It's a tale as old as time for anyone with sensitive skin: One of your favorite brands has come out with a new moisturizer. The ingredient list? Intriguing and full of potential benefits for your skin. The packaging? Ridiculously cute and would look great alongside the products in your medicine cabinet. So, you add it to your cart.
When your new moisturizer arrives around five days later, you immediately rip it open, take in its sweet fruity smell, and then slather it on your face. Like clockwork, your skin starts to flush and itch. Or, maybe you feel fine until the next morning when you discover you have a full-blown breakout on your skin.
For sensitive skin, finding staple products for your routine that are effective, fun to use, and non-irritating can feel like an impossible feat — especially since sensitivity manifests itself in a few different ways and there are multiple causes of it.
Dr. Morgan Rabach, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in New York City, says "skin that reacts strongly to most stimui, including environmental and temperature, products, skin with a decreased barrier function, and allergic skin (like ezcema which also has a decreased barrier function)," can all be categorized as sensitive skin.
To top it off, not all skincare products are created equal. But figuring out what type of sensitive skin you have is the first step to finding a moisturizer that won't result in instant irritation such as redness, burning, itching, which can be followed by peeling or a breakout.
"Look for a moisturizer with few ingredients and with active ones including ceramides, which help seal the outer layers of skin, and hyaluronic acid," says Dr. Rabach.
She also recommends avoiding formulas with fragrance, preservatives, and dyes, which are all common triggers for sensitive skin. Isopropyl alcohol, exfoliants like AHA acids, retinol, and added sunscreens (especially chemical ones) can also cause irritation.
With so many potentially irritating ingredients to look out for, finding a moisturizer that isn't going to piss off sensitive skin can feel like a full-time job.
Luckily, we've done the legwork for you. Here, we've rounded up eight super hydrating moisturizers that are gentle enough for sensitive, reactive skin.
- Neutrogena Oil-Free Ultra-Gentle Facial Moisturizer
- Kiehl's Dermatologist Solutions Centella Cica Cream
- Obagi Hydrate Facial Moisturizer
- Shani Darden Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer
- Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer
- CeraVe Moisturizing Cream for Normal to Dry Skin
- EltaMD Intense Moisturizer
- First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Face Moisturizer
Neutrogena Oil-Free Ultra-Gentle Facial Moisturizer
This wildly affordable, gentle moisturizer is safe for reactive skin, and anyone who prefers a lotion over a cream. With zero fragrance, oil, and alcohol in the formula, there's no need to stress over potential irritation or greasy residue.
To buy: $10; amazon.com.
Kiehl’s Dermatologist Solutions Centella Cica-Cream
Don't underestimate this little tube, it packs a serious dose of moisture. In addition to leaving the surface of the skin soft and smooth, Kiehl's hypoallergenic, fragrance, and alcohol-free moisturizer repairs the skin barrier to prevent future dryness and helps reduce visible redness and fine lines.
To buy: $44; nordstrom.com.
Obagi Hydrate Facial Moisturizer
With an allergy-tested formula, Obagi's Hydrate Facial Moisturizer is even less likely to cause irritation. Powered by hydromanil, a super nourishing plant-based ingredient, this moisturizer retains hydration while simultaneously improving the appearance of hyperpigmentation and wrinkles.
To buy: $52; dermstore.com.
Shani Darden Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer
For oily, acne-prone skin that also leans on the sensitive side, opt for a lightweight oil-free moisturizer that won't further clog your pores or leave a greasy film on your face. Shani Darden's fragrance-free, oil-free moisturizer has a silky serum-like texture that quickly absorbs into skin with a shine-free finish.
To buy: $48; sephora.com.
Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer
While retinol is commonly touted as *the* holy grail of anti-aging ingredients, the skin-renewing ingredient can be too harsh for reactive skin, and those with conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. That's where peptides, the hero ingredient of Drunk Elephant's rich moisturizer, enter the picture. Peptides are the building blocks of proteins, such as collagen and keratin, which help keep skin firm and smooth. Plant-derived antioxidants and nutrients round out the formula to improve skin texture and tone.
To buy: $68; sephora.com.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
Don't want to spend a ton of money on a moisturizer that won't set off your sensitive skin? Look no further than CeraVe's tried-and-true cream, available at any drugstore. Formulated with hydrating hyaluronic acid and skin barrier-strengthening ceramides, it seals in moisture, which is key for preventing reactions and flareups of skin conditions such as eczema. No wonder this moisturizer has earned the National Eczema association's seal of approval.
To buy: $16; amazon.com.
EltaMD Intense Moisturizer
Most heavy-duty moisturizers are thick, rich creams that never fully absorb into skin — meet the exception. Known the "melting moisturizer," this EltaMD formula soaks into skin and maintains hydration for up to 12 hours, plus it relieves redness and irritation. Consider it a foolproof pick for sensitive skin types that also suffer from excessive dryness.
To buy: $13; amazon.com.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Face Moisturizer
On top of hydrating skin with a mix of nourishing and soothing colloidal oatmeal, avocado oil, and shea butter, this lightweight moisturizer leaves skin smooth like a primer, which makes it ideal for wearing under makeup.
To buy: $26; sephora.com.
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