Background/purpose Sensitive skin is a subject of intense research work. However, its contours have not been defined and properly investigated so far. The aim of this work was to characterize objectively the consumers of cosmetic products, which referred skin susceptibility to several agents or conditions. Methods Twenty-four healthy female volunteers, mean age 38.9 +/- 13 years were recruited. The volunteers were fully informed about the study having previously expressed their consent, and were grouped in to I: individuals without any skin sensitivity complaint and II: individuals with self-reported sensitive skin to regular contact with household cleaning products. Sodium lauryl sulphate was used as a 'provocative' agent and it was applied on the back of the volunteers' hands, as an occlusive patch for 24 h. After the patch removal (30 min, 7 and 14 days), the variables erythema, transepidermal water loss, stratum corneum hydration and blood perfusion were measured. Results No evidence of a statistical difference was found between the biomechanical behaviour of the skin of the two groups. Conclusion The results of our study did not enable us to establish a clear discrimination between sensitive and non-sensitive skin, which once again underlines the subjective nature of this condition.