Ask a Beauty Editor: Best Skincare Products for Sensitive Skin

The label gets it wrong sometimes.

Shot of a young woman applying moisturiser to her face
Photo: Layla Bird/Getty Images

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Reader question: Why do sensitive skin products still irritate my sensitive skin? Can you recommend some that actually work? —Rachel Hamaker

"Clean beauty" has become a buzzy term, but here's the thing: Many people assume anything that has "all-natural" on the label is uniformly safe for sensitive skin, and that's not the case. "They can still contain botanicals and fragrances, which can worsen irritation for some," points out Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

Here's another issue that frustrates beauty editors everywhere: There's little regulation when it comes to certain common statements made on beauty product labels, like "dermatologist recommended" and "hypoallergenic," and the FDA doesn't have a standard or set of protocols a cosmetics company would need to take before making such claims. That means that products marketed that way still require a deep dive into the ingredients, rather than relying solely on labels, which can be misleading. In fact, according to a recent study published in JAMA Dermatology, 83 percent of products considered "hypoallergenic" contained at least one common allergen ingredient.

The best skincare products for sensitive skin should leave allergens like gluten, synthetic fragrances, and triclosan on the cutting room floor. Dr. Garshick also lists "parabens, propylene glycol (which was actually named the Allergen of the Year from the American Contact Dermatitis Society due to increasing awareness of its role in irritating skin), and lanolin" as skincare ingredients you'll want to avoid.

"Other things to look for in the label include tocopherol and various formaldehyde releases such as DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea among others and other preservatives such as methylisothiazolinone," she adds.

The most common skin irritant is fragrance, Dr. Garshick says. "If someone comes in with sensitive skin, that would be the first ingredient I would advise them to avoid. If they are still sensitive, that's when avoiding some other ingredients can be helpful."

While the ingredients mentioned above aren't guaranteed to cause your skin issues, if you're looking to "clean up" your skincare routine, here are some of the best beauty products to revamp your regimen with fewer questionable ingredients.

Best Skincare Products for Sensitive Skin

01 of 06

Best Makeup Remover for Sensitive Skin: Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

sensitive-skin-products-Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

"I like micellar water as part of a double cleanse. It gets rid of the big stuff like makeup, oil, and dirt, while the gentle non-soap cleanser takes care of the nitty-gritty grime hiding deep in the pores," says Mona Gohara, M.D., board-certified dermatologist. Unlike some other micellar waters, Garnier's cleansing water is formed without the use of propylene glycol.

02 of 06

Best Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: Fresh Soy Face Cleanser

sensitive-skin-products-Fresh Soy Face Cleanser

You don't want to strip your skin of its natural oils, as they help to keep your complexion soft and plump. The key is using a cleanser that has calming ingredients such as aloe, cucumber, or soy, and sticking to textures that are milky or creamy. I highly recommend Fresh Soy Face Wash; not only is it pH-balanced, it also has cucumber, rosewater, and amino acid–rich soy proteins that gently melt away makeup and grime. Although it's a beauty editor sin to say any skincare product is truly universal, I will say that I've recommended it to sensitive, acne-prone, and combination-skinned people, and they all got hooked.

03 of 06

Best Toner for Sensitive Skin: Pangea Pore Purifying Peptide Toner


Your instinct may be to dive into harsh alcohol-based preservatives when it comes to toners, but stronger isn't always better, especially in skincare. Alcohol can dry your skin out to the point that you're much more susceptible to breakouts, since your skin will produce more oil to combat dehydration. Instead, look for soothing botanical extracts (like willow bark, witch hazel, and licorice root) and amino acids that won't irritate or dry out your skin, i.e. this fragrance- and alcohol-free Pangea toner.

04 of 06

Best Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Repair Moisturizer

sensitive-skin-products-La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Repair Moisturizer

Featuring a dipeptide called neurosensine and the brand's spring water (rich in selenium, a natural antioxidant), this soothing face cream is formulated without ingredients that may cause potential irritation or allergic reactions, such as preservatives, parabens, fragrance, and drying alcohol. Another plus: Its unique airtight packaging contains anti-contamination valves that prevent air or contaminants from re-entering.

05 of 06

Best Eye Cream for Sensitive Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Eye Gel-Cream

sensitive-skin-products-Neutrogena Hydro Boost Eye Gel-Cream

The undereye area is especially sensitive—and easily clogged to boot. Neutrogena's water gel, non-comedogenic formula absorbs quickly so it doesn't clog your pores, but moisturizes with the intensity of a cream. Its primary player is hyaluronic acid, a water-binding hydrator that is crucial for sensitive skincare routines.

06 of 06

Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin: Eucerin Advanced Hydration Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

sensitive-skin-products-Eucerin Advanced Hydration Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

ICYMI, the dermatologist-loved brand for sensitive skin recently launched a sunscreen line—and it's just as gentle as the OG formulas (it's even approved for babies!). Buffed with five antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and SPF 50, this formula offers sun protection and all-day hydration.

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