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All opinions are honest + my own. All products are put through a 2 week test period conducted on myself.
Facial Cleansers Are a Big Deal for Sensitive Skin
The wrong one will send my skin into chaos. The right one will allow my skin to mellow out into clear skin. Sensitive skin is truly like that.
It’s OK if a cleanser doesn’t solve everything for you. I don’t expect it to. There are very likely other things at play you’ve yet to find. What you need first is a stable base from which you can solve the rest.
Cue Cleansers with Small Ingredient Lists
Alright, if you’re just beginning to learn about your skin, a short ingredient list naturally makes it much easier to figure out your skin’s likes + dislikes.
I spent the last 3.5 months testing cleansers until I found a few that would help serve as a starting point for learning your skin. Some bombed big time, these guys passed.
CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
(with 3 essential ceramides + hyaluronic acid)
- Sensitive Skin Beginners
- Acne Skin / Skin Currently in Chaos
- Dry Skin / Oily Skin / Combo Skin
This is a foundational cleanser that aims to fix a root cause of sensitive skin acne. Its goal is to strengthen our skin barrier, which tends to be compromised or more easily weakened with sensitive skin. Gotta say, I’m a big fan of root cause fixes when I can find them.
The CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser was a drugstore find, which is great for ease of repurchase and also that it’s $13.50.
I tried this cleanser on the heels of some rough weeks of failed cleansers. (Oof some were expensive fails!) I was really struggling to get my skin back under control, even with backup from my most trusted products.
Within about 4 days of trying this cleanser, my skin began to calm + showed signs of stabilizing. By the end of my two-week trial, I was breakout free again and put away the concealer. This has now become my recovery cleanser anytime I hit a rough patch in product trials. (That’s actually a really big deal!)
If you’re just starting out, I would suggest this one. If you’re experiencing chaos, its skin barrier help should give you stability. There’s also no added fragrance + no essential oils that naturally contain fragrance. So, if you have no clue what you react to yet, here you go.
If you suffer from dry skin or oily skin, the ceramides attempt to repair your lipid barrier and should help your skin balance out. In English, dry skin will become better hydrated and oily skin will lessen oil production. Skin barrier repairs are that awesome!
Honest Beauty Magic Gel-to-Milk Cleanser
Best For :
- Oily Skin / Combo Skin
- Acne Skin / Healing
- Cruelty-Free Conscious
- Natural Ingredient Preference
If you have oily or combo skin, have acne, prefer something with a more natural or cruelty-free lean, this could be your pick. I wouldn’t bet dry skin would find this one useful, even though it has hydrating ingredients.
Honest Beauty Magic Gel-to-Milk Cleanser ($15) has ingredients like rose water + kaolin clay that tell me it’s aimed at gently reducing oil production. I personally love rosa damascena (the rose used in this) for its acne help, its help with skin turnover (helps with healing + aging), and its hydrating qualities.
This cleanser is Peta Certified. Cruelty-free sites like Ethical Elephant place Honest in the gray category, and Cruelty-Free Kitty flat out does not list Honest. In my opinion, it sounds like Honest has a lean in the direction of cruelty-free, but might not check all the boxes in regards to its ingredient suppliers. Still, it would serve as a better alternative to those brands without any thought to cruelty-free. With sensitive skin, I do what I can when I can, but know I don’t have as many options to choose from.
FYI – Though not common, it is possible to have a reaction to rose or citric acid, which is worth being aware of, in case you notice it for you.
Sometimes this cleanser’s milky quality can cause cloudy vision for a second or two as you’re washing/cleaning it off. I found this infrequent, brief, with no adverse effects and no stinging. So, I do not find this a detractor. I actually continued to use this after the test period. The brand describes a floral scent, I didn’t really pick it up and found it neutral smelling. (That’s normal for rose water. It doesn’t have a strong scent.)
Avalon Organics Intense Defense Cleansing Gel
- Oily Skin / Dry Skin / Combo Skin
- Acne Healing / Anti-Aging
- Cruelty-Free Conscious
- Natural / Organic Ingredient Preference
This one’s an old favorite, with the caveat that it’s best used on alternate days rather than as an everyday cleanser. I wouldn’t normally recommend a cleanser you can’t use every day. But this one gives such fabulous, glowy results on the 1st wash that it’s worth it. (Plus it’s so freaking cheap, who cares!)
Avalon Organics Intense Defense Cleansing Gel ($6) is also more natural leaning, even including some organic ingredients, for those who prefer that. It’s also both Leaping Bunny cruelty-free and vegan.
If you feel your skin is dull looking, are in your 20’s/30’s or above and need some anti-aging skin food, looking to post-acne heal or even out your skin tone, this might be a great companion for your gentle everyday cleanser.
You could pair this with the CeraVe cleanser mentioned above, if you wanted to. The Honest cleanser would add additional citric acid to your regimen and could possibly push your skin into a reaction if your skin is unused to or dislikes a lot of it.
FYI – Some people can have an allergy to citrus, aloe, or lavender. Each are not common allergies, but I believe it’s worth being aware of in case you discover that any of them trip you up. Remember, we’re all different in the sensitive skin world. For this reason, it makes the list.
If your skin is unused to Vitamin C, introduce this slowly, say 1-2x a week with gap days in between. If you’re in sun at all, be sure to apply SPF as Vitamin C ups skin sensitivity to sun (burns more easily). Don’t cause damage while improving skin!
Your skin needs some oil for your skin barrier to function properly. If you’re going for an oil-less squeaky clean, you’re holding yourself back from clear skin.