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The Best Cleansers for Sensitive Skin According to a Dermatologist

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Out of all the skin types—like dry skin and oily skin—sensitive skin can be the hardest to treat. Your sensitive skin could also be oily, dry, or acne-prone, not to mention it can feel sensitized for a variety of different reasons. You could be allergic to a product you’re using, or have a skin condition like eczema or rosacea. It’s good to chat with your dermatologist to find out the exact reason and rule out any underlying causes. 

Once you get to the root of your skin sensitivity, a gentle skincare routine can help keep your skin soothed and calm—and every good skincare routine starts with great skincare products, like cleansers. But your sensitive skin can’t just use any old cleanser. The best cleaners for sensitive skin are super gentle, soothing, and not-at-all stripping. To find the best cleansers for sensitive skin, we enlisted the help of dermatologist Karan Lal, DO, MS, FAAD, to recommend his favorites. 


About the Expert:

Karan Lal, DO, MS, FAAD, is a double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist. 

CERAVE Hydrating Facial Cleanser
Courtesy of CERAVE

We love this gentle facial cleanser for the way it removes impurities, makeup, and oils (even sunscreen!) without leaving our skin feeling dry and tight. Dr. Lal agrees: “This is hydrating and does not strip the skin of its essential oils.” The CERAVE Hydrating Facial Cleanser also helps moisturize the skin as it cleanses thanks to ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid that work to restore our skin’s moisture barrier. 

2. CETAPHIL Healthy Radiance Cleanser

CETAPHIL Healthy Radiance Cleanser
Courtesy of CETAPHIL

Dr. Lal says exfoliating face wash is great for all skin types, and we’re also big fans of the way it smoothes skin’s rough texture after just one wash. “This cleanser has polyhydroxy acid (PHA), which is a mild and gentle exfoliant,” says Dr. Lal. “It also has two percent niacinamide, which will help strengthen your skin barrier.”

3. LA ROCHE-POSAY Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser

LA ROCHE-POSAY Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanse
Courtesy of LA ROCHE-POSAY

We swear by this cleansing gel for sensitive skin that also happens to be oily skin, and Dr. Lal agrees. “This has zinc pidolate, which helps remove excessive oil,” he says. “It’s gentle enough for all skin types but works best for those with oily skin.” Because the foaming cleanser cleanses and purifies our skin without causing dryness, it’s safe for those with acne-prone skin.

4. AVEENO Daily Moisturizing Facial Cleanser, Soothing Oat

AVEENO Daily Moisturizing Facial Cleanser, Soothing Oat
Courtesy of AVEENO

When our skin is feeling dry and overly sensitive, this hydrating face wash calms and softens overnight. It contains prebiotic oats to moisturize dry skin. Plus, the fragrance-free formula is safe for those with even the most sensitive skin. Our skin feels clean but not stripped of its natural oils. 

5. CETAPHIL Gentle Skin Cleanser

CETAPHIL Gentle Skin Cleanser
Courtesy of CETAPHIL

“This cleanser is super gentle,” Dr. Lal says of this dermatologist-favorite cleanser. “It does not remove your skin’s essential oils. It has glycerin, niacinamide, and vitamin B5, which help nourish the skin.” We were surprised how well it removed our makeup, too. That’s thanks to what the brand calls Micellar Technology, it helps rid skin of dirt, oil and makeup. 

6. NEUTROGENA Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser for Sensitive Skin

NEUTROGENA Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser for Sensitive Skin
Courtesy of NEUTROGENA

We didn’t expect to love this cream cleanser so much but it’s become a big part of our skincare routine. The formula is oil-free, soap-free, hypoallergenic, and non-comedogenic. What more could sensitive skin ask for? 

7. PANOXYL Acne Creamy Wash Benzoyl Peroxide 4% Daily Control

PANOXYL Acne Creamy Wash Benzoyl Peroxide 4% Daily Control
Courtesy of PANOXYL

For all-over acne or once-in-a-while breakouts, this face wash helps clear up our pimples faster than we ever expected. It contains benzoyl peroxide to unclog pores and help kill acne-causing bacteria. It doesn’t dry out our skin either. That’s thanks to the addition of three humectants and four emollients.

8. FIRST AID BEAUTY Pure Skin Face Cleanser

FIRST AID BEAUTY Pure Skin Face Cleanser
Courtesy of FIRST AID BEAUTY

This fragrance-free, gentle cleanser doesn’t irritate our sensitive skin because it doesn’t contain any drying alcohols or dyes. It leaves our skin feeling fresh and clean but hydrated at the same time. The aloe vera helps calm, soothe, and nourish skin; allantoin helps soothe skin; and glycerin, a natural humectant, helps to hydrate and smooth skin's appearance.

9. AVÈNE Antirougeurs Clean Refreshing Cleansing Lotion

AVÈNE Antirougeurs Clean Refreshing Cleansing Lotion
Courtesy of AVÈNE

When our rosacea is flaring up, this calming cleanser reduces redness and provides comfort right away. It contains barrier-supporting ingredients including glycerin, prebiotic thermal water, and niacinamide, Plus, we’re obsessed with the unique milky lotion formula that calms on contact. 

10. DERMALOGICA Ultracalming Cleanser

DERMALOGICA Ultracalming Cleanser
Courtesy of DERMALOGICA

We’re big fans of the cool feeling of this ‌pH-balanced cleanser. It contains oat and cucumber extract to soothe skin, as well as calming lavender for reducing redness. Sensitized or over-processed skin is no match for this nourishing cleanser. 

11. IS CLINICAL Cleansing Complex

IS CLINICAL Cleansing Complex
Courtesy of IS CLINICAL

This paraben-free, clarifying cleanser is a face wash, toner, and makeup remover all in one (talk about saving time!). It contains salicylic acid, herbal extracts, and antioxidants to minimize the look of pores, protect against environmental damage, and gently exfoliate skin. 

12. LA ROCHE-POSAY Micellar Cleansing Water for Sensitive Skin

LA ROCHE-POSAY Micellar Cleansing Water for Sensitive Skin
Courtesy of LA ROCHE-POSAY

“It’s a no-rinse cleanser with glycerin, which helps moisturize the skin as you cleanse,” says Dr. Lal of one of our favorite micellar waters. What makes this one so special is that it cleanses all the way down to the microscopic pollution particles to gently wipe them away–no scrubbing needed. 

13. VANICREAM Gentle Facial Cleanser

VANICREAM Gentle Facial Cleanser
Courtesy of VANICREAM

TikTokers can’t stop talking about this soap-free cleanser—and for good reason. We love the way it says no to any sensitizing ingredients, such as essential oils and botanical extracts. It’s great for all skin types because it’s also non-comedogenic (meaning it won't clog pores), It even was awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance.

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About the author
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Elizabeth Denton
Elizabeth is a freelance beauty writer. Previously, she was a beauty & fashion editor at Time Out New York, Seventeen, & Allure. She has more than a decade of experience in the beauty and fashion world, writing for Nylon, StyleCaster, Cosmopolitan & more.
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Article Last Updated May 4, 2023 12:00 AM