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10 best moisturisers for sensitive skin that hydrate and soothe irritable complexions

Keep flare-ups at bay with these fuss-free skin saviours 

Pippa Bailey
Thursday 14 January 2021 17:43
<p>It’s best to avoid alcohol, synthetic fragrance, dyes and essential oils</p>

It’s best to avoid alcohol, synthetic fragrance, dyes and essential oils

When choosing products for sensitive skin, you need simplicity and transparency when it comes to both ingredients and claims – which is often not easy to find in a market full of big advertising promises.

It’s best to avoid alcohol, synthetic fragrance, dyes and essential oils; keep an eye on those ingredient lists and try to discern which your skin finds most troublesome. Some of our picks contain shea butter, which those who are also prone to acne may wish to avoid.

Above all you need balance: moisturisation, protection and nothing too fussy. The good news is that simple hydrating ingredients – hyaluronic acid, glycerin, water – often lead to affordable products. We’ve found far more well-loved moisturisers under the £20 mark than we have in most skincare categories.

The right moisturiser should absorb well, so it feels deeply nourishing rather than simply sitting on top of your skin, and has an immediate cooling, calming effect. The best ones will not only tackle irritation and minimise redness when it occurs, but help prevent it in the first place by reinforcing your skin’s natural protective barrier.

Recommending products for sensitive skin is tricky, as what works for one person may not work for another. However all our picks have been tried and tested by real people with real sensitivities, and they are formulated with sensitivity and simplicity in mind.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Kate Somerville delikate recovery cream

This feels thick straight out of the pot but melts into skin leaving no heavy residue behind and has an immediate cooling, calming effect, so not only will it not irritate your skin, it will help calm any pre-existing irritation. It contains peptides and three essential ceramides to help restore the skin’s natural protective barrier, while also providing plumping hydration, as well as ginger root, honey and green tea, all known to reduce irritation.

CeraVe moisturising lotion

CeraVe has been beloved by skincare enthusiasts since it launched in the UK in 2018. This lotion is lightweight and absorbs immediately but gives the hydrating effect of a far heavier duty product. It contains hyaluronic acid, glycerin and water, is fragrance free and suitable for eczema-prone skin. While its packaging may not be exactly dressing table-worthy, the pump is hygienic, and it more than makes up for its looks in both price and hydrating, calming effect.

Bioderma sensibio rich face moisturiser sensitive

French pharmacy brand Bioderma’s sensibio range is a reliable recommendation for those with sensitive skin or conditions such as rosacea; it is designed to reduce redness and to relieve heat, tightness and tingling. The ingredients are chosen for high tolerance and it is fragrance free, and Bioderma’s patented “toléridine” inhibits the production of inflammatory molecules, so your skin is less reactive. It also comes in a light formulation if you find the rich version too heavy.

The Ordinary natural moisturising factors + HA

The Ordinary is well known for its zero-fuss (and therefore low-price) focus on clinically proven ingredients, and the transparency of its approach makes it easy for those with sensitive skin to pick what works best for them. Natural moisturising factors are what protect and hydrate the outer layer of skin – amino acids, fatty acids, ceramides and hyaluronic acid, among others – and this contains an incredible dose of them, for less than a fiver.

Kiehl’s ultra facial cream

This is a long-standing favourite of ours. It combines glycerin, water and squalane with olive, apricot and avocado oils into a super-moisturising cream. It also contains a glycoprotein derived from glaciers that thrives in extreme climates, providing deep hydration and defence for colder climes. Simple, unfussy, effective hydration.

Murad hydro-dynamic ultimate moisture

For those for whom tightness and dryness are the prime source of discomfort, this is a super-hydrating, airy textured cream that banishes flaky dry patches and leaves skin plump and dewy. It contains hyaluronic acid and a coconut extract, which are both humectants, binding water to the skin, as well as nourishing avocado and sunflower oils and shea butter. Skin is left baby soft and the texture much smoother.

SkinCeuticals emollience moisturising cream

An emollient in skin or hair care is an ingredient that has softening, soothing properties, so the name of this cream from the cosmeceutical brand SkinCeuticals is pretty appealing. As well as the classic water and glycerin, you’ll find nourishing sesame seed, grape and macadamia oils, plus soothing algae extracts. It does contain small quantities of essential oils, which some skins may not be able to tolerate. We would particularly recommend it for anyone who finds their irritation is exacerbated by a cold climate.

La Roche-Posay toleraine ultra soothing cream

Another French pharmacy brand with strong sensitive skin credentials, La Roche-Posay’s toleraine range is created for sensitive, irritated and allergy-prone skin, and is approved by Allergy UK. Its ultra soothing cream contains neurosensine, which reduces discomfort, as well as glycerin, shea butter and spring water for hydration. It is instantly soothing and cooling on application.

Bobbi Brown extra repair moisture cream

This is such a classic, simple and high-performing formula that we recommend it for almost anyone, sensitive skin or no. It has a very lightweight texture (we love it under make-up) that belies its moisturising powers. Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, shea butter and sunflower oil make for a water-attracting, fatty acid-packed, omega-rich treat for tight, sore skin in need of relief and nourishment.

Typology 9 ingredient face moisturiser

The chic French skincare brand only launched in the UK last year and is all about back-to-basics transparency – an appealing ethos for those with sensitive skin. This contains, as the name suggests, just nine ingredients, 99 of which are per cent naturally derived. Every ingredient is listed with clear explanation on the company website. Hyaluronic acid, coconut oil, water and glycerin combine to make a light but highly effective moisturiser with zero irritation.

The verdict: Moisturisers for sensitive skin

If your budget can stretch to it, we love Kate Somerville’s light but nourishing delikate cream, which both provides instant relief and improves skin condition for long-term reduction in irritation. For a more budget choice, both La Roche-Posay and Bioderma can be relied upon for kind formulations for sensitive skin

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.