People with sensitivities or allergies are the most careful skincare consumers; they know that a single ingredient could cause redness, inflammation, or flare-ups. In terms of the best face wash for sensitive skin, it’s about finding a product that gently flushes away things like oil, grime, dirt, and dead skin cells without leaving any evidence of the cleanser’s existence. While most of us love an active ingredient like salicylic acid or a deep-cleansing detergent base in our face wash, it’s ingredients like these that are red flags for those with sensitive skin.
We’ve tested dozens of the best face washes, and while many are decent for our sensitive-skinned brethren, we narrowed our “Best Of” list to a clean half dozen. While you might be surprised at specific inclusions (hey, not all sensitive-skin types are sensitive to the same things) we can make a pretty good case for each on this list.
The Best Face Wash for Sensitive Skin At a Glance
Consider This if You Need the Best Face Wash for Sensitive Skin
First, consider the type. A creamy or lotion formula is best (look for those words on the bottle) because they feel like a moisturizer while cleansing skin, ensuring you’re hydration — not dehydrating.
Second, avoid scented products. Artificial fragrances are some of the most common irritants so look for “fragrance-free” on the bottle. The best face washes for sensitive skin are also spiked with moisturizing ingredients, so scan for the likes of hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides, which are all healthy hydrators.
Extra sensitive skin will also get a boost from soothing, calming ingredients like aloe vera and soy. While anti-aging ingredients are great for turning back the clock, some can be too harsh for sensitive skin, so you’ll want to steer clear of lactic and glycolic acids, which often strip oils.
If your skin is extra dry and sensitive, it’s best to only wash once a day, before bedtime. Be sure to immediately follow up while the skin is still damp with a moisturizer designed for sensitive skin to lock in hydration. With that said, let’s tap into soothing that hyde of yours with the best face washes for sensitive skin. Did yours make the list?
Cardon Purifying Clay Cleanser
Best For: Cardon’s clay cleanser would be the best face wash for oily sensitive skin.
Why We Chose It: We’ve seen Cardon rank well in other grooming categories so it’s no surprise to find them here with a wonderfully gentle face wash for sensitive skin.
- Tri-clay blend: The trio of Moroccan, bentonite, and kaolin clays absorbs oil and grime from deep within the pores without compromising hydration levels.
- Cactus extract: Soothes inflammation.
- Cica: Calms redness and irritation.
If we could gift Cardon’s cleanser to every person in the entire world, we would. So, if this is your first introduction to the product, allow this awareness to be our gift to you. The Cardon Purifying Clay Cleanser is one of the most universal face washes for all skin types since it cleanses deeply without compromising the skin’s natural balance.
After using this triple-clay cleanser, we loved how it deeply purifies the skin while also leaving it feeling nourished at the same time. It feels like dark magic; how can something so purifying be so refreshing at the same time? If you’re oily (or even acne prone), then this is your ticket. But we would even tell people with dry skin to consider this since it is that refreshing. On top of that, the combination of cica (tiger grass) and the brand’s hero ingredient, cactus extract, make for a soothing and calming cleanse. A+++++ product right here.
- Universal product for all skin types
- A super soother, thanks to cactus extract and cica/tiger grass
- Terrific for frequent washers
- Trace amounts of fragrance (the final ingredient listed on its label); mostly doing the service of giving this a neutral scent
Caldera + Lab The Clean Slate Balancing Cleanser
Best For: After using this cleanser from Caldera + Lab, we think this is the best face wash for dry sensitive skin.
Why We Chose It: Caldera + Lab exudes quality in their ingredients as well as their business practices and that’s clearly evident in how their products work — fantastically.
- Squalane: Moisturizes and nourishes skin.
- Fireweed Extract: Clarifies skin as it cleanses.
- Probiotic Ferments: Soothes stressed skin and fortifies the skincare barrier.
Give Caldera + Lab a gold medal for their formulas. This brand is as good for the environment as it is for your skin. And this cleanser specifically deserves every accolade for its pH-balanced formula that simultaneously refreshes, tones, and calms sensitive skin. We sometimes forget that we need to apply the rest of our regimen after using it because it feels that thorough, as opposed to lesser quality products that might otherwise leave skin parched and desperate.
Now, if you’re somebody who puts your cleanser in the shower — let us warn you. We know, we’re supposed to champion glass containers, especially from brands with an ethos as admirable as Caldera + Lab’s. We recommend exercising caution by putting this bottle in the corner of the shower and only using the pump function so you don’t drop it and end up with shards are your feet. Now that this minute detail is out of the way, here’s why this is the best face wash for dry skin.
