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Best Face Moisturizer for Dry / Sensitive Skin

By: Angela Stringfellow on May 09, 2018

Choose your moisturizer ingredients carefully to avoid irritating sensitive skin

If you have dry or sensitive skin, get used to reading labels. You need a moisturizer that is highly emollient, yet does not contain ingredients or fragrances that can irritate your skin. If your skin tends more towards oiliness or if you're acne-prone, you might prefer a moisturizer for oily skin, which we cover elsewhere in this report.

Our top pick for sensitive skin, CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion (Est. $30 for 6 oz.), could have easily been our top pick in any category -- but we've put it here because of how dramatically it excels at moisturizing and soothing sensitive skin. It's loaded with beneficial ingredients including ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, and the SPF 30 sunscreen provides broad-spectrum UV protection.

Many, many users say this is one of the few products containing sunscreen that doesn't irritate their skin or their sense of smell. If the sunscreen does bother you, however, it's also available as a night cream, CeraVe PM Moisturizing Facial Lotion (Est. $22 for 6 oz. ), our Best Reviewed night cream, that does not contain sunscreen. Either product is also a great value.

Editors at Reviews.com say CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion is "all function and no frills," but for those who know they won't apply two separate products for hydration and sun protection, you can't go wrong with this daily moisturizer. Because it contains sunscreen, it's not immediately transparent when applied -- in fact, it's a bit streaky -- and it also has a slight sunscreen scent (although there are no added fragrances). While the streaks disappear, it does leave a bit of a sticky feeling behind that makes it somewhat more difficult to blend compared to other facial moisturizers. With a bit of extra blending, it still works just fine under makeup.

Beautypedia's experts praise CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion's packaging, an opaque plastic bottle with a convenient pump dispenser that maintains the integrity of the skin-benefiting ingredients, such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid, as well as the cell-communicating ingredient niacinamide. The only skin type this lotion doesn't work so well for is very oily skin; but if you have dry, sensitive skin or other concerns, users say it works brilliantly.

If your skin is a combination of dry and oily patches, consider using a gel moisturizer. The best gel product we evaluated is the oil-free Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Cream (Est. $20 for 1.7oz.), a fragrance-free and dye-free version of the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel formula (Est. $40 for 3.4oz). Both products get rave reviews from users for how quickly they soak in, and how well they moisturize dry patches while not making any oily patches on your face feel greasy. In fact, users say you can wear makeup over either of these.

The cream formula earns a nod from editors at Reviews.com, who say it's a versatile option for anyone -- including those with acne-prone skin -- who wants a light moisturizer for anytime use (day or night) to instantly hydrate the skin without a hint of residue left behind. It earns solid praise from thousands of users across Amazon and Ulta, but the skincare experts at Beautypedia are less than impressed, noting that while it does contain silicones and glycerin for smoothing and hydration, it contains hyaluronic acid in such a small amount that it's "barely beneficial for your skin." Another issue is its jar packaging, which editors say creates a hygiene issue, particularly for water-based formulas such as this.

The gel formula lands a spot in the 2017 Good Housekeeping Beauty Breakthrough Awards; described as a "bouncy, refreshing gel texture," editors report that it kept skin hydrated for 12 hours in tests conducted by the Good Housekeeping Beauty Lab. Still, we prefer the gel cream because it's free of the fragrance and artificial coloring that some users don't like in the gel.

If you're looking for a natural option, editors at Allure say Burt's Bees Sensitive Daily Moisturizing Cream (Est. $10 for 1.8 oz.) is a good choice, noting that "all Burt's Bees moisturizers are fragrance-free, paraben-free, and almost 100 percent natural right off the bat (meaning chances of skin irritation are already virtually zilch)." This specific formulation goes a step further with a blend of aloe and rice extract to soothe and calm sensitive, irritated skin, as well as cotton extract, which supports the skin's natural barrier function.

Editors at Beautypedia say it doesn't contain any fragrant oils or plant extracts, although it does contain non-fragrant plant oils that function as antioxidants -- some of which have been the subject of research on their potential anti-inflammatory properties. While it doesn't have an SPF rating, it does contain zinc oxide, which functions as a sunscreen as well as a skin protectant, thanks to its barrier properties (it's a common ingredient in diaper rash creams for this reason). The downside is that zinc oxide can have a heavy, occlusive feeling.

Users say Burt's Bees Sensitive Daily Moisturizing Cream works for a variety of skin types, including combination skin, effectively hydrating to eliminate dry patches without leaving other areas oily, irritating sensitive skin or causing breakouts. We did read a few reports from detractors who say it doesn't moisturize their skin well enough, or that it leaves their skin feeling dry and tight. Additionally, a few users say that the pump mechanism dispenses too much product, leading to waste.

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Facial Moisturizers buying guide

What every best Facial Moisturizers has:

  • A combination of moisturizing and water-binding ingredients as well as humectants.
  • Soothing agents and anti-irritants.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).

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