Skin Soothers

I Tried Every Product For Sensitive Skin — These Are The 11 Best

From milky toners to soufflé-like moisturizers, the newest sensitive skin products are the opposite of boring.

Originally Published: 
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

If you’re not part one of those people who deal with red, itchy and irritated skin on a daily basis like me, consider yourself lucky. My cohort is growing fast: 71% of adults in 2022 reported having sensitive skin, according to skin care brand Aveeno’s first-ever State of Skin Sensitivity Report — an increase of 55% in the last 20 years. The rate of skin allergies, too, has been climbing, nearly doubling over the last two decades, according to Anjuli Mehrotra, a California-based allergist and co-founder of Evme.

The annoying news: the root cause of most skin sensitivities and allergies come from a complex web of sources, making them hard to pinpoint and treat. “Sensitive skin tends to come about from a variety of internal and external sources that trigger inflammation,” says Bryan Barron, director of research at skin care brand Paula’s Choice. “It can also occur from what’s happening on the skin’s surface, such as disruptions in its microbiome.”

What’s complicating the situation even more is that many of the growing number of products out there claiming to be used on sensitive skin don’t actually eliminate allergens or sensitizing ingredients. “Over 90% of personal care products marketed as ‘hypoallergenic’ still have major allergens in them,” says Mehrotra. “There is no regulation of the term, despite millions of people relying on these types of products to help with their sensitive skin.”

So, what’s the solution? “Sensitive skin needs nourishing ingredients to help repair its barrier, support its microbiome, and provide soothing relief to calm visible symptoms such as redness and flaking, while also target underlying factors that cause and perpetuate ongoing sensitivity,” says Baron. Brands like Paula’s Choice and Aveeno have turbo-charged their product lines to address the issue, doubling down on soothing, repairing ingredients. For instance, Paula’s Choice’s Calm line contains double the amount of allantoin — a calming, hydrating anti-irritant — compared to other products from the brand. Aveeno’s Calm + Restore range centers the brand’s hero ingredient, oat, which “helps balance the skin’s moisture barrier, reduces itchiness and irritation and acts as a prebiotic to support the good bacteria or the skin’s microbiome,” says Sabrina R. Henry, research and development manager at Aveeno.

The true feat is when products are able to soothe sensitive skin issues, while also addressing other top-of-mind skin concerns such as wrinkles, loss of firmness, and uneven skin tone — all without causing your skin to freak out more. As a result, the sensitive skin aisle has been looking the opposite of bland and basic lately.

In the name of research, I tested a wide array of products for sensitive skin — from cleansers to resurfacing toners — and share the very best ones ahead.


Best Brightening Toner

BYOMA wants to normalize the idea that products created for sensitive skin can also deliver visible results. This exfoliating toner is powered by lactic and mandelic acids to gently sweep away dead skin cells while maintaining skin barrier function. It goes on easily after cleansing, without a tingle, and revealed a brighter complexion in a few days.


Best Soothing Serum

“This can’t do much,” I remember thinking the first time I tapped this watery serum from Evme onto my skin. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong. It never fails to calm my reactive skin, thanks to ophiopogon japonicus root extract, a soothing antioxidant popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Plus, it hydrates with glycerin and brightens with a less irritating form of vitamin C. I used it daily until it was all gone.


Best Nourishing Toner

It’s official: ophiopogon japonicus is the ingredient for sensitive skin. The antioxidant stimulates skin to make more urea, a key substance in your skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF) that’s critical for optimal barrier function, says Baron. ​The other star in this lightweight toner is althea officinalis root​, an ingredient that form a flexible film on skin, protecting it from irritants. There’s also sensitive skin-friendlies like panthenol, sodium PCA and hyaluronic acid — the gang’s all here.


Best Post-Recovery Care

The legendary French pharmacy brand Avène — constantly innovating with its sensitive skin-focused offerings — is speaking to our times with this gentle cream, created specifically for skin post-derm procedures (and tattoos). I used it after a RF microneedling session, and the lightweight lotion — infused with niacinamide, minerals and restorative proteins — was a soothing balm for my mildly chapped skin.


Best Everyday Moisturizer

Bioderma made my holy grail moisturizer, then they went and broke my heart by discontinuing it (RIP Sensibio Light). This one is a strong replacement contender, and though the texture is slightly different (Defensive has a touch more slip on the skin), it’s actually as soothing as its predecessor. It’s a perfect everyday moisturizer, infused with antioxidants and peptides to support the skin barrier.


Best Hydrating Serum

Glycerin is every cosmetic chemist’s fave humectant, and Lisa Guerrera, Experiment’s co-founder and CEO, is a true believer in its hydrating powers: she put a 30% of it in this serum and reformulated the product 46 times to get a perfectly-slippery texture that dries down without tackiness. At this percentage, glycerin not only hydrates, but also protects the skin, builds the barrier and helps it heal itself. It has a satisfying mozzarella-like pull that you never thought your serum needed, but trust me, it does.


Best Exfoliating Cleanser

This gentle resurfacing cleanser is ideal for even the most finicky of complexions because of its short-contact format: instead of a leave-on product, Aveeno put the non-abrasive polyhydroxy acid into a cleanser, designed for minimal exposure to the skin to ensure a non-irritating experience. Exfoliating acids in cleansers take longer to show results, but they do work with regular use — this is mild enough for the long haul.


Best Lightweight Moisturizer

This brand was developed by two skin care pros looking to simplify people’s lives with a basic two-step routine. The Wash is a cleanser that removes makeup and doubles as a shaving product. The Hydrator — soufflé-textured gel cream made with silver ear mushroom extract, an ingredient that boosts the skin’s water-holding capacity — quenches your skin’s thirst while preventing moisture loss. I love the overall light, soothing feel, and the fact the brand offers refills for easy replenishment.


Best Liquid Exfoliator

One constant lament from those with sensitive skin is that they miss out on the active ingredients that do things like unclogged pores and smooth bumpy skin texture. Paula’s Choice stepped up and reformulated their most iconic product just for us. It contains 50% less BHA than the original cult product, with the addition of microbiome-supporting, super-soothing cand anti-inflammatory ingredients.


Best Micellar Water

Garance Doré is the queen of minimalist French chic, so I’m super grateful that she created this refreshing micellar water made with cornflower water, rose and aloe. It wipes makeup off gently and navigated the removal of a blush-forward makeup look with ease. It took two rounds to get my mascara off completely, but there was zero burning or redness in and around my eye. I always feel the need to rinse off similar products to avoid irritation, but not so with this one.


Best Essence

As someone who identifies as an oily-sensitive, I prefer layering products with thinner consistencies to give my skin the hydration it needs without the excess weight of heavier moisturizers. I found my just-right essence in this glycerin, polyglutamic acid and niacinamide-enhanced juice with postbiotic extracts. It soothes and plumps without irritation, and skin care and makeup go on effortlessly.

This article was originally published on