We loved how mega plant-based multitasker hydrated, fortified, soothes, and shields the skin. It’s pH balanced blend honors the skin’s natural chemistry and preserves (or resets) it to a healthy, calm state, which is paramount for sensitive skin. If you prioritize plant-based, natural formulas for your sensitive skin (as well as sustainable business practices), then get cozy with Caldera + Lab.
- Plant-based wunderkind
- pH-balanced formula resets skin
- Certified by Ecocert, MADE SAFE, Leaping Bunny, and B Corporation
- Be careful with glass container in the shower
- Miehei enzymes: Gently exfoliate the skin.
- Marshmallow root: Calms redness and fortifies the skin barrier’s moisture retention function.
- Comfrey leaf: Soothes skin, as it contains allantoin.
We’ll always think the adjective “milky” sounds funny because rarely are we yearning to splash milk all over ourselves. But milky cleansers are, in fact, among the most gentle on skin (milk bath, anyone?). And Ursa Major’s terrific, natural formula is one we often use multiple times a day, since it is so lightweight and cushioning. This multitasking face wash exfoliates dead cells, hydrates, soothes, nourishes, and brightens sensitive skin with each use.
We wouldn’t recommend it after a super intense workout or if you’re trying to flush away makeup, but if you’re just refreshing after a jog or doing your standard-fare AM/PM cleanups, then here you go.
Two things to note: We find that it turns watery quickly as the shower rains down, so try not to let too much water mix in before you splash it onto your damp face. And similarly to the Caldera + Lab, be careful of the glass container in a slippery shower.
- Perhaps the gentlest cleanser on planet Earth
- Multifunctional face wash
- Ursa Major is a plastic-negative, certified B Corporation company, anchored in sustainable practices and mostly natural formulas
- Milky viscosity is a bit on the watery side. Still, it’s very effective for sensitive skin
- Must be cautious with glass vessel in shower
Geologie Everyday Face Wash Sensitive Formula
Best For: Guys looking for the best sensitive face wash for frequent cleansing.
Why We Chose It: Geologie is all about customized skincare routines for all, including those with sensitive skin.
- Coco glucoside: Gently cleanses using plant-derived surfactants.
- Citric acid: Gently exfoliates dead skin cells.
Sometimes people see synthetic formulas as a no-go for sensitive skin to which we say: “Hey, it’s the natural formulas that are riskier,” since they don’t rely as heavily on science to achieve their end. For example, one of the best gentle body washes, Dove, is a “syndet” bar (that stands for “synthetic detergent”). Synthetic doesn’t equal unsafe or over-drying.
We would put Geologie in the same category, and elevate them to the top spot for this gentle recipe that we find ourselves using after workouts, on hot sunny afternoons, and before and after other skincare routines (like a cleansing mask or peel). This balanced formula accommodates the needs of frequent (3-4 times per day) face washers.
In other words, if you’re someone who needs constant refreshing, despite the general advice that we only ought to wash once in the morning and once before bed, then get something gentle and straightforward like this. On top of that, its synthetic-forward formula makes it much more affordable, and that goes a long way for a frequent user like you and me.
- Won’t irritate after multiple uses per day
- Travel-friendly size
- Extremely affordable option
- A synthetic-forward formula may turn some sensitive-skinned people away.
Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap (Peppermint)
Best For: The Peppermint “flavor” is best for those who enjoy a tingly sensation
Why We Chose It: We named this specific Dr. Bronner’s as the best body wash and, guess what, it’s also one of the best face washes for sensitive skin.
- Coconut Oil: Nourishing cleansing agent.
- Hemp Oil: Super cleanser that also hydrates skin and soothes inflammation.
- Peppermint Oil: Light inclusion provides a refreshing scent and tingle, while simultaneously calming inflammation.
While we were tempted to put Dr. Bronner’s ultra-gentle “baby” formula on this list, we ultimately fell back on our all-time favorite, and the brand’s best-seller, the peppermint castile soap. That peppermint oil inclusion is sparse enough that it shouldn’t irritate sensitive skin. In fact, it should do the opposite, by calming any inflammation and expunging bacteria. Plus, it feels tingly cool the instant it hits the skin.
While you can use this product on everything, head to toe, floor to ceiling, we always save it for our faces. It cushions, soothes, and hydrates the skin with its blend of oils (coconut, jojoba, and hemp, among others and in addition to peppermint), and it calms the senses just as much as it calms the skin.
The (light) inclusion of peppermint oil may seem out of place for inclusion in a “sensitive skin” roster but we found it lightweight enough that it doesn’t irritate but instead soothes and purifies.
