Those with sensitive or easily reactive skin can’t be too careful when it comes to keeping their complexion in check. Skincare is often the focus, with creams, moisturizers, and serums that help protect the skin barrier (the outermost layer of the skin responsible for keeping moisture in and irritants out). But the buck doesn’t stop with skincare. Makeup matters, too.
Whether you suffer from dryness, redness, itchiness, flaking, inflammation, or all of the above, having an easily irritated complexion can make finding the right beauty products a challenge. “In general, avoid products that are heavily fragranced, and be sure to keep your skin well-moisturized all year long—strategically layer moisturizing products underneath your makeup,” offers board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman.
Because it’s often hard to pinpoint the specific cause of sensitive skin, coming up with an exact solution can be tricky. But we’ve done the legwork to find makeup products formulated with the right ingredients to help tame sensitivity and maintain calm, healthy skin.
Estée Lauder Futurist Hydra Rescue Moisturizing Foundation SPF 45
Lightweight and breathable yet ultra hydrating
Covers imperfections without weighing down skin
Not cruelty free
This foundation seems to do it all: It’s makeup, skincare, and sunscreen. Engelman favors this foundation because she says, “It provides great buildable coverage while nourishing the skin with soothing ingredients.” Dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested, it’s formulated specifically for sensitive skin with key ingredients—like chia-seed extract, vitamin E, and ion-charged water complex—for hydrating, nourishing, and soothing even the most acne-prone skin. Clinical testing demonstrates it alleviates visible redness and irritation, protects against pollution with antioxidants, and offers ultra-moisturization that’s felt instantly and seems to last all day. As a foundation, it helps to even out skin tone and covers dark spots and imperfections with buildable coverage that results in a natural-looking yet radiant finish. What’s more, it’s formulated free of parabens, phthalates, alcohol, and mineral oil; it comes in 28 shades to suit a variety of skin tones; and it works well on mature skin, as it does not settle into fine lines and wrinkles. What else can someone with sensitive skin possibly want in one product?
Price at time of publish: $51
Active Ingredients: Salvia Hispanica Seed (Chia Seed) Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, Phenyl Trimethicone | Coverage: Medium to Full | Finish: Radiant | Size: 1.2 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
Almay Healthy Glow Foundation Makeup + Gradual Self Tan
Creamy texture that goes on easily and blends well
Self-tanner shows visible results in three days
Includes SPF 20
The pump doesn’t always work
It can be admittedly tricky to find a wallet-friendly option for any kind of complexion perfector, much less one that’s not going to irritate sensitive skin. Enter this hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested, fragrance-free option. Not only does it deliver medium coverage, it also has a built-in self-tanner to gradually give your skin a healthy glow over the course of three days. Also nice: It contains all-important SPF, too, derived from non-irritating mineral blockers zinc and titanium dioxide.
Price at time of publish: $4
Active Ingredients: Octinoxate 7.0%, Titanium Dioxide 7.1%, Zinc Oxide 4.2% | Coverage: Medium | Shades: 2, Fair/medium, medium | Finish: Natural | Size: 1.0 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Acne-Prone Skin
bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream SPF 30
Water-based, lightweight, and feels refreshing
Contains non-chemical, mineral-based SPF 30
Recommended by The Skin Cancer Foundation
Comes in more than 20 shades
Some say it doesn't work well on oily or mature skin
This oil-free, tinted moisturizer really packs a punch of hydration. Made with plant-based squalene (a lipid similar to the natural oils in our skin), marine botanicals, and coconut-derived ingredients, and formulated without parabens, binders, or fillers, it’s lightweight and won’t feel greasy or heavy—ideal for oily or acne-prone skin. It promotes the skin’s natural balance with potassium and mineral electrolytes, calcium, and magnesium components. It also contains a mineral-based sunscreen (a good choice whether you’re sensitive or want to avoid breakouts or both). And because it’s tinted, it also helps cover up redness from blemishes or skin sensitivity. Engelman advises how to apply a product like this gel-cream tint so as not to irritate sensitive or inflamed skin. “Pat on your moisturizer or makeup,” she offers, “instead of rubbing, which can increase redness.”
We took this product for a spin. Find out how it went in our Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue review.
