Sensitive skin is easily irritated and can be characterized by redness and blotchiness. 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. Keep in mind that some skin-care products and medications can increase sensitivity (even for those who don't normally have sensitive skin). Eliminating or reducing exposure to those products will also alleviate sensitivity.
Those who have dry or sensitive skin need to be especially careful when choosing a facial cleanser, which isn't a simple task. Products labeled for dry or sensitive skin can sometimes be too harsh -- a point that Paula Begoun makes when she suggests using the ingredient list as the basis for your purchasing decision. In general, people with dry, sensitive skin should look for creamy cleansers that are soap- and fragrance-free and void of any other harsh ingredients such as alcohol or menthol. Rona Berg, author of "Beauty: The New Basics," suggests looking for products that contain more mild plant oils like sweet almond oil or jojoba. Cleansers containing lactic acid, glycerin or hyaluronic acid are also good choices.
Experts say that lotion-based cleansers, like CeraVe Hydrating Skin Cleanser (*Est. $12 for 12 oz.) , are ideal for those with sensitive skin. They take a bit of getting used to, however, since they don't lather. Reviewers at Drugstore.com and MakeupAlley.com say that CeraVe does an excellent job of cleansing the skin without causing any irritation. Paula Begoun agrees, saying the fragrance-free formula "deserves serious consideration by anyone with normal to dry skin that's also sensitive, including those dealing with rosacea." Several reviewers point out that CeraVe doesn't do a good job of removing makeup, but others say that using a washcloth helps; however, a separate makeup remover -- especially around the eyes -- is likely needed.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (*Est. $10.50 for 16 oz.) has long been a favorite among experts and users. The formula contains only eight ingredients, but one of them is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) -- a potentially irritating detergent. Paula Begoun points out that although Cetaphil likely contains less than one percent of the ingredient, there are other gentle cleansers that avoid SLS altogether.
Olay Foaming Face Wash - Sensitive Skin (*Est. $5 for 7 oz.) says it's gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin. It isn't reviewed as often as other cleansers, but experts say the ingredients it contains are ideal for skin that's easily irritated. It uses gentle cleansing agents and contains glycerin, which draws water to the skin and helps to prevent dryness. It is recommended by hundreds of reviewers at MakeupAlley.com and TotalBeauty.com because it still lathers, even though it is soap-, oil- and fragrance-free.
Users say it does a good job of removing all traces of makeup, although those who use heavy eye makeup may need to use a makeup remover prior to cleansing. Paula Begoun gives the formula her highest rating, calling it a great value especially considering its "aesthetics and performance." She says it's ideal for sensitive skin – even for those battling rosacea. Some users say Olay Foaming Face Wash leaves a slight residue on the skin, but others say rinsing for a tad longer solves the problem.
We ultimately chose CeraVe Hydrating Skin Cleanser as a Best Reviewed pick because it's reviewed often, gets high marks from experts and users and contains very gentle ingredients.