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The Best Moisturizers for Sensitive Skin: Soothe & Nourish

June 28, 2018


If you have sensitive skin, then choosing skin care products can be anxiety-inducing - especially when it comes to selecting a moisturizer.

While the ideal moisturizing cream hydrates, a person with sensitive skin also has to worry also about calming their easily-irritated, sore, or rash-prone skin.

Painful reactions to skin care, food, environment stress, and other triggers are a hallmark of sensitive skin, and often times it is hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem ingredients are. All combined, you have a lot to deal with!

In this guide, we'll look at a few things to keep in mind when it comes to choosing a moisturizer for sensitive skin, including what to look for and what to avoid.


Many companies refer to “harnessing the power of Mother Nature” and it is simply lip service as their products don’t fulfill their marketing promises when ingredient lists are carefully consulted. Natural nourishment from real botanicals, with less harsh chemicals (that pose an irritation risk) should be important requirements for all consumers, but especially so for those who have sensitive skin.

Sensitive, rash-prone skin becomes blotchy, itchy, and bumpy, so when it comes to the face, the first need is typically to even out the complexion color. Other key concerns are hydrating dry patches and protecting the skin barrier from outside irritants.

Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are crucial in sensitive skin care products. You might see fatty acids listed as linoleic acid (omega-6s); oleic acid (omega-9s); palmitic acid (omega-7s) and stearic acid (which lets water and oil mix). Fatty acids improve the skin's natural oil barrier, reduce inflammation, and can yield youthful, plump, hydrated skin.

Fatty acids are also the key components of natural oils and butters, found in varying ratios depending on the plant.

Some research indicates that a deficiency of fatty acids contributes to increased skin sensitivity. Studies have found that consuming borage, evening primrose or flax seed oils reduced skin irritation and sensitivity. In addition to consuming omega fatty acids, topical application is an effective delivery method.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is one of the best known plants in skincare, long used to soothe irritation and protect. Aloe vera is tolerated well by most people, and studies have confirmed it's ability to help heal burns and sooth mild skin irritations such as acne and psoriasis.

Hyaluronic Acid

Don’t be frightened by the word “acid” because hyaluronic acid isn’t irritating, harsh, or skin-stripping at all; in fact, it’s one of the best humectants around, which means it is capable of attracting and holding environmental moisture. That hydrating ability will help your skin look plump, youthful, fresh, and free of irritation.

Natural Oils

Natural oils like those derived from pistachio, sunflower, macadamia, olive, and avocado are great for sensitive skin. These are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids.

Natural Butters

Shea, mango, cocoa, and mowrah butters are ideal in body creams for dry, sensitive skin. In case you haven’t heard yet of mowrah butter, it is a gentle, natural, and effective skin (and hair!) conditioner. It’s also high in fatty acids including, linoleic, oleic, palmitic and stearic acids.


In addition to the natural moisturizers and humectants above, there are some plant extracts you might want to keep an eye out for as well. These plants and herbs have properties that help sooth, calm and protect sensitive skin types.


The resurrection plant (Haberlea rhodopensis) has a remarkable way of coping with moisture loss. It survives under the driest conditions, then “resurrects” itself with just one tiny drop of water - so imagine what it can do for dry, sore, flaky sensitive skin! It protects skin membranes and shields skin lipids from oxidation. The result is skin with refined texture and a healthy glow.

Research is still in its early stages, but there is some preliminary evidence that the resurrection plant has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-aging properties.


Prickly pear seed oil, also known as cactus oil, is full of nutrients, including Vitamins A, B, and E, as well as minerals, including magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. Prickly pear seed oil has an amazing fatty acid content of linoleic, oleic, palmitic and stearic acids.

All of this makes it a nutrient-rich, gentle, hydrating, and anti-aging powerhouse!

Vitamins A, B, and E are essential nutrients and powerful antioxidants, but you may not be as familiar with the importance of prickly pear oil’s minerals so we’ll break them down for you:

  • Magnesium is often referred to as the “relaxation mineral.” It calms anxiety, promotes sleep, and soothes achy joints. Magnesium slows the progression of pre-diabetes and insulin resistance, both of which lead to acne and stress-related skin problems. It detoxes skin and a deficiency results in decreased fatty acids, leading to dryness and inflammation. 
  • Phosphorous encourages cell turnover.
  • Manganese reduces inflammation and improves barrier function.
  • Copper peptides nourish and replenish, revitalize and hydrate.
  • Iron transports oxygen throughout the body, and that makes your skin glow while speeding up the wound-healing process.
  • Potassium regulates fluids which helps keeps skin moist and dewy.

Soothing Plant Extracts

  • Watermelon extract is rich in vitamin C (which brightens and firms) as well as amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and glycerin.
  • Seaweed comes from the sea, from where all life is said to originate. It provides exceptional hydration, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Rose extracts are helpful for reducing redness and calming irritated skin. While some species of roses have different characteristics, such as a heavier or lighter scent, they are all used in skin care for an important purpose: they have anti-inflammatory benefits for all types of skin, whether it’s sensitive, dry, oily, or mature.
  • Green tea is a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits, perfect for calming and nourishing skin.
  • Chamomile is another herb well known for healing and soothing, thanks to its active components like azulene.


  • Alcohol tends to dehydrate skin's surface which can exacerbate irritation, especially in leave-on products like moisturizers.
  • Lanolin comes from sheeps' skin, and can be an effective emollient since it's good at providing a barrier. However, a lot of people have reactions to lanolin and it might be heavy for many skin types.
  • Salicylic acid and AHAs like glycolic acid are excellent at exfoliating and renewing, but may be too harsh for sensitive skin in leave-on products.
  • Many sunscreen ingredients can irritate sensitive and acne-prone skin. Some people prefer to have a separate sunscreen that can be layered over moisturizers when needed.
  • Preservatives, while necessary and important, can be a source of irritation for many people. Skin types react to different ones but parabens and methylisothiazolinone are two many people prefer to avoid.
  • Petrolatum and mineral oil can be effective at sealing moisture in and providing a protective barrier, but these ingredients are also commonly contaminated with substances that can prove irritating.


Take a holistic approach to your sensitive skin care moisturizer. Facial creams and serums should have more pure, gentle ingredients that come from the earth than those created in a lab. It can't be said often enough that beauty comes from the inside out.

Skin reflects your overall health, so if you have sensitive skin, it is even more important to follow this general, but critical, skin care advice: eat healthy foods, get enough exercise, get plenty of sleep, drink at least two liters of water per day, and manage your stress.

One caveat: be mindful that some medical skin conditions, such as rosacea, eczema, and allergic contact dermatitis, can mimic the symptoms of sensitive skin. Consult a dermatologist if you have questions. Natural, gentle, non-irritating ingredients that nourish, hydrate, and protect the skin are best; harsh chemicals are to be avoided. 

If you can manage to make these changes and put your new knowledge of sensitive skin-safe ingredients to work, you will see a glowing complexion (and not from bright red blotches) looking back at you in the mirror when you do!