Face Wash For Sensitive Skin: A Complete Guide
7 minutes read
Do you struggle to find a face wash for sensitive skin? You’re not alone. For many of us whose skin is prone to flare ups and redness, finding the right products (whether that’s skincare or make-up for sensitivity) can entail a lot of trial and error.
We spoke to some leading skin experts to find out exactly how to find the best face wash for sensitive skin…
Causes of sensitive skin
Sensitive skin is defined by the occurrence of unpleasant sensations (stinging, burning, pain, itchiness or tingling) in response to applying skincare products or being exposed to harsh weather conditions. Sensitivity is where the nerve endings in your skin become easily inflamed — causing irritation — and is often related to a weakened skin barrier.
There are several causes of sensitive skin — ranging from skin conditions, genetics and lifestyle choices — to simply overwhelming your skin with too many active ingredients. “Skin sensitivity can often go hand in hand with dry skin, due to the lack of sebum that causes a weak barrier function,” says skin expert and founder of OSKIA skincare, Georgie Cleeve. “This can cause skin to become sensitive to external elements such as pollution, UV rays and strong skincare ingredients,” she adds.
However, oily, acne-prone skin can also become sensitive due to inflamed and infected pores. Over-exfoliation or using products that are too strong for your skin type can affect the skin barrier function and microbiome — which need to remain strong to keep skin healthy.
What is a good face wash for sensitive skin?
Choosing the best cleanser for sensitive skin can be difficult — but luckily, there are products out there with sensitive skin-friendly formulas. “I recommend using a cleanser that is hydrating and gentle on your skin barrier — meaning it shouldn’t strip your skin of its natural oils or contain irritants,” says dermatologist Dr Jason Thompson.
“It’s advisable to use a fragrance-free hydrating face wash, which usually comes in the format of a cream cleanser,” he continues. “This type of cleanser often contains emollients and hyaluronic acid to keep your skin barrier in check, as well as gentle surfactants to rid skin of excess oil and dirt without stripping it too much.”
It’s important to avoid harsh, heavily scented foaming cleansers if you have sensitive skin, as these can tend to damage the skin barrier and leave skin feeling tight, dry and inflamed. Cleansers that mechanically exfoliate (containing granules that act as scrubbing agents) can also irritate the skin and damage the skin barrier, which can in turn cause skin to become red, painful, and blemished.
If you are looking for an exfoliating cleanser, stick with one that contains a gentler chemical exfoliant, such as a polyhydroxy acid, and make sure that it’s fragrance-free.
While cleansing sensitive skin, it’s also wise to use warm (not hot) water, and use patting motions to dry the skin, rather than rubbing it with a flannel. You may want to avoid double cleansing and opt for an effective but gentle hydrating cleanser that will remove make-up and grime and deeply cleanse the skin.
Most sensitive face wash products are formulated to be as effective as other cleansers, but just gentler on the skin. Just because the formula may be milder, it won’t necessarily reduce the cleanser’s efficacy.
Natural face wash for sensitive skin
“If you’re after the best facial cleanser for sensitive skin, look for ingredients such as ceramides, colloidal oats and pre, pro or post biotics,” says Cleeve. “It’s also a good idea to switch up your existing cleanser for one that contains soothing ingredients such as amino acid betaine, prickly pear or aloe vera,” she adds.
But while keeping it natural may be the best option for you, Dr Thompson says that just because a product is not completely natural, it doesn’t make it any worse for your skin. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there about synthetic ingredients and people incorrectly believe that natural is safer and better,” he notes.
“The truth is, there are natural and synthetic ingredients that are great and cause no issues, but there are also ingredients from both categories that can be irritating, so the view that natural is always better is simply untrue,” he explains.
Dr Thompson advises to avoid skincare products with essential oils, as they can often be scented and although they smell nice (often the main reason they’re used in products) they can end up doing more harm than good.
Natural cleansers often contain citrus essential oils like lemon, grapefruit and orange. In addition to being potentially allergenic, they contain a compound called furanocoumarin that can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight (phototoxic), so it’s important to bear this in mind when using them during the daytime.
Look for a face wash that is rich in antioxidants to help shield your skin from environmental aggressors and use a sensitive skin-friendly SPF every day, to protect it from harmful and sensitivity-increasing UV rays.
10 sensitive skin face wash products to look out for
If you prefer the feel of a foaming cleanser, this soothing offering is your best option. It contains plant-based skin-loving ingredients such as squalene and organic saponaria that create a hydrating, non-stripping luxurious foam.
Inky List Oat Cleansing Balm, £11.99
This vegan and cruelty-free formula contains colloidal oatmeal and oat kernel oil, which both protect against irritation and strengthen the skin barrier, while the oat powder helps soothe and calm.
A simple but effective cleanser that’s non-comedogenic, fragrance-free and perfectly pH balanced for irritation-free use on sensitive skin.
If your skin is sensitive because you have overstimulated it with too many active ingredients, this soothing cleanser is great for restoring your skin’s equilibrium. It also contains rose and lavender flower water to calm any irritation, as well as polyglutamic acid to dial up moisture levels.
Brimming with probiotics, this face wash is ideal for anyone that wants to push their skin into recovery after heightened sensitivity. It works to gently reduce any discomfort, flakiness, redness or burning and balances the skin’s microbiome.
The best face wash for dry, sensitive skin, this hyaluronic acid-packed cleanser is super lightweight and hydrating. It effectively removes dirt, make-up and oil build-up without stripping the skin of its natural oils.
For super-sensitive skin, this option from Antipodes is as gentle as it gets. With avocado oil, kawakawa leaf and carrot seed oil, skin feels hydrated, protected and soothed.
Prefer a milky texture? Laneige’s milk oil cleanser is an oil-in-milk formula that melts away make-up and grime without much need to scrub. It contains white tea leaves that are also calming and hydrating.
A unique jelly-to-oil texture that shifts daily pollutants and make-up from the skin without irritating it. Sugarcane-derived squalene is also a main ingredient, which thoroughly cleanses skin without leaving it feeling stripped.
Centella asiatica — the main ingredient in this face wash — is one of the best-known ingredients for soothing the skin. Fragrance and alcohol-free, it removes make-up and strengthens the skin barrier at the same time.
What should I wash a sensitive face with?
“Always use a cleanser that is suitable for your skin type, and is pH balanced — ideally around 5.5 for sensitive skin,” says Cleeve. Application and removal of a cleanser is also very important if you have sensitivity — be cautious with the temperature of the water you are using to remove the cleanser with (it should be lukewarm) and try to use a soft cloth to gently pat it off your skin.
What can I use as a natural face wash?
It is best to stick to basics when it comes to a face wash for sensitive skin. Coconut oil can act as a great natural make-up remover and facial cleanser for dry skin, as it has hydrating, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Can face wash cause dry skin?
According to Dr Thompson, the wrong kind of face wash can cause sensitive skin to become drier. “Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is a commonly used surfactant that you often find in harsh foaming cleansers, which can irritate sensitive skin if used in high concentrations. So, it’s usually a good idea to avoid this ingredient,” he advises.
“Cleansers containing strong active ingredients such as AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic and lactic acid) or BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) can be great for chemical exfoliation. But if you suffer with sensitive skin, they can make skin drier and more inflamed. I’d advise against these if you’re looking for a face wash for dry sensitive skin.”