This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
If your skin is so sensitive that you have to move out of the way when your desk neighbor starts spritzing her essential oil face mist, and a gentle sleeping mask leaves you red, itchy, and bumpy by morning, we understand how frustrating it is to go moisturizer shopping. Without guidance, an aisle full of creams can look like a straight shot to acne and irritation.
That's why we called in the pros who know a thing or two about what to do — and what not to do — when it comes to skin sensitivity and allergens. It's important to start with clean skin to prevent transference of bacteria or other irritants before patting on light moisturizers geared toward sensitive skin, says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD.
For dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, it's all about picking your battles. She suggests avoiding chemical sunscreens, physical scrubs, fragrance, parabens, sulfates, dyes, and anything "hot and steamy" (which is code for saunas, hot water, or steam rooms). All of these could be abrasive to the skin barrier and end up causing inflammation.
Ahead, check out the pros' picks for sensitive-skin moisturizers that won't break you out, cause rashes, or make your skin crawl (you know the feeling). If you're still experiencing discomfort, talk to your derm about getting a prescription for a clinical treatment.
Ghost Democracy Lightweight Daily Face Moisturizer
"This moisturizer uses all clean ingredients to deliver gentle hydration," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. "It is enriched with oat extract and panthenol help calm sensitive skin and maintain a healthy barrier, along with probiotics to encourage a healthy microbiome."
Ghost Democracy Clean Lightweight Daily Face Moisturizer, $, available at Verishop
Cetaphil Redness Relief Facial SPF 20
"I like this tinted moisturizer because it will not only offer sun protection, but neutralize any appearance of redness that comes from sun exposure," says Dr. Engelman.
Cetaphil Redness Relief Facial SPF 20, $, available at Ulta Beauty
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Face Moisturizer
If you're looking for something a little more natural, Dr. Engelman suggests First Aid Beauty. This moisturizer is free of fragrance, alcohol, pthalates, sulfates, and parabens.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Face Moisturizer, $, available at Sephora
Proactiv Green Tea Moisturizer
Dr. Engelman recommends this moisturizer for two important reasons: its green tea and non-comedogenic qualities. That means not only is the potent antioxidant a master soother, but also won't clog your pores.
Proactiv Green Tea Moisturizer, $, available at Ulta Beauty
Garnier SkinActive Moisture Bomb The Antioxidant Super Moisturizer
On the other hand, if you still want a subtle refreshing scent, Dr. Engelman swears by this one from Garnier. It's packed with antioxidant-rich goji berries and won't overwhelm panicky skin types.
Garnier Moisture Bomb The Antioxidant Super Moisturizer, $, available at Target
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum
"Technically this is a gel," Dr. Engelman notes, "but it's super-hydrating and perfect for warmer weather."
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra™ Intensive Hydration Serum, $, available at Sephora
Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream
According to Dr. Engelman, those with sensitive or damaged skin should search for products with vitamin C. "It works to neutralize free radicals that weaken the skin barrier and supports collagen synthesis to strengthen skin," she explains.
Sunday Riley C.E.O. C + E antiOXIDANT Protect + Repair Moisturizer, $, available at Sephora
Skinbetter InterFuse Treatment Cream
Dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology, Melissa Kanchanapoomi, MD, tells us that she recommends this splurge for one very important reason: "It has a patented technology that increases penetration of skin-care ingredients in the skin." Why does that matter? Well, ingredients in many moisturizers contain molecules that are way too large to actually penetrate the skin to be effective, but this does the opposite. And you know it's legit if you have to get an authorized physician to give you a bottle, so all you have to do is find a location near you on the brand's site.
Skinbetter InterFuse® Treatment Cream , $, available at Skinbetter
Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream
If your skin is currently acting up (or always acting up), Dr. Tanzi suggests Vanicream. "It's a dermatologist-created line made specifically for people with skin sensitivities," she says.
Vanicream Vanicream Skin Cream , $, available at Amazon
Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules
Sometimes what you think is sensitive skin is actually just fragile skin due to too much exfoliation. Dr. Engelman says when this happens, you've created microscopic holes in your skin where anything can get through to cause irritation. The first step to fixing that is repairing the barrier with ceramides. Dr. Engelman recommends this product because it aides the skin’s own natural protective barrier against moisture loss, helps to resurface and exfoliate, and smooths the skin."
Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules , $, available at DermStore
Olay Regenerist Micro Sculpting Cream
"This has a patented peptide that helps gently rejuvenate the skin without any irritation," Dr. Tanzi says.
Olay Regenerist Micro Sculpting Cream, $, available at Ulta Beauty
Differin Oil Control Moisturizer
Dealing with sensitive skin and constant breakouts? Dr. Kanchanapoomi loves this moisturizer because it is not only lightweight, oil-free, and doesn't clog your pores, but also includes sun protection with SPF 30. Bonus: Dr. Kanchanapoomi swears by its mattifying abilities thanks to the formula's micropearl technology that actually absorbs your own sebum to keep your complexion balanced.
Differin Differin Oil Control Moisturizer, $, available at Target
Peet Rivko Daily Moisturizer
Created as a more natural alternative to the usual sensitive-skin favorites you'll find at the drugstore, this minimalist moisturizer is the only thing you'll need to keep finicky skin happy and healthy. The shea butter, aloe, and jojoba formula is a touch more expensive than your standard CeraVe, but a little goes a long way — and the peace of mind (and complexion) is totally worth it.
Peet Rivko Daily Moisturizer, $, available at Peet Rivko
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Those with sensitive, dry skin should consider adding a serum to their routine, too. This one from SkinCeuticals is a potent antioxidant blend that helps with hyperpigmentation and prevents skin damage, Dr. Tanzi says.
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, $, available at DermStore
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