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The 14 Best Face Cleansers for Sensitive Skin, Vetted by Experts

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Best Face Cleanser for Sensitive Skin UNIV: a collage of face cleansers
Paula Boudes for PureWow

Cleansers are the foundation of any skincare routine. As Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist in New York explains, “The goal of a cleanser is to remove dirt and soiling of the skin, while maintaining a healthy skin barrier. The compounds used in cleansers to remove the dirt are known as surfactants. While effective, some surfactants can have damaging effects to the skin barrier. This is especially problematic in people with sensitive skin, which is why it is important to choose the right cleanser for your needs.”

If you have sensitive skin, Dr. Zeichner suggests looking for cleansers that contain gentle surfactants (like Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser Face Wash; $12) along with barrier repairing ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, natural oils or ceramides. His pick? RoC Barrier Renew Gentle Cleanser; $17, which checks all of the boxes.

Ahead, we’ve pulled together a list of the 14 best face cleansers for sensitive skin that will hopefully take the sting out of washing your face every day.

The Best Face Cleansers for Sensitive Skin at a Glance

1

Editor's Pick

Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser Face Wash

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2

Best Luxury

Augustinus Bader The Cream Cleansing Gel

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3

Best Micellar Water

La Roche-Posay Ultra Micellar Cleansing Water Ultra

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4

Best Fragrance-Free

Yes to Cucumbers Fragrance-Free Daily Cream Cleanser

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5

Best Drugstore

Olay Sensitive Calming Liquid Cleanser

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Meet the Expert

Dr. Joshua Zeichner is a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and an associate professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Dr. Zeichner is considered one of the country's key leaders in treating acne and rosacea and is an expert in cosmeceuticals, skin care and cosmetic dermatology.

How We Chose the Best Face Cleanser for Sensitive Skin

We spoke with dermatologists and editors for their recommendations. We also looked for top rated and highly reviewed face cleansers across major retailers like QVC, Amazon, Sephora and Ulta Beauty to round out this list. All of the face cleansers featured had to meet specific criteria, including skin barrier-friendly ingredients, pricing and availability.

The 10 Best Products for Sensitive Skin


  • What We Like: affordable and easy to find at any drugstore, has a lotion-y texture to it
  • What We Don't Like: has little to no lather
  • Main Ingredients: vitamins B3 and B5, glycerin

There’s a reason why this classic has withstood the test of time: It works. Cetaphil’s daily facial cleanser is dermatologist-approved for getting a nice deep clean without leaving your skin dry or irritated. Its low-lather formula removes any remaining traces of makeup or oil on your face and includes a blend of vitamins B3 and B5 and hydrating glycerin to help defend against the most common signs of skin sensitivity like a weakened skin barrier, roughness and tightness. We’re also fans of the easy-to-use pump applicator and wallet-friendly price.

Best Luxury

2. Augustinus Bader The Cream Cleansing Gel

Augustinus Bader

  • What We Like: has a light gel to milky texture
  • What We Don't Like: very pricey
  • Main Ingredients: TFC9, rose flower water, aloe leaf juice

If you’re looking to coddle your skin, you may want to try Augustinus Bader’s silky cleanser. The unique formula starts off as a gel that morphs into a lightweight milky lather when you add water. As is the case with all of the brand’s products, the cleanser features TFC8® technology (a proprietary ingredient that nourishes skin, while supporting cellular renewal) and a blend of botanicals that “cleanse, purify and renew your complexion.”

Best Micellar Water

3. La Roche-Posay Ultra Micellar Cleansing Water Ultra

La Roche-Posay

  • What We Like: good for removing eye makeup, no rinsing required
  • What We Don't Like: no lather
  • Main Ingredients: micelles, poloxamer, glycerin

Do makeup removers labeled as “sensitive” still sting the delicate skin around your eyes? This micellar water will be your saving grace. Thanks to little molecules called micelles that attract dirt, oil and makeup so they can easily be wiped away, it’s the perfect first step in a double-cleanse routine because it gently removes any residue from your face without stinging or stripping the skin. That said, it can just as easily be used on its own, as the French do.

  • What We Like: fragrance-free, feels rich and creamy
  • What We Don't Like: low-lather
  • Main Ingredients: avocado oil, hyaluronic acid and glycerin

With an avocado oil base, this creamy wash cleanses, moisturizes and soothes dry skin. Massage it in, rinse and you’ll be left with a smoother complexion that feels fresh, never tight. Reviewers say it’s gentle enough to use around the eyes to remove eye makeup, too. As one shares, “I have very sensitive skin and have tried many products. All burn my skin. This cleanser is so gentle and doesn't strip your skin and leaves [it feeling] soft and luxurious.”