Price at time of publish: $30
Active Ingredients: Titanium dioxide 6.2% | Coverage: Sheer-to-medium | Shades: 20+ | Size: 1.18 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Alima Pure Oil Balancing Primer Powder
Keeps skin looking fresh and not greasy
Woman-founded, woman-run, carbon-neutral business
Some say it’s too sheer
Only comes in three shades
There’s a long list of what this formula doesn’t contain, namely nuts, gluten, fragrance, silicone, parabens, sulfates, synthetic dyes, phthalates, dimethicone, talc, bismuth oxychloride, and nanoparticles. In fact, it’s so natural that it contains only four ingredients, the first and most important is kaolin to absorb oil and help keep your makeup in place all day long. Apply this powder beneath your foundation to control shine, and because it’s so lightweight you won’t feel like you have layers of makeup caked on. The simple formula with all-natural ingredients makes this product a winner for those with acne-prone skin.
Price at time of publish: $16
Active Ingredients: Kaolin, Mica, Zinc Oxide, Iron Oxides | Coverage: Sheer | Shades: 3: light, medium, deep | Size: 0.16 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
La Mer Soft Fluid Long Wear Foundation SPF 20
Lightweight formula with buildable coverage
Stays on all day—in any weather
Comes in more than 25 shades
Contains SPF 20
Has a strong scent
Can settle into lines of mature skin
This splurge-worthy foundation goes on silky and stays put on your face all day—even in humidity. Engelman recommends this product for sensitive skin and says she loves it because it’s super sheer and natural looking. It provides nourishing coverage that helps to soften fine lines and diminish pores and imperfections. Free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, formaldehyde, mineral oil, hydroquinone, and triclosan, this foundation is packed with antioxidants and contains SPF to boot.
Price at time of publish: $140
Active Ingredients: Octinoxate 7.5%, Titanium Dioxide 1.9% | Coverage: Medium | Finish: Natural | Shades: 27 | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
Colorscience Natural Finish Pressed Foundation SPF 20
Looks natural and doesn’t feel heavy
Goes on and washes off easily
Contains SPF 20
Water resistant up to 80 minutes
Not enough shades
Application sponge doesn’t last long
For those with sensitive skin, mineral makeup is often recommended, as minerals are less likely to cause an allergic reaction than many ingredients in traditional makeup. This pressed powder is, in fact, mineral-based, but it also earns extra points for containing hydrating natural oils and antioxidants, including carrot seed oil with Omega 3-6-9 and vitamin E that helps protect against free radical damage. Free of talc, synthetic dyes, and alcohol, this vegan foundation also delivers SPF 20, and it looks equally natural whether you apply it with a brush or sponge.
Price at time of publish: $55
Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide 21.2%, Zinc Oxide 12.1% | Coverage: Medium-to-full | Finish: Natural | Shades: 8 | Size: 0.42 oz. | Cruelty-Free: yes
Dermablend Flawless Creator Lightweight Foundation
Made with clean ingredients
Comes in 20 shades
It can dry out skin
If not applied properly (tapped into skin), it could go on too thick
Let’s face it: If you have sensitive skin, you’re going to want to cover up unsightly redness at some point. Consider these customizable drops that can be used alone or mixed in with any moisturizer, serum, or sunscreen. This foundation contains 33 percent concentrated pigments, so use one drop for sheer coverage on its own, or add up to four drops into your skincare can help create an even natural finish. Comprising only 10 clean ingredients—no parabens, phthalates, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfates, or animal by-products—this oil-free, vegan foundation works well on a variety of skin types to help cover up and even out redness, dark spots, and uneven skin tones. Be sure to apply with a brush, recommends makeup artist Lisa Aharon. “I find using a brush for application to be the least irritating on the complexion,” she says. “The warmth of the fingertips or the stippling of a sponge could potentially add redness to a sensitive face.”
Price at time of publish: $40
Active Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone, Isododecane, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Silica, Disodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Dimethiconol, Aluminum hydroxide | Coverage: Full coverage | Finish: Natural | Shades: 20 | Size: 1.0 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Hydrating Primer
Non-irritating and fragrance free
Creamy texture feels more like a lotion than a primer
Lightweight and breathable
Works on dry skin
Not for oily skin
T-zone can appear greasy if too much is applied
This super-hydrating primer—made without nasties like parabens, sulfates, and silicone, and containing olive extract marine and hydra botanicals—is a dream for those with extremely dry or sensitive skin, though those with combo and normal skin enjoy its benefits too. Aharon favors this product for sensitive skin because it’s non-irritating and formulated without fragrance. This water-based primer locks in moisture with a protective barrier on the skin’s surface and create an ideal canvas for even makeup application. And while it’s uber moisturizing and nourishing to the skin, it still feels lightweight and breathable.
Price at time of publish: $42
Ingredients: Olive Extract, Marine Hydra Botanicals, Glycerin | Coverage: sheer | Shades: 1 | Size: 1.7 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
Clinique High Impact Mascara
Lash-lengthening plus volumizing formula
Made without parabens and phthalates
In talking about sensitive skin makeup, you can’t forget about mascara. After all, sensitivity around the eyes is super common, and it can be tricky to find eye products that don’t exacerbate this irritation. Just like many of Clinique’s skincare products are meant for sensitive skin sufferers, so is this mascara. It’s ophthalmologist- and allergy-tested, safe, and non-irritating for anyone with sensitive eyes and even contact lens wearers; it’s also free of mineral oil and fragrance. Plus, the formula pumps up both length and volume, adding definition to create notice-me lashes.
Price at time of publish: $23
Active Ingredients: Sodium Hyaluronate, Panthenol, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Stearic Acid, Silica | Shades: 2, black and black/brown | Size: 0.28 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
What Our Testers Say
"My lashes have never looked longer than when using the High Impact Mascara; it’s safe to say this product lives up to its name. The formula held a curl in my eyelashes throughout the day and didn’t succumb to flaking or fallout—raccoon eyes just are not in style right now." —Nicole Pulyado, Product Tester
Best Eye Shadow
RMS Beauty Eye Polish
Long lasting and doesn’t smudge
Moisturizing and soothing
Made with raw, food-grade organic ingredients
Eco-friendly manufacturing processes
The texture of the different shades vary
Some users complain the product drying up quickly
These shadows (which come in a bunch of shades) are worked into the skin like a moisturizer—as they have all the benefits of raw mineral pigments without the dry, flaky effect. The coolest thing, though, is that it can double as an eye cream to hydrate the delicate skin on your lids. With excellent staying power, it doesn’t smudge off after hours of wear. If you have dry eyes that are sensitive to most shadows, this is the one for you.
Active Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Beeswax, Jojoba Seed Oil, Cocoa Seed Butter, Tocopherol (non-GMO), Rosemary Extract | Coverage: Sheer | Finish: Metallic, light-reflective | Shades: 6 | Size: 0.15 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Chantecaille Cheek Gelée Hydrating Gel Cream Blush
Can be used on cheeks and eyes
Free of harmful ingredients
Only comes in 3 colors
Can be too sheer
A little goes a long way with this hydrating gel-cream blush that’s the best of an emulsion plus stain—just a drop offers rich, vibrant pigment plus luminosity for a healthy glow. Dermatologist and allergy tested, it’s free of all the ingredients you don’t want—parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic dyes, mineral oil, palm oil, and fragrance. Aharon favors this product because she says fragrance- and oil-free formulas are best for acne-prone skin.
Price at time of publish: $48
Active Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, Butylene Glycol, Vinyl Dimethicone, Magnesium Sulfate, Glycerin, Sodium Citrate, Silica | Coverage: Sheer | Shades: 3 | Size: 0.73 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Serum Foundation
Bourjois Healthy Mix Serum Foundation
Applies easily and blends well
Good value at this price point
Not for oily skin
Made with ingredients including vitamins and fruit skin from litchi, goji berries, and pomegranates, which aim to combat signs of stress and sleep deprivation, this super-light gel helps to deal with signs of fatigue that may be showing on your face. It easily glides over the skin, blends in well, and helps to perk up your appearance and leave you with a glowy finish.
Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide, Tocopheryl Acetate, Glycerin, Panthenol | Coverage: Light | Finish: Natural | Shades: 6 | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Eye Shadow
Rose Inc. Satin & Shimmer Duet Eyeshadow in Satin Plum and Lavender Shimmer
Eco refill packaging options
Suitable for all skin types
Contains chamomile to soothe eyelids
No matte finish options
The eye area is probably the most sensitive zone of the face where even the slightest bit of irritation can result in redness, puffiness and even tears. This eyeshadow duet includes ingredients like chamomile and wine extract to smooth the eyelids and calm even the most delicate of skin. Available in four luxurious shimmering jewel tones, they have been formulated specially to combine hydrating skincare with both satin and shimmer color. These dreamy duos can be used to create an elevated day look using just the cream shadow or by layering and blending with the shimmer for a bolder smokey eye. All while providing weightless hydration with ingredients such as plant derived squalane and antioxidant properties Vitamin C and E.
Price at time of publish: $30
Active Ingredients: Mica, Zinc Stearate, Hexylene Glycol | Coverage: Buildable | Shades: 4 | Finish: Shimmer | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Medium Coverage Foundation
Bourjois Healthy Mix Anti-Fatigue Liquid Foundation
Applies easily and blends well
Good value at this price point
Suitable for all skin types
Strong fruity scent
If you are looking for a little bit more coverage but still want to maintain a natural looking finish, this medium coverage foundation combines ingredients vitamins C, E and B5 with coated pigments to create an easy to blend formula that is also beneficial for your skin. The main aim of this foundation is to give a helping hand to weary looking skin, even out complexion and reduce dark circles. It glides effortlessly over the face, blurring out any signs of tiredness to perk up your appearance and leave you with a glowy natural finish.
Price at time of publish: $21
Active Ingredients: Dimethicone, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Panthenol | Coverage: Medium | Finish: Natural | Shades: 15 | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
Uoma Beauty Trippin Smooth Primer
Cooling gel formula
Free from irritating ingredients
Not for dry skin
This primer works like a dream for anyone with sensitive skin. It contains chamomile water to calm and soothe the face before applying foundation and the lightweight texture means it's breathable for skin. Free from parabens, fragrance and talc it won’t irritate the complexion but instead help to create a smooth and even base to work upon. It also uses micro-illuminating pearls and mushroom extract for a subtle healthy glow.
Price at time of publish: $29
Active Ingredients: Hydrolyzed Yeast Protein, Propanediol, Glycerin, Silica | Coverage: Sheer | Shades: 1 | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Hypoallergenic Makeup
Tarte Amazonian Clay Full Coverage Foundation SPF 15
Wide range of shades
Doesn't contain irritating ingredients
May be too thick for some people
Finding a full coverage foundation for sensitive skin can seem like mission impossible. But this formula from Tarte covers everything from redness to dark circles without feeling heavy or cakey. It uses a whipped mousse consistency to blend into the skin and create a soft matte finish perfect for day or night wear. By combining Amazonian clay and mineral pigments with anti-inflammatory ingredients like Vitamin E, this foundation provides amazing coverage with just one layer. Its oil free formula can also help users avoid breakouts and clogged pores.
Price at time of publish: $40
Active Ingredients: Butylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Isododecane, Silica | Coverage: Full | Shades: 46 | Finish: Matte | Size: 1.7 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Mineral Loose Powder
Physicians Formula Loose Mineral Powder
Free from irritating ingredients
Physicians Formula has been creating hypoallergenic makeup since 1937 so it is no surprise that their mineral loose powder is a long time favorite with sensitive skin users. One of the best value brands on the market, this powder provides buildable coverage as well as SPF protection. Carefully formulated to be free from talc and parabens, applying this couldn’t be easier as a air-cushion blender sponge is included in the lid to help you achieve a soft satin finish. Lightweight and gentle this powder creates a natural looking base while also allowing the skin to breathe.
Price at time of publish: $15
Active Ingredients: Mica, Zinc Stearate, Hexylene Glycol | Coverage: Light to Medium | Shades: 3 | Finish: Satin | Size: 0.42 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Oil Control
Beauty Bakerie Parchment Paper Oil Blotting Sheets
More convenient than powder
Work really well on the t-zone
When you have sensitive oily skin it can sometimes feel as though you have only just put your powder away when your skin starts to shine again. It can be tempting to immediately reach for your makeup bag and reapply some powder but sometimes layering more product on top can exacerbate the issue and result in a cakey finish, blocked pores and eventual breakouts. A gentle dab of these blotting sheets is all you need to soak up any excess oil without ruining your base makeup. They come in a handy little box so are easy to keep in your purse and use throughout the day whenever you feel that shine coming through.
Price at time of publish: $12
Active Ingredients: Hemp Pulp, 24k Gold Flakes, Wood Pulp | Finish: Matte | Size: 100 Sheets | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Mineral Makeup
Glo Skin Beauty Luminous Liquid Foundation Mineral Makeup
Free from parabens, phthalates, talc and sulfate
Not suitable for oily skin
This liquid mineral foundation helps even the most sensitive skin achieve a dewy finish. Ideal for everyday wear due to its combination of mineral pigments, SPF and antioxidants, it even has diamond powder among its ingredients to give the skin a gentle illuminating glow. One of the few liquid foundations on the market free from parabens, phthalates, talc and sulfate it works great on dry to normal skin for a natural and soft looking base. It can be applied using your preferred brush for a lightweight sheer finish or built up to create a medium coverage.
Price at time of publish: $60
Active Ingredients: Octinoxate 5%, Titanium Dioxide 10% | Finish: Dewy | Coverage: Light to Medium l Shades: 10 | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Concealer
Easy to apply
Our best overall pick is Estee Lauder Futurist Hydra Rescue Moisturizing Foundation SPF 45, which is full of hydrating ingredients including vitamin E to moisturize sensitive skin without irritation. We also love UOMA Beauty Trippin Smooth Primer to calm sensitive skin with its soothing ingredients and create an even base before applying foundation. And we favor Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Concealer for its mix of blendable coverage and its ultra-hydrating properties.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Dendy Engelman is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. She is also a member of Byrdie's Review Board.
- Clare Holden is a makeup artist and beauty journalist with over 15 years experience.
What to Look For in Sensitive Skin Makeup
If you decide to opt for a foundation containing SPF, ensure it contains sunscreens that are known to not irritate sensitive skin, such as zinc and titanium dioxide. (These are the two actives commonly found in mineral sunscreen.) We recommend La Mer Long Wear Foundation SPF 20, which is completely non-irritating.
Mineral-based pigments have long been respected for their ability to impart coverage and luminosity without irritating skin, so when choosing makeup for sensitive skin, consider those containing mineral-based ingredients at the top of your list. We recommend Physicians Formula Loose Mineral Powder, for a flawless finish that works well for sensitive skin.
The tendency to be sensitive doesn’t just apply to skin—vulnerable areas like the eyes are also prone to their fair share of sensitivity. That doesn’t mean expressive eye makeup is out of the question, thanks to a variety of formulations that are developed without potential irritants. We recommend Rose INC Satin and Shimmer Duet Powder and Cream Eyeshadow to create a statement eye without irritating the sensitive eye area.
Ingredients that are safe for sensitive skin include the following:
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps protect the skin, decrease inflammation, and normalize cell production.
- Vitamin C (or L-Ascorbic Acid) is a highly effective, widely used, and well-studied antioxidant that can help stimulate collagen production.
- Vitamin B3 (or niacinamide) is known for enhancing skin tone and texture, and helping to fade dark marks.
- Vitamin E is an antioxidant that also is incredibly moisturizing and helps speed healing.Our best overall pick, Estee Lauder Futurist Hydra Rescue Moisturizing Foundation SPF 45, is replete with vitamin E.
Which type of makeup is best for sensitive skin?
When shopping for makeup that is safe to use on sensitive skin, search for products that are specifically formulated for it. This applies to all categories including face makeup like foundation, concealer, powder, highlighters, eye makeup, and even lipstick. Be on the lookout for such tags as dermatologist-tested, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free, to name a few.
“Often, sensitive skin’s biggest issue is a compromised skin barrier,” says Engelman. “Always start with clean skin and hands before applying any products; this will reduce the likelihood of transferring bacteria and other irritants. Also, be sure to clean your makeup applicators (brushes, blenders, etc.) very regularly.”
Is makeup bad for sensitive skin?
If you have highly-reactive skin, it’s okay to wear makeup, but avoid a number of potentially-irritating ingredients such as added fragrance, which may aggravate the skin. Also, opt for products that were developed with sensitive skin in mind (they may contain ingredients to help calm and protect the skin’s barrier). If you have any doubts, it’s best to talk to a dermatologist first. When in doubt, talk to a dermatologist first. “When skin is inflamed, only use ingredients for sensitive skin like chamomile, oatmeal, or rose,” urges Engelman.
How do you get makeup off sensitive skin?
Those with sensitive skin should use cleansers and makeup removers formulated with gentle ingredients to help remove makeup from the skin without causing irritation.
How do you use makeup when dealing without breakouts without exacerbating the issue?
Aharon advises, “Wear your favorite mineral, fragrance-free, oil-free foundation, or simply use a concealer to cover the spots. But whenever possible, keep your skin clean and moisturized.”
What are the benefits of hypoallergenic makeup?
Hypoallergenic is the term used to describe any product that has been developed without common allergen ingredients. It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what aggravates sensitive skin as we are exposed to so many different elements daily from cosmetics products to pollution and even down to what washing detergent we use. Hypoallergenic brands aim to formulate products to be as gentle as possible on the skin and therefore reduce the risk of any type of skin reaction. Using hypoallergenic products can significantly lower the chances of irritating the skin, allowing you to create your desired makeup look without having to worry about causing breakouts, redness or any other kind of visible inflammation.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributing writer Danine Alati has two decades of editorial experience, mainly in the lifestyle and interior design realm. But after interviewing Bobbi Brown for a finance magazine five years ago, her interest in beauty was piqued. As someone who developed super-sensitive skin as an adult—skin is supposed to calm down post-adolescence, no?—she has been trying to tame her complexion for years and was very interested in learning what the experts had to say about the best makeup for sensitive skin.
Byrdie contributing writer Clare Holden trained and worked as a makeup artist after graduating from her degree in Journalism. While she was working on theatre productions she got to experiment with every type of glitter imaginable and see how they worked under various conditions. With over 15 years experience in the beauty industry and having tried and tested hundreds of products on every different type of skin and face shape, she now combines her love of writing with her knowledge and expertise of beauty and skincare products.
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