We Tried 7 Moisturizers for Sensitive Skin and This Is the Best

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woman shopping for skin lotion in drug store
Photo credit: andresr/istockphoto

Moisturizing sensitive skin is no easy task. A lotion that's too greasy can cause breakouts; another may not offer enough hydration; and just one wrong ingredient can cause a rash. Exactly which rogue ingredient makes skin react can vary widely from person to person. Using a product formulated for sensitive skin is a good way to avoid potential culprits. We tested seven drugstore moisturizers for sensitive skin, using each one for three days, to see which ones effectively penetrate and hydrate the skin without leaving behind an unpleasant texture or causing irritation