People with sensitive skin know it's important to be really picky when choosing skincare products. Applying one wrong product can cause a whole host of problems for your skin, such as irritation, redness, bumpiness, etc. It's especially important to find out how to shop for products that will really work for you so you don't run into any issues and so you don't waste money on something that is totally wrong for you.
When it comes to face washes—a product you'll probably use daily—it's so important to find one that gels with your skin. You're going to want something that's trusted if you're using it day in, day out. So how do you find out what's best for sensitive skin? I went to the experts for their tips on how to choose a face wash. See what they had to say below.
Dos and Don'ts for Choosing a Face Wash
Do: Consider What Might Be Causing Irritation
"If someone has sensitive skin, they should try to rule out what makes them sensitive," dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar says. "Most sensitivities are caused by fragrance, harsh chemicals such as alcohol, allergies, hormonal imbalances, or harsh climates. After ruling out what makes someone sensitive, one can prioritize what to look for in a cleanser."
Do: Look for a Short Ingredient List
"As sensitive skin overreacts when exposed to excess stimuli, those with this skin type need to look for a wash that has a short ingredient list, as too many ingredients can in and of itself trigger the inflammation cascade that occurs with sensitive skin," explains board-certified dermatologist and docent medical advisor Farhaad Riyaz, MD.
Do: Prioritize Hydrating Ingredients
Don't: Aggravate the Skin
"On a quest to defy aging or correct other skin issues, sensitive-skin types often choose a wash with exfoliating acids or vitamin C, and wash with hot water and a rough washcloth or sponge," Riyaz says. "This can aggravate sensitive skin leading to redness and flaking."
Aguilar recommends doing a simple cleanse twice a day using warm water (not hot), gently patting dry, and following with a skincare routine that suits your sensitive skin. "Try to avoid cleansing with harsh gadgets that are stimulating or offer a 'deep' cleanse. We don't want to strip sensitive skin of its natural barrier," she says.
Do: Stay Away From Certain Ingredients
Riyaz says people with sensitive skin might reach for creamy cleansers, oils, or balms that contain mineral oil or petroleum to relieve any itchiness or flakiness. "Mineral oil will clog pores, disrupt the barrier function of the skin, inhibit oxygenation and detoxification, and over time, make the skin dependent on it," he says.
And you'll also want to stay away from ingredients that are way too harsh. "Avoid sulfate (sodium lauryl sulfate), as this is one of the foaming ingredients in a face wash that can be quite irritating or sensitizing," says Anthony Rossi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who has a skincare line launching in 2022. "Also avoid microbeads or other physical exfoliators, as these would be too harsh for sensitive skin types. Avoid benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid washes."
Don't: Use Anything With Fragrance or Alcohol
"Chemicals hiding under 'fragrance' or 'parfum' can make sensitive skin irritated," Aguilar says. "Excessive alcohol should also be avoided, as alcohol can dry out the skin by stripping natural oils."
Do: Switch Up Cleansers
You might want to consider swapping cleansers depending on the season. "Sensitive skin often experiences an uptick in irritation due to cold, dry, or windy fall and winter weather," Riyaz says. "Indoor heating can also aggravate the skin. To keep it in check, use a more hydrating cleanser in these colder seasons, such as one with nourishing oils that help support a healthy skin barrier."
Don't: Automatically Reach for Something That's Labeled "Organic" or "All-Natural"
Aguilar says that automatically buying "all-natural" or "unscented" cleansers is a mistake. You don't want to assume that since a cleanser is unscented it's gentle. "Some skincare products, referred to as unscented have been formulated to remove any smell, but they do this by adding masking chemicals, such as phthalates," says Aguilar. "Phthalates have been linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, and have been banned from cosmetics in the European Union but still remain prevalent in U.S. products."
Do: Wash Your Face
Aguilar says that some people might avoid cleansing altogether because their skin is sensitive, but you don't want to do that. "Pollution, dirt, and exposure to the day's elements can make the sensitive skin flare," she explains. "So keeping a healthy and clean barrier is important to keeping reactive skin calm."
Best Face Washes for Sensitive Skin
Ready to find your go-to face wash? Take a look at these recs below.
"This face wash is free of dyes, lanolin, masking fragrances, parabens, formaldehyde, and other preservatives," Aguilar says. "It's great at cleansing skin and removing makeup while leaving the skin feeling soft and hydrated. Although it's hydrating and creamy-textured, it won't clog your pores. Many technicians recommend this product after receiving an intense laser because it's so calming and doesn't irritate the already irritated skin."
"With a short ingredient list including gentle coconut-based cleansing agents and hyaluronic acid, it steers clear of drying sulfates and irritants like artificial fragrances or harsh acids," Riyaz says. "It also has a pH of 5.5 that works in harmony with the skin, making it a sensitive-skin favorite."
"There is no water in this calming and creamy cleanser. Therefore, it doesn't need any preservatives," Aguilar says. "Infused with chamomile, arnica, and rosemary, this calming cream cleanser is perfect for sensitive skin that is prone to redness. It is cruelty-free and formulated without parabens, sodium lauryl sulfates, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals, animal by-products, phthalates, GMOs, and triclosan. It leaves the skin feeling clean and beautifully hydrated."
"Another great cleanser for sensitive skin is the Sensitive Skin Cleanser by Pevonia. EFA-rich safflower-seed oil helps preserve the skin barrier, and soothing allantoin, chamomile, and horse chestnut keep irritation and redness a bay," Riyaz says.
You don't have to worry about this cleanser stripping away any natural oils and leaving your skin ultra dry. It's formulated with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin. It's also free of fragrance, parabens, and soap.
Fresh's soy face cleanser is a best seller and favorite among so many readers and editors. The non-stripping formula is made with amino acid–rich soy proteins and rose water to wash away any impurities and makeup.
Cetaphil's cleanser is great for all skin types, but it's specially formulated for sensitive skin. The pH-balanced formula is free of fragrance and sulfates. And you can use it on your body, too.
The bromelain (a pineapple-derived enzyme) in this formula works to reduce inflammation while also sloughing off dead skin cells. It's also an oil-free and pH-balanced product.
This facial cleanser is infused with rice extracts and aloe vera to moisturize, prevent clogged pores, and leave the skin looking radiant. The product was dermatologist- and allergy-tested and even has the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance.
Kiehl's facial cleanser is one of my go-tos because it never dries out my skin, which is a plus since I'm prone to dryness. I love that it's a gel formula that goes on so smoothly and doesn't feel too thick at all. Ingredients include apricot kernel oil (to moisturize), avocado oil (to restore natural moisture), and squalane (to restore the natural moisture balance).
Neutrogena's mild and creamy cleanser works well on tough skin issues and conditions, such as sensitive skin, acne, eczema, and rosacea. It's free of oil, soap, fragrance, parabens, and essential oils.
The star ingredient for sensitive skin in this formula is calming feverfew extract, which is related to chamomile and helps reduce redness and calms irritated skin. And while the formula is gentle, it's still powerful enough to remove makeup.
La Roche-Posay's cleanser is a soothing formula that's especially gentle on dry and sensitive skin. The unique thing about it is it's a rinse-free formula, so just apply with a cotton pad or your fingertips. The creamy formula is made with glycerin, ethylhexyl palmitate, and antioxidant thermal spring water to prevent overdrying and calm the skin.