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Creating an effective skincare routine is challenging enough, but for those with sensitive skin, the already tough task is even more daunting. It requires being extra picky with the products you choose since a misstep has the potential to lead to all kinds of irritation, redness, and more. Still, a good moisturizer is an absolute must for all skin types—even more so for the sensitive set.
The right moisturizer can go a long way in helping to create a strong skin barrier, the secret to warding off both dryness and sensitivity. The key is to seek out simple formulas; the more basic, the better, advises Dr. Lucy Chen, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, Florida. More specifically, she advises steering clear of alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids. “While acids can be a bonus for those without sensitive skin because they exfoliate, they can have an opposite effect on those with sensitive skin and cause skin barrier disruption,” she says. (No, thank you.) Fragrance is another ingredient to avoid, a very common irritant, Chen says. Instead, look for ingredients that soothe and hydrate the skin—hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, soy, and colloidal oatmeal are some of her favorites.
Read on for the best face moisturizers for sensitive skin.
Best Overall: CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion
Approved by the National Eczema Association
Works for face and body
Comes in a pump bottle
Need to reapply often
A true classic, there’s a good reason why people sing the praises of this cream over and over. This fragrance-free lotion touts three types of ceramides coupled with hydrating hyaluronic acid in a formula that's gentle enough to be accepted by the National Eczema Association. Plus, it works equally well on both the face and body.
Active Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, three essential ceramides | Skin Type: Balanced, dry | Size: 8, 12, or 16 ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: Olay Moisturizing Face Lotion Sensitive Skin
This is an ideal all-around option for those seeking a lotion that checks all the sensitive skin boxes but won’t break the bank. Rodney likes it, pointing out that the aloe leaf and chamomile in the formula help soothe sensitive skin, while added glycerin attracts and locks in moisture. (More specifically, it delivers 12 hours worth of moisture, though still feels super lightweight.)
Active Ingredients: Glycerin, niacinamide | Skin Type: All | Size: 6 fluid ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Drugstore: SheaMoisture Cannabis & Witch Hazel Skin Rescue Moisturizer
Hemp seed oil, known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, is the star of the show here (though no, this doesn’t contain CBD or THC). It also has vitamin E and skin-balancing witch hazel, all in a fragrance-free formula that rings it at a super affordable price.
Active Ingredients: Cannabis sativa (hemp) seed oil, witch hazel, vitamin E | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 2 ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Splurge: Alastin Ultra Light Moisturizer
Great anti-aging benefits
Is this pick super pricey? Yes. Is it well worth the money? Also yes. The newbie comes from one of our favorite, derm-beloved brands and is noteworthy because it not only delivers gentle hydration (so gentle that you can even use this on post-procedure skin) but also touts the company’s unique TriHex technology. Why does that matter? It helps boost collagen and elastin production, key proteins needed for strong, youthful, healthy skin. There are calming ginger root and white tea leaf extracts in the mix, too.
Active Ingredients: TriHex technology | Skin Type: All | Size: 2 fluid ounces | SPF: No Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Gel: Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Gel Moisturizer
Byrdie Senior Editor Holly Rhue recommends this gel pick, a choice option for those who prefer lighter hydration. Despite its fast-absorbing texture, it still delivers plenty of moisture—and continues to moisturize for up to 24 hours. It’s fragrance-, paraben-, alcohol-, and dye-free. Also noteworthy is the addition of prebiotic oat, which is known to improve the skin barrier function and calm dry or itchy skin. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ife J. Rodney, founder of Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, MD, also likes this option, lauding it for the addition of feverfew, which can help reduce redness.
Active Ingredients: Prebiotic oat, feverfew | Skin Type: Sensitive | Size: 1.7 ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Heavy Duty Cream: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream
Reduces itch and irritation
Works for face and body
On the flip side, if your skin needs seriously intense moisture, this ultra-rich, ultra-thick cream is tops. Shea butter is the moisturizing hero, while allantoin and colloidal oats relieve both itch and irritation. (FYI, the latter is even FDA-designated as a skin protectant.) To that point, it earns rave reviews not only for how well it moisturizes but also for relieving issues like eczema and psoriasis. “It also contains both feverfew and licorice extracts, which are great at soothing irritating skin,” notes Rodney of another one of her picks. On top of all of that, it can be used from head to toe on pretty much everyone, including babies.
Active Ingredients: Colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, allantoin, FAB antioxidant booster | Skin Type: Balanced, dry | Size: 2, 6, 8, or 14 ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Face and Body: EltaMD Intense Moisturizer for Face & Body
Works for face and body
Leaves a greasy feeling
This brand may be more often associated with sunscreen, but they do more than just great SPF. Case in point: this guy. The rich consistency truly melts into the skin, where it retains 90% of moisture for at least 12 hours. It’s great not only for sensitive skin but for post-procedure skin, too, a true sign that it’s mega-gentle.
Active Ingredients: Petrolatum | Skin Type: Sensitive, dry, post-procedure | Size: 2.8 or 3.8 ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
A little goes a long way, so you only need to use a pearl-size amount for your whole face.
Best With SPF: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer UV SPF 30
Uses chemical sunscreen ingredients; can be irritating
When it comes to streamlining and speeding up your a.m. routine, opting for a moisturizer with built-in SPF is the way to go. Unlike many formulas that cap it at SPF 15 (technically not enough for daily use, according to the American Academy of Dermatology), this one does contain SPF 30. Plus, “Ceramides, niacinamide, and glycerin help with hydration and skin repair, and the brand’s proprietary thermal water has antioxidant properties,” says Rodney.
Active Ingredients: Avobenzone, oxybenzone | Skin Type: All | Size: 2.5 fluid ounces | SPF: Yes, 30 Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Soothing: BeautyStat Cosmetics Universal Pro-Bio Moisture Boost Cream
Fights environmental agressors
Fragrance-free and dermatologist-tested, this formula touts two unique soothers—a ferment derived from a rare mushroom and a probiotic that also has the added benefit of helping to fight environmental aggressors, too. Combined with ceramides and pomegranate sterols that work to restore the skin barrier, this is ideal for calming irritation whenever it crops up and has a lovely, cloud-like texture to boot.
Active Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides, pomegranate sterols, ganoderma, bifida extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 or 1.7 ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Eczematic Skin: La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm AP+ Cream
Approved by the National Eczema Association
Works for face and body
Reviewers note it absorbs slow
For those who don’t just have sensitive skin, but are also battling with full-on eczema flares, this is a true skin-saver. It too is accepted by the National Eczema Association, is tested by both derms and pediatricians (it can be used on babies as young as two weeks old), and is suitable for both face and body. Credit a combo of niacinamide, shea butter, glycerin, and the brand’s prebiotic-rich thermal water, ingredients that Rodney, who is also a fan, says help hydrate and protect the skin.
Active Ingredients: Prebiotic thermal water, aqua posae filiformis postbiotic, shea butter | Skin Type: Dry, sensitive | Size: 6.7 or 13.5 ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Very Irritated Skin: Avène Tolerance Control Skin Recovery Cream
Helps skin both look and feel better
Minimal ingredient list
Reviewers note it leaves a greasy feeling
When your sensitive skin has had enough and is starting to look (and feel) irritated, reach for this guy. Yes, it does the standard duties of helping to moisturize and strengthen the skin barrier and all that good stuff, but it’s also unique because it contains D-sensinose. The postbiotic ingredient is found in the mineral-rich thermal spring water in the formula, which the brand says can help quickly calm all kinds of feelings and signs of skin discomfort—think tingling, burning, and tightness.
Active Ingredients: D-sensinose | Skin Type: Dry, irritated | Size: 1.3 fluid ounces | SPF: No Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Anti-Aging: SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2
Smooths fine lines and wrinkles
This just may be the creamiest cream we’ve ever used. The name refers to the ratio of hydrating, anti-aging, sensitivity-preventing lipids it contains—2% ceramides to 4% cholesterol to 2% fatty acids. Along with imparting mega moisture, the formula also claims to help smooth out fine lines and wrinkles, add back elasticity and fullness, and has antioxidants and vitamins.
Active Ingredients: Ceramides, natural cholesterol, and fatty acids | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Size: 1.6 fluid ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Testers Say
"It delivers instant and long-term results and the texture is a dream." — Ashley Rebecca, Product Tester
Best Natural: Doctor Rogers Restore Face Lotion
Minimal ingredient list
Has lightweight and thicker varieties
While ingredients both natural and chemical can be irritating for many skin types, you may find relief in this gentle formula. It has a minimal ingredient list loaded with hydrating and calming plant-based ingredients. It repeatedly earns rave reviews, and we like that it comes in both this lightweight lotion and a thicker cream variant. Of course, conduct a patch test on a small area ahead of application to rule out allergic reactions.
Active Ingredients: Niacinamide, centella asiatica extract | Skin Type: Balanced, oily, acne-prone | Size: 1.7 fluid ounces | SPF: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Sensitive skin needs a good moisturizer more than anyone—so make sure it is free of irritating ingredients and is filled with hydrating and soothing ones. Derms love the affordable, multi-purpose CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion (view at Ulta); both it and the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm A+ Cream (view at Ulta) tout the National Eczema Association Seal of Approval, so you can feel confident knowing they’re extra gentle and effective. For those who prefer more lightweight hydration, a gel formula, like the Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Gel Moisturizer (view at Ulta), is the way to go, while those who want heavy, heavy hydration should try the SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 (view at Dermstore), which also delivers anti-aging benefits.
What to Look for in a Face Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin
According to Chen, this is a non-negotiable if you have sensitive skin. The fragrance is an “extra” and will not positively affect how well your moisturizer functions, but it is a common cause of allergies and skin irritation, she says.
A Short Ingredient List
The fewer ingredients, the less likely there is to be something in there that can irritate your skin. Chen says it’s a good idea to aim for 10 ingredients or less.
They’re your stressed and irritated skin’s BFF. Good ones to look for include colloidal oats, soy, and aloe vera.
What are the benefits of face moisturizers for sensitive skin?
“Moisturizing, in general, restores your skin barrier, protecting you from environmental irritants and damage,” says Rodney. Those with sensitive skin tend to have a compromised skin barrier; the right moisturizer can help strengthen it and soothe the skin while also providing much-needed hydration.
How do you apply face moisturizers for sensitive skin?
“When applying a face moisturizer for sensitive skin, you should first do a patch test,” Rodney advises. Apply it to a small area either behind your ear or on your inner arm, and look for signs of irritation. If all seems okay after 24 to 48 hours, you can proceed to your face. Apply a dime-size amount onto each cheek, chin, and forehead, then gently massage in an upward motion. Once the moisturizer is fully absorbed, you can put on other products, such as sunscreen or makeup, she says.
How often should you use face moisturizers for sensitive skin?
Rodney suggests using them twice daily after washing your face. (The one exception: Formulas with SPF only need to be used in the morning.)
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She has super sensitive skin and is well-practiced when it comes to finding the best moisturizers—and other products—for sensitive skin.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Lucy Chen is a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, Florida. She practices medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology and has a special interest in skin cancer and MOHS surgery.
- Dr. Ife J. Rodney is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist and the founder of Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, MD. She specializes in all areas of cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatology for all skin types.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough face moisturizers for sensitive skin from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.