If your skin is sensitive, you should be especially careful when selecting a facial cleanser. Even those labeled for dry or sensitive skin can still have potentially irritating ingredients -- so make sure you base your decisions off the actual ingredient list, not just the labeling.
Sensitivity can be present in any skin type -- including oily and acne-prone skin -- but it tends to be most common among those with dry skin. Some skin care products and medications can also increase the sensitivity of your skin, leading you to need a cleanser formulated for sensitive skin even if you didn't before.
In general, experts say those with sensitive skin should look for creamy cleansers that are soap- and fragrance-free and devoid of common irritants like alcohol or menthol. Cleansers with mild plant oils like sweet almond and jojoba oils, or ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, are usually good choices. Lacking the harsh surfactants you'll find in most cleansers, these sensitive-skin products may not lather very well -- but that's all right; they still clean just fine.
For a number of years, Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (Est. $8.50 for 8 oz.) was considered the best cleanser for sensitive skin, and it still has a near-cultlike following among users who say it's the only thing that won't irritate their face. "This is the only cleanser I can use without having an allergic reaction. It leaves your skin super soft," writes one user at Beautylish.com. However, it does contain several ingredients that are now known to be irritants or endocrine disruptors, including sodium lauryl sulfate and a couple types of parabens.
Still, if you want a very gentle, soothing and lotion-like cleanser, hundreds of users swear by Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser. We agree that it's good, but CeraVe's Hydrating Cleanser (Est. $12 for 12 oz.) is even better. Not only is it devoid of common irritants, it's also chock-full of beneficial ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid and ceramides. The end result is a soothing, gentle cleanser that leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth. CeraVe's Hydrating Cleanser is so gentle, even people with severe skin problems can usually use it.
Both cleansers look and feel more like lotion than a typical face wash, and they're so gentle they won't always remove all your makeup on their own -- but you can help them along with a washcloth or a sponge.