Diagnosing your skin type can be hard, especially when the lines between dry, combination, and oily are all so blurred. But when you have sensitive skin, you know. The main symptoms are redness, stinging, burning, tightness, and itching—so when your skin is feeling irritated, it’s not exactly subtle.
Most people think that sensitive skin is a skin type, but it’s actually a skin condition. This means that it can affect anyone, regardless of what your skin type is, so you could be experiencing sensitivity while also dealing with acne or dryness. "Your outer environment can increase skin sensitivity—so the majority of people have probably experienced sensitivity at one point or another,” says Daniel Isaacs, Director of Research at Medik8. "It can often fluctuate; different times of year and weather conditions can impact skin, changing hormones, or even the skincare routine you are using.”
Experts recommend keeping things simple when you have sensitive skin—think cooling face mists, soothing serums, and calming moisturisers. But when it comes to cleansers for sensitive skin, things can be less obvious. Over-cleansing or using cleansers that are too harsh or that strip your skin’s moisture barrier can both trigger and exacerbate sensitivity. "When your skin barrier is damaged, your skin sensitivity can increase and you may experience visible redness and tingling when touching your skin or applying skincare products,” says Isaacs. "Your skin barrier is your skin’s natural armour to the outside world - it can become compromised easily if it's not taken care of.”
As a general rule, avoid irritating textures and cleansers formulated with exfoliating acids, and instead look out for cleansers that include ingredients like ceramides, chamomile, aloe vera, squalane, and cica.
To help you out, we’ve rounded up the very best cleansers for sensitive skin, with something for everyone, regardless of your budget, skin type, or formula preference. From balms to gels, these soothing formulas will help to remove makeup and cleanse your face without overly stripping or irritating your skin.
Shop the 13 Best Cleansers for Sensitive Skin:
1. Best Gel Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: Honest Beauty Gentle Gel Cleanser
For skin that feels particularly hot and inflamed, a gel cleanser can offer cooling relief. This particular formula is packed with skin-soothing ingredients like calendula and chamomile extracts.
2. Best Cleansing Balm for Sensitive Skin: Naturium Purple Ginseng Cleansing Balm
Cleansing balms are usually packed with essential oils and artificial fragrance, which can further irritate sensitive skin. This formula is the exact opposite—it's free from both natural and artificial fragrance, so you can even use it in the sensitive eye area without causing irritation.
3. Best Multitasking Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: Stella McCartney Reset Cleanser
Cleansers can serve different purposes, but when it comes to multitaskers, Stella McCartney’s Rest Cleanser is up there with the best of them. All you need to melt away makeup, cleanse skin, banish the day's impurities—including pollution particles—the clever formula is designed to be gentle and to not irritate the eyes, leaving your skin clean, soft, supple and clear—and prepared for the rest of your regimen.
4. Best Cream Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: Skingredients Preprobiotic Cleanse
This rich and creamy cleanser feels simultaneously soothing and nourishing. It utilises prebiotics and probiotics to ensure the skin barrier is strengthened even after cleansing.
5. Best Cleansing Oil for Sensitive Skin: Dermalogica PreCleanse Oil
Cleansing oils are incredibly effective when it comes to breaking down and melting away heavy makeup. This cult classic cleanser does so without clogging pores or irritating sensitivity. Plus, it nourishes skin with essential fatty acids in the process.
6. Best Cleansing Milk for Sensitive Skin: Susanne Kaufmann Soothing Cleansing Milk
For truly sore and irritated skin, a cleansing milk is often the most gentle cleansing solution—since you can use it without water or the need for scrubbing. This incredibly gentle formula soothes skin thanks to chamomile and sage.
7. Best Foam Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: Medik8 Calmwise Soothing Cleanser
"This cleanser helps to control the appearance of redness at its root cause, providing fast relief for red, irritated skin as well as minimising the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, enlarged pores and uneven skin tone," explains Isaacs. "It's fortified with naturally green chlorophyll for its healing and antioxidant properties, skin-strengthening vitamin K to help improve skin health, and patented teprenone to calm discomfort and inflammation." Impurities and make-up are gently cleansed away and skin is left comfortable, hydrated and detoxified without being stripped of its natural protective oils.
8. Best Exfoliating Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: Cetaphil Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser
While over-exfoliating should be avoided if you have sensitive skin, it's understandable that you may still want to do so occasionally in order to target concerns like rough texture or dullness. Since Cetaphil are widely considered experts when it comes to sensitive skin, you can play it safe with this gently exfoliating formula.
9. Best Micellar Water for Sensitive Skin: Bioderma Sensibio Cleansing Micellar Water
Micellar water offers up an effective and sensitive skin-friendly solution to makeup removal. Of all the formulas on the market, Bioderma's Sensibio is considered the best of the best, especially where sensitive skin is concerned.
10. Best Affordable Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
Not only affordable, but also incredibly effective, The Ordinary's Squalane Cleanser is a super gentle, nourishing formula—part gel and part balm. Squalane is the hero ingredient, and ensures that skin is soothed and moisturised throughout the cleansing process.
11. Best Luxury Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: Elemis Pro-Collagen Naked Cleansing Balm
Elemis' iconic Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm is a beauty editor staple, but the original formula does contain fragrant essential oils, which can potentially irritate sensitive skin. This new version strips out the fragrance, focussing solely on ingredients that are safe and suitable for skin prone to sensitivity.
12. Best Cleanser for Sensitive Skin and Dryness: Kate Somerville DeliKate Soothing Cleanser
Sensitive skin and dryness come hand in hand, which is exactly why Kate Somerville created the DeliKate range. This soothing cleanser helps to relieve redness, burning, tightness, and itching, all while supporting the skin's protective barrier to target dryness and dehydration.
13. Best Cleanser for Sensitive Skin and Breakouts: Dr.Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Enzyme Foam Cleanser
Since breakouts are themselves a form of inflammation, the ingredients used to calm sensitive skin can also work wonders for those prone to acne and blemishes. Cica is one such multitasker—it helps both to calm redness instantly and soothe skin in the long-term.
14. Best Cleanser for Oily and Sensitive Skin: CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser
Finding a cleanser for skin that's both sensitive and oily is no mean feat, since the ingredients used to target excess oil production are often harsh and stripping. Utilising salicylic acid (to gently clear pores) and ceramides (to strengthen the skin barrier), CeraVe have created the ultimate 2-in-1 cleanser.
Grace Day is a beauty editor and content creator. She has over 10 years of beauty-industry experience, spanning editorial, retail, and e-commerce, which gives her a unique understanding into how people shop for their beauty routines.
While studying for a history degree (specialising in the history of beauty) and working as a beauty adviser in department stores, Grace started writing her own beauty blog in order to share the products she discovered while dealing with acne. After graduating, she moved to Beauty Bay as beauty editor and content manager. Grace is currently a beauty contributor to Who What Wear. She has also written for Hypebae and PopSugar and works as a brand consultant and copywriter.
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