  • What We Like: fragrance-free, lathers up, is soap- and dye-free
  • What We Don't Like: n/a
  • Main Ingredients: glyceryl oleate

If you prefer a sudsier cleansing experience, this pick is the way to go. While it definitely foams, Olay’s Sensitive Calming Liquid Cleanser is soap-free, which, as Dr. Mona Gohara, MD, and associate clinical professor at Yale University explained in a previous story, means it has a healthy pH level for your skin. It’s also infused with aloe and cucumber essences, which work with Olay’s gentle formula to help fight dry skin at the source.

  • What We Like: has a light gel-to-foam texture, is non-comedogenic and fragrance-free
  • What We Don't Like: n/a
  • Main Ingredients: ceramides, glycerin and green tea

Dr. Zeichner is a fan of RoC’s newly launched Barrier Renew Gentle Cleanser. He says, “The light gel formula delivers that nice lather that consumers are often looking for, but because the surfactants used in the formula are advanced, it’s highly effective, but still gentle on the skin. Plus, it features a barrier repairing complex of ceramides, glycerin and green tea that soothe, hydrate and protect the outer skin layer.”

Best pH Balanced Cleanser

7. Drunk Elephant Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser

Drunk Elephant

  • What We Like: mild formula, has an non-stripping pH level of 5.5
  • What We Don't Like: a bit pricey, some reviews note the scent
  • Main Ingredients: coconut-based surfactants, glycerin, cantaloupe fruit extract

Not only is this cleanser effective at quelling excess oil, it’s also tough enough to remove eye makeup without stinging or burning, thanks to a blend of mild surfactants and emollients. It goes on like a gel, but lathers into a nice foam that clings to oil, makeup and grime and washes them down the drain. As one reviewer shares, "I have extremely sensitive skin. And that is not an exaggeration. One wrong ingredient and I’m breaking out, burning or red as a tomato. I was desperately searching for a new facial cleanser to clear up my skin when I got a sample of this from my local makeup store. After finishing the sample I immediately bought more and I will never go back."

The Cult Favorite

8. Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser

Glossier

  • What We Like: pH balanced, feels lightweight
  • What We Don't Like: bottle is a little small compared to the price
  • Main Ingredients: rose water, comfrey root extract, pro vitamin B5 and poloxamer

This is one of Glossier’s most popular skincare products for a reason: It doesn’t leave your skin feeling irritated or dry like some other cleansers. The pH-balanced combination of rose water, comfrey root extract, pro vitamin B5 and poloxamer, a cleaning agent used in contact solution, is designed to be soothing, mild and refreshing. And according to the glowing reviews, it’s that and much more. "I am in love with this cleanser. I don’t see myself ever switching to anything else. It does an amazing job of getting all the dirt and makeup off of my skin while also being so gentle. I’m not kidding when I say you can apply the product to wash off your eye makeup then open your eyes to see if you’ve removed it all and won’t feel a thing!," says one enamored reviewer.

Best Natural

9. Andalou Naturals Creamy Meyer Lemon Cleanser

Andalou Naturals

  • What We Like: has a velvety lather to it, cruelty-free, made with 99 percent naturally derived ingredients
  • What We Don't Like: n/a
  • Main Ingredients: Meyer lemon, vitamin E, vitamin B5, apple fruit stem cells

This creamy, natural cleanser is so popular, it’s often sold out on the brand’s site. (Luckily, we were able to find it at Ulta and Amazon.) The mixture of fruit stem cell complex, vitamin C and manuka honey sloughs away dull, dead skin to reveal a brighter, smoother complexion underneath. Plus, the light citrus scent smells uplifting, which is especially nice when we’re feeling groggy in the morning.

Best for Oily Skin

10. First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Deep Cleanser With Red Clay

First Aid Beauty

  • What We Like: gives a deeper clean for oily skin
  • What We Don't Like: might be too drying for some
  • Main Ingredients: red clay, rosemary leaf oil, glycerin

There’s a reason clay masks are so popular: They absorb excess oil and minimize the appearance of pores. But they can sometimes cause skin to feel tight and dry. Not this clay cleanser. It’s actually a gel infused with red clay and rosemary leaf oil, which work to clear skin and balance sebum production without causing any harsh side effects. Bonus: It’s ideal for sensitive skin, because it’s free of alcohols, parabens, sulfates and artificial fragrances, all of which can cause irritation.