- All-in-one cleanser
- Citric acid gently exfoliates in this nourishing, cushioning recipe
- Tingles on contact so that you feel refreshed
- Perhaps the peppermint oil could be bad for the most sensitive of skin
Narcyss L’Eau Brut Facial Cleanser
Best For: Those whose sensitive skin is stressed out from subpar products.
Why We Chose It: This was one of our favorite new products to come out of the last year and it’s finding its way into more grooming routines.
- Schisandra Berry Extract: Tones skin. Calms signs of stress and fatigue.
- Geranium Leaf Extract: Firms skin.
- Citric Acid: Gently exfoliates the topmost layer of dead skin cells.
Narcyss is one of our favorite new brands of the last year, for their high-performance products that look as terrific as they feel. This cleanser also smells brilliant, which is our necessary warning to those of you who have sensitivities to fragrance in your products.
But if that’s not your sensitivity and you like scented skincare, especially one that invigorates the spirits as its formula awakens the skin, then the Narcyss L’Eau Brut Facial Cleanser might be your new favorite product.
The soap and surfactant-free formula suits all skin types and it feels like a shot of espresso for the skin, helping to firm your face and kickstart the day. Or, it leaves you cool, calm, and refreshed after the most stressful, tiring day. Its continued use will help counter the impact of any stress, too, by inhibiting the chemical processes that cause signs of aging in the skin. And it just feels so hefty in your hands, too — we don’t know why that feels like an attractive quality, but the Sweden-based Narcyss certainly isn’t skimping on its product quality. If you want your shower or sink ledge to look great, then you ought to cast this product in the cleansing role.
- Soap-free gel cleanser is cushioning on contact
- Light exfoliating powers keep skin smooth
- Invigorating scent complements the cleanser’s skin-stimulating effect
- Includes fragrance, if that is something you specifically avoid in skincare
How We Tested the Best Face Washes for Sensitive Skin
One thing that many publications get wrong about the needs of sensitive-skinned individuals is that not all sensitivities are the same. Some people merely want a gentle formula, bottom line. Even if it includes trace amounts of fragrance or stabilizing alcohols, the cleanser is good to go. Other people are extremely averse to synthetic formulas, or singular ingredients like fragrance, salicylic acid, or certain surfactants. So for this list, we wanted a variety of options for different preferences, and for different skin types and use cases. We didn’t want to give a list of options that all suit the same individual need.
That being said, we did consider the following things in choosing our favorite in each category.
Ingredients: What are they aiming to achieve with this formula, and does the product deliver on that promise? In particular, is it suitable for a broad section of sensitive-skinned needs? Above all, we prioritized products that go above and beyond the mere act of cleansing. A great sensitive-skin cleanser should be cushioning for the skin, too. And many of these also do things like soothe inflammation, calm irritation, exfoliate dead skin, deeply nourish, and more.
Universality: In tandem with the above bullet point, we also believe that a product for sensitive skin should also work for all skin types. Meaning, a product engineered for sensitivities should serve more than just those sensitive individuals. While the same can’t be said in reverse (since many products are too potent for irritable skin), the more sensitive among us should suffer in terms of efficacy. So, all the products on this list work for everyone, within their categories, like oily skin, dry skin, etc. Sensitive skin should not be a singular category in and of itself.
Individualized Value: While $40 may feel like a lot for a cleanser, it still feels suitable for enough people who are particular about the ingredients in their products. So, we wanted to look at a range of products without skewing too costly. This list has options ranging from $10 to $40, and it should be no shock that these two poles represent synthetic and natural options. Again, something for everyone.
Why Trust SPY When Shopping for the Best Face Wash for Sensitive Skin?
At SPY, we know that people, including those on our own team, have different skin type needs, including sensitivities to certain ingredients. What we like to do to find the best grooming ingredients for all is scour the internet for the best-selling products to put them to the test to see if the reviews are legit.
Other than the best face wash for sensitive skin, SPY has been testing products across all grooming categories. Recently, we tried the best Aesop products, the best men’s shampoo, and the best lip balms.
If you’re interested, you can read more about How We Test Products at SPY.
About the Author
Adam Hurly has been covering the grooming industry for a decade after getting his start at Birchbox in 2013. Since becoming a freelance journalist in 2016, he has written for nearly every men’s title. In addition to SPY, his frequent clients include GQ, Men’s Journal, Robb Report, Forbes, and more. Hurly is a South Dakota native, a University of Kansas graduate, a New Yorker at heart, and has resided in Berlin for 5 years.
Recently at SPY, Hurly has weighed in on the difference between Finasteride vs. Minoxidil, has laid out the best hair loss treatments, and has even shared his new favorite acne patches.