). “We were particularly surprised by the high rates of reactivity to skin care products designed for and marketed to those suffering with sensitive skin,” Ms. McCormick told this news organization. “Importantly, there is currently no federal or legal standard regulating ingredients in products marketed for sensitive skin, and many products lack testing in sensitive skin specifically. Our data suggest an opportunity for improvement of sensitive skin care.”

She acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its small sample size. “Reconducting this survey in a larger population will help validate our findings,” she said.

The research was supported by two independent research grants from Galderma: one supporting Ms. McCormick with a Sensitive Skin Research Fellowship and the other a Sensitive Skin Research Acceleration Fund. Dr. Friedman reported having no relevant disclosures.

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