11 of the Best Cleansers for Sensitive Skin, According to Derms
Dermatologists break down everything you need to know about cleansing your sensitive skin.
While some people wake up Instagram-ready, blemish-free, and fresh-faced, others have trouble predicting the mood of their pores. Whether you’re prone to acne or suffer from skin conditions like eczema, sensitive skin can be difficult to manage. Though it may be frustrating at times, dermatologists say there is a silver lining, and it is often found in selecting the right types of products that suit your unique chemical makeup.
If you haven’t given much thought to your routine, start by taking a long hard look at the ingredients in the face wash you turn to every single day. What you use to cleanse your pores makes a difference in the vitality and condition of your skin, making it essential to only choose a facial cleanser that suits your needs.
From what to avoid to recommended products, consider this your guide to finding the best face wash for sensitive skin.
Be mindful of ingredients in your face wash
When your pores are susceptible to flare-ups, harsh chemicals can wreak havoc, according to Kim Nichols, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in New York City. Instead of products that will dry out skin or potentially cause a breakout, Dr. Nichols suggests looking for nourishing, non-irritating ingredients that will soothe while they cleanse, while avoiding any exfoliant that isn’t hypersensitive or gentle. “Always steer clear from harsh physical scrubs, such as beads with rough edges, as they can cause micro-tears on the skin, making the skin prone to irritation or inflammation,” she says.
Ingredients to avoid if you have sensitive skin
When you’re seeking the best face wash for sensitive skin, you can’t head to your local drugstore and pick up the first product you see. Be sure to check labels for potentially harmful ingredients.
What should you keep an eye out for? Jeannel Astarita, a medical aesthetician and founder of Just Ageless in New York City, recommends avoiding parabens, phthalates, and fragrances, since they can cause an imbalance in your skin’s pH and lead to rashes, overdrying, breakouts, and redness. Astarita also urges those with sensitive skin to refrain from any cleansers or washes that claim to leave your skin “tingly.” These often include menthol or eucalyptol, and will strip your skin of its natural sebum, which leads to extreme irritation and dryness.
Dr. Nicholas also says to exercise caution when using a facial cleansing brush, like a Clarisonic, because the bristles can be too harsh for unpredictable skin. “Sometimes these devices can also overstrip the skin of its natural oils, which can lead to more sensitivity or acne,” she says. When in doubt, speak with a trusted dermatologist who can recommend the best regimen for your skin.
The best face washes for sensitive skin
Free of damaging chemicals and full of soothing vitamins and mindful ingredients, try one of these recommended facial cleansers for sensitive skin.
This cleanser can bust through even the thickest foundations or waterproof mascaras. It’s a top pick for Astarita, who says it contains natural prebiotics that balance your skin’s delicate ecology. It supports your skin’s barrier, too, which is important for those with sensitive skin, since it won’t allow potentially damaging irritants to penetrate the surface.
To buy: $52; defenage.com
Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, a board-certified and nationally acclaimed dermatologic surgeon, says this is the best face wash for sensitive skin since it helps to restore and fortify your skin’s delicate microbiome. Thanks to effective ingredients like prebiotics, probiotics, antioxidants, and even Japanese lychee, it promotes a natural and healthy protective barrier against free radicals. For those who have chronic inflammation—from acne, eczema, or rosacea—Dr. Engleman says this cleanser pulls double-duty for cellular rejuvenation, eliminating toxins and giving sufferers smooth, glowing skin.
To buy: $32; ominutrition.com
If you’ve ever visited your derm to complain about breakouts, they’ve probably given you a sample (or three) of Cetaphil. It’s recommended by experts because it’s incredibly gentle and versatile, and appropriate for your face or body. As Dr. Engleman explains, it works by one molecule binding to the oil and the other binding to the water, so it removes impurities but does not strip your skin of oils. As a bonus? It’s also lipid-, soap-, and fragrance-free.
To buy: $9; target.com
For those who don’t wear too much makeup yet suffer from finicky skin, this is the right facial cleanser to have on hand. It gently removes dirt, oil, and other grime easily. Because it doesn’t contain any ingredients that could disrupt your skin’s natural pH, it’s safe to use a few times a day, leaving your face smooth, refreshed, and clean.
To buy: $18; ulta.com
For when your sensitive skin results in red patches on your cheeks and forehead, turn to this uber gentle buy. It’s made of a blend of seaweeds, oranges, water, and aloe, making it an all-natural warrior against redness that decreases inflammation and softens your skin.
To buy: $45; amazon.com
Produced in Scandinavia with its patented SEA3oil and Glacial Water, this ultra-light and fresh cleansing gel receives rave reviews for its ability to remove grime and makeup, without causing breakouts. You can expect your face to appear smoother and more supple with regular use.
To buy: $39; eleniandchris.com
Budget-friendly and effective, Derma-E uses natural ingredients to keep skin fresh and healthy. This product is formulated with sensitive skin in mind, using anti-aging antioxidants like pycnogenol and green tea to protect your pores from free radicals, while botanical extracts, including chamomile and lemongrass, soothe irritation.
To buy: $12.50; amazon.com
If you need something a little more intense or if you prefer a lather when you wash your face, this face cleanser for sensitive skin is for you. While still keeping your skin protected, it’ll break through thick makeup, sweat, sunscreen—you name it. A unique formula made of vitamin E, safflower oil, cucumber extract, and other goodies leaves you clean, calm, and ready for the day—or bedtime.
To buy: $38; dermstore.com
Another best facial cleanser for sensitive skin is this lathering goody from Algenist. If you tend to break out, you should consider this smart formula that fights against acne without drying out your already-unpredictable pores. Thanks to witch hazel, oat amino acids, and alguronic acid, you can easily wash away your makeup and buildup, leaving your skin refreshed and protected.
To buy: $28; sephora.com
Without realizing it, many people are allergic to fragrances, causing unexplainable breakouts, bumps, and rashes. These unfamiliar dyes and scents could be the cause of your sensitive skin symptoms. With this gel face cleanser, you won’t have to worry since it uses a non-irritating version of glycolic acid to gently cleanse skin and remove dead skin. Formulated by a dermatologist, you can use twice a day for best results.
To buy: $28; dermstore.com