Moisturizers for sensitive skin

The best face moisturizers for sensitive skin

9 minute read

We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

Does your skin tend to…overreact? Then you may be one of many with sensitive skin. We get it — plenty of Curology members deal with sensitive skin, so we know how tough it can be to find the right stuff for you. To make life easier, we recommend taking it easy and sticking with a simple, gentle, non-clogging moisturizer — which is why we made our own. The moisturizer by Curology is designed to take all of the guesswork out, and it conveniently comes in your 3-step skincare set along with your custom cream and a gentle cleanser!

But we’ll always be honest with you: our moisturizer might not be for everybody. We want to help you find what’s right for your unique skin. And who doesn’t love finding that special something that makes their sensitive skin feel loved and comforted? So we’ve whipped up this handy guide with moisturizers and sunscreens that our dermatology providers consider good options for sensitive skin.

Best moisturizer for sensitive skin

The moisturizer by Curology We developed this lightweight daily moisturizer with Curology members in mind, so it’s great for sensitive skin and acne-prone skin, too. Our in-house dermatologists designed a simple hydrating formula that’s non-comedogenic and free of parabens, common allergens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, and other common irritants. It goes to show you don’t need anything fancy or expensive to work — our moisturizer clocks in at under $10 per bottle when you subscribe to the Curology set!

No moisturizer is okay, too

You might not need to apply moisturizer if your skin looks and feels hydrated enough. If you’d rather not use a moisturizer, we recommend using a gentle face wash that won’t over-dry your skin, strip it of its natural oils, or weaken its protective barrier — like the Curology cleanser, which comes with the moisturizer and your custom formula when you subscribe to the full set.

Choose your own adventure

If you have another favorite moisturizer that your skin likes (especially if it’s labeled gentle or non-comedogenic), feel free to keep on using it! Here are our recommendations — we’ve researched the ingredients of each product to make sure they’re okay to try if you have sensitive skin.

Pai Skincare Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream

  • Chamomile, matricine, and chamazulene help soothe the skin

  • Rosehip oil nourishes the skin with omega 3, 6, 7 and 9

  • Nut allergy alert:

     

    contains sweet almond oil

Acure Seriously Soothing Cloud Cream

  • Hyaluronic acid effectively locks hydration into the skin

  • Nut allergy alert:

     

    contains sweet almond oil

Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream

  • Non-comedogenic, gentle formula

Aveeno Ultra-Calming Nourishing Night Cream

  • Oil-free

  • Fragrance-free

  • Contains ceramides, which nourish the skin and help it retain moisture

  • Oat extract and feverfew can help soothe inflamed or irritated skin

Boscia Cactus Water Moisturizer

  • Ultra-lightweight and fast-absorbing

If you have another favorite moisturizer that your skin likes (especially if it’s labeled non-comedogenic or formulated for sensitive skin), feel free to keep on using it! But if you’re breaking out, you’ll want to check the ingredients (more on this, below).

Best moisturizer for oily sensitive skin

The moisturizer by Curology works great for oily, sensitive skin: it’s lightweight, absorbs quickly, and locks in hydration all day long! If you’d like to check out some more options, here are a few that pass our test for no pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.

Derma-e Sensitive Skin Oil-Free Moisturizer

  • Oil-free moisturizer featuring potent antioxidants and soothing hydration

  • Includes soothing aloe

Fresh Rose Hydrating Gel Cream

  • Uses hyaluronic acid to provide lightweight, 24-hour moisture that won’t clog pores

  • Includes soothing, cooling cucumber extract

No moisturizer is okay, too

You might not need to apply moisturizer if your skin produces more than enough oil on its own. If you’d rather not use a moisturizer, we recommend using a face wash that won’t over-dry your skin, strip it of its natural oils, or weaken its protective barrier — something gentle, like the Curology cleanser.

Best moisturizer for dry sensitive skin

The moisturizer by Curology

  • Developed in-house by our team of dermatologists to be safe for sensitive and acne-prone skin

  • Lightweight gel-cream texture

  • Absorbs quickly, leaving skin with a fresh, glowy finish

  • Hyaluronic acid locks hydration into the skin

If your dry-and-sensitive skin is thirsty for a rich moisturizer but your skin is picky about what ingredients you use on it, here are a few more moisturizers for dry skin that passed our inspection with no sign of potentially irritating ingredients.

Pai Skincare Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream

  • Chamomile, matricine, and chamazulene help soothe the skin

  • Rosehip oil nourishes the skin with omega 3, 6, 7 and 9

  • Nut allergy alert:

     

    contains sweet almond oil

Acure Seriously Soothing Cloud Cream

  • Soothes and hydrates with hyaluronic acid and chamomile

  • Nut allergy alert: contains sweet almond oil

Avene Skin Recovery Cream

  • Minimal ingredients designed to be safe for sensitive skin

Avene Xeracalm A.D. Lipid-Replenishing Cream

  • Formulated for dry, sensitive skin suffering from redness, irritation, or dry patches

Face oils for dry, sensitive skin

If your skin’s drier than a desert and needs an extra boost of moisture, we recommend starting with a face oil or serum before your Curology moisturizer. Certain face oils used in skincare are loaded with skin-nourishers such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, so the right oils or oil-based moisturizers can soothe sensitive skin while replenishing much-needed moisture!