The Longtime Favorite

11. Fresh Soy Face Cleanser

Fresh

  • What We Like: mild, milky texture, feels refreshing after you rinse
  • What We Don't Like: has a light cucumber-y scent to it, which some people may not enjoy
  • Main Ingredients: soy proteins, cucumber extract, aloe vera

This best-selling cleanser is pH-balanced and suitable for all skin types, which definitely caught our attention. The gentle gel melts away makeup (yes, even mascara) without leaving your face feeling dry or tight. In fact, the results are just the opposite. Reviewers say their skin feels soft and refreshed after use. And they point out that it’s especially great for sensitive skin. With that info, we aren’t surprised it has over 8,000 five-star reviews on Sephora’s site, including this one: "I’ve been using this facial cleanser off and on for 6 years. Then though I’ve tried plenty of face washes I always come back to this one. I have very sensitive skin and this product is gentle."

  • What We Like: you can use it on your face, body or scalp
  • What We Don't Like: n/a
  • Main Ingredients: Avene thermal spring water, evening primose, jojoba seed oil

Avène XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil was made for the most delicate of complexions—even eczema- and dermatitis-prone skin (it can also be used on newborns). Its hydrating, oil-based formula transforms into a gentle lather, and since it’s soap-free, it won’t strip your skin’s moisture barrier.

Best for Acne-Prone Skin

13. iS Clinical Cleansing Complex

iS Clinical

  • What We Like: good for treating and preventing breakouts
  • What We Don't Like: a bit pricey, might not be suitable for those with very sensitive skin
  • Main Ingredients: white willow bark, centella asiatica

A harsh cleanser is the last thing you need when you’re dealing with blemishes. The iS Clinical Cleansing Complex is gentle, but still chock-full of inflammation-fighting ingredients. Salicylic acid—in the form of white willow bark—exfoliates and whisks away excess oil, while centella asiatica (aka tiger grass) soothes redness and irritation.

Best Gentle Exfoliator

14. Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

Dermalogica

  • What We Like: non-scratchy or harsh exfoliant
  • What We Don't Like: a bit pricey
  • Main Ingredients: rice-enzymes, green tea, colloidal oatmeal

This rice-based enzyme powder activates upon contact with water and almost feels creamy versus granular. But what makes the formula stand out is a blend of salicylic acid (most commonly seen in acne products) and soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients like green tea and colloidal oatmeal. "I deal with sensitive, dry, flaky skin and it hasn't been as bad recently while using this. My skin looks and feels smoother immediately after use, with no irritation or scratches on my skin. What I also love is you can control how gritty you want it to be for a simple wash or a deep exfoliation," shares one reviewer.

What to Consider When Looking for a Face Cleanser for Sensitive Skin

  • It includes gentle surfactants like sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), especially in combination with cocoamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) sodium cocoyl isethionate.
  • The formula has hydrating ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid.
  • The formula also has skin barrier repairing ingredients like ceramides and oils.
  • It has ingredients that soothe like vitamin E (tocopherol), allantoin, bisabolol, panthenol, centella asiatica, oats and niacinamide.
  • It doesn’t leave your skin feeling tight after you rinse.

How to Tell if You Have Sensitive Skin?

“Skin sensitivity is basically an intolerance to the use of personal care products,” explains Dr. Zeichner. “Because of genetics, some people are more reactive to products that are applied to the skin. As a result, the skin may turn red and become dry and itchy in reaction to a variety of different ingredients ranging from fragrances to harsh actives,” he adds.

What Type of Face Wash Formula Is Best for Sensitive Skin?

“The squeaky-clean feeling that many people look for after face washing is actually a sign of post-wash dryness and can be damaging to the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. “After cleansing you want your face to feel soft and fresh, but also hydrated.”

If you have sensitive skin, look for cleansers that contain gentle surfactants and hydrators like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, natural oils or ceramides.

What Ingredients Should People with Sensitive Skin Avoid?

“Traditional foaming cleansers are perhaps the most effective in removing oil and dirt from the skin but they tend to be the most drying. Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can address blemishes but may irritate the skin if you have sensitive or easily reactive skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. Other common culprits of irritation include fragrance, drying alcohols and exfoliating acids.

How Often Should You Wash Your Face?

According to Dr. Zeichner, make sure to limit washing to twice per day, plus an additional wash after heavy sweating or a day where you’ve worn a full-face of makeup. Overwashing, even with the gentlest products, can still be damaging to the skin.

What Time Should You Wash Your Face at Night? Hint: It’s Not Before You Go to Bed



Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023
Jenny Jin

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...
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