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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 and healthy 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, FL. 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
A true classic, there’s a good reason why derms sing the praises of this cream over and over. Fragrance-free, it touts three types of ceramides coupled with hydrating hyaluronic acid in a moisturizing formula that’s so gentle it’s even accepted by the National Eczema Association. Plus, it works equally well on both the face and body.
Best Budget: Simple Kind to Skin Face Moisturizer
Hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, dermatologist-tested, and pH balanced, this is an ideal all-around option for those seeking an affordable pick that’s simple (no pun intended) and straightforward. The water-based formula hydrates for up to 12 hours, feels featherweight on the skin and is free of fragrance and dyes—always a must when talking about sensitive skin.
Best Drugstore: SheaMoisture Cannabis & Witch Hazel Skin Rescue Moisturizer
Anti-inflammatory and soothing hemp seed oil 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.
Best Gel: Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Gel Moisturizer
Byrdie Associate Editor Holly Rhue recommends this gel pick, a choice option for those who prefer lighter hydration. Despite it’s fast-absorbing texture, it still delivers plenty of moisture—and continues to moisturize for up to 24 hours. It’s hypoallergenic, and fragrance-, paraben-, alcohol-, and dye-free. Especially noteworthy for sensitive skin is the addition of prebiotic oat and feverfew, both standouts for calming irritation.
Best Heavy Duty Cream: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration
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 to address conditions such as eczema.) To that point, it earns rave reviews not only for how well it moisturizes but also for relieving issues like eczema and psoriasis. On top of all of that, it can be used from head to toe on pretty much everyone, including babies.
Best Face and Body: EltaMD Intense Moisturizer for Face & Body
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.
A little goes a long way, so you only need to use a pearl-size amount for your whole face.
Best with SPF: Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream
When it comes to streamlining and speeding up your AM 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 the recommended SPF 30. And on the moisturizer side of things, it contains some unique actives. There’s the more standard squalane (which acts very similar to the natural oil in our skin), but also a plant-based extract that helps balance natural moisture levels, and a glycoprotein that can withstand extreme cold.
Best Soothing: BeautyStat Cosmetics Universal Pro-Bio Moisture Boost Cream
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.
Best for Eczematic Skin: La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm AP+ Cream
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 probiotic-rich thermal water.
Best Vitamin E: The Body Shop Vitamin E Moisture Cream
Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin and oil often found in anti-oxidant blend topicals or moisturizers. It also helps soothe the skin and protects the lipid barrier.
Vitamin E is a double-duty active, both a powerful antioxidant and a skin soother that helps protect the lipid barrier. Here, it’s paired with hyaluronic acid and wheat germ oil, a triple threat that delivers lots of hydration but still absorbs quickly and feels lightweight.
Best Anti-Aging: SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2
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 helps to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles and add back elasticity and fullness and also boasts antioxidants and vitamins.
Best Natural: Doctor Rogers Restore Face Lotion
While opting for natural products isn’t always a safe bet for sensitive skin (many natural essential oils can trigger reactions and irritation), this particular pick is. 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 as well as a thicker cream variant.
Sensitive skin needs a good moisturizer more than anyone—so long as it is free of irritating ingredients and is filled with hydrating and soothing ones. Derms love the affordable, multi-purpose CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion; both it and the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm A+ Cream 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 is the way to go, while those who want heavy, heavy hydration should try the SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2, which also delivers anti-aging benefits.
What to Look For In a 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.
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 (insanely) sensitive skin and is well-practiced when it comes to finding the best moisturizers—and other products—for sensitive skin.
How we test face moisturizers for sensitive skin
Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain products; you can read more about our product review methodology here.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Lucy Chen is a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, FL. She practices medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology and has a special interest in skin cancer and MOHS surgery.