Rosehip seed oil Packed with omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, rose hip oil provides anti-inflammatory effects, which can help improve acne. It’s found in many face oils, but you can get it on its own and add a drop or two to your everyday moisturizer for extra hydration. Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil is a popular option with great reviews!

Meadowfoam seed oil Made from a flower native to Northern California and Oregon, meadowfoam seed oil is lightweight, non-comedogenic, and sinks right into the skin. It’s great at locking in moisture, leaving skin supple, glowy, and hydrated. It’s an effective carrier oil as well, making it a popular ingredient in moisturizers such as Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 and serums such as Sangre de Fruta Solis balancing serum.

Sea buckthorn oil Sea buckthorn has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties: it’s rich in anti-inflammatory omega fatty acids, including omega-3, -6, -9, and -7. A 2010 study of sea buckthorn fruit extract applied as a cream showed a decline in sebum (oil) production — this may point to some anti-acne benefit separate from fighting inflammation. It may be helpful for inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema.

Read more: face oils we recommend for all skin types

Best face moisturizer with SPF for sensitive skin

It’s always important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, but especially so if your skin is sensitive, since sun damage can cause redness and irritation. Moisturizers with built-in sun protection make a great one-step solution to your morning skincare routine, but not all moisturizers with SPF are created equal.

Chemical sunscreen vs physical sunscreen is an important difference to be aware of for sensitive skin: the chemical kind can be irritating to sensitive skin, but physical sunscreen like zinc oxide can soothe your skin while protecting it! So for sensitive skin, we recommend physical sunscreen with broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher. Some products combine physical sunscreen ingredients with chemical sunscreen ingredients, which work fine for some people, but proceed with caution — you might want to do a patch test to find out if your skin reacts negatively to chemical sunscreen.

Moisturizing face sunscreen for sensitive skin

Drunk Elephant Umbra™ Sheer Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30

  • Ultra-gentle

  • Lightly hydrating

Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte™ Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30

  • Same as above, but lightly tinted

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40

  • Contains meadowfoam seed oil: a lightweight, non-comedogenic oil that sinks right into the skin and locks in moisture, leaving skin supple, glowy, and hydrated

TATCHA Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF35

  • Lightweight creamy formula

  • Combination of physical and chemical sunscreen (zinc oxide 15%, octisalate 5%)

  • Protects without clogging pores

  • Gives skin a smoother appearance

  • Formulated to double as a primer for wearing under makeup

Olay Complete Lotion Moisturizer with SPF 30, Sensitive

  • Gentle and lightweight; features vitamin E and aloe, plus SPF 30

  • Combination of physical and chemical sunscreen (octinoxate 7.5%, octisalate 2.5%, octocrylene 2.5%, zinc oxide 7.0%)

  • Long-lasting hydration without irritating

Ingredients to avoid

Some ingredients found in moisturizers can irritate the skin or clog pores, so here are the key ones to avoid.

Avoid…

Coconut oil Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetics, but if your skin is prone to pimples and clogged pores, you’ll want to avoid it. It’s also called “cocos nucifera oil,” so keep an eye on those ingredients lists. Coconut oil clogs pores slowly but surely for some, so you might not notice right away, but take it from the experts: it gets in those pores and clogs up the works!

Alcohol Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it dries out the skin and can damage its protective barrier! Watch out for alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”) on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. However, some products have alcohol at the end of the ingredients list, likely meaning there’s not too much of it — in that case, it may not irritate the skin as much. But it’s best to avoid it whenever possible.

The exception: coconut alcohol Even though coconut oil is not good for acne-prone skin, and alcohol (usually labelled denatured alcohol) can be irritating, coconut alcohol is actually fine. Coconut alcohol is a gentle surfactant (i.e. emulsifier) that the skin tolerates just fine (unlike sodium laureth sulfate, a surfactant which can cause breakouts). Coconut alcohol comes from coconut acid, which is derived from coconut oil; but unlike coconut oil, coconut alcohol doesn’t clog pores, because it’s a smaller molecule. It’s so safe, in fact, that we use coconut alcohol in our Curology cleanser — it was tested for comedogenicity (pore-clogging potential) and passed with flying colors!

Products not labeled with terms “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic”, “does not clog pores”, or “won’t cause breakouts.” The label “non-comedogenic” (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. It’s no guarantee of safety, but it can be a useful guideline! We still recommend checking products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients. It’s easy to do with our easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!

Keep your skin calm and carry on

The bottom line for sensitive skin is to keep it simple and gentle. Let your moisturizer simply be a great moisturizer; avoid moisturizers that claim to do other things, such as treat acne. (The exception is moisturizer with sunscreen in it!) Chances are, in order for the moisturizer to do extra work, it contains some type of active ingredient or irritant that can work against sensitive skin. For a reliable, go-to daily moisturizer, we really can’t recommend our own enough. Sure, we’re a little biased, but our dermatologists developed this gel-cream hybrid, lightly hydrating moisturizer specifically to be gentle enough for the most sensitive of skin. Try it for yourself when you sign up for a free trial of Curology (you just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling) and opt into the monthly set, including your own custom cream and our simple, gentle cleanser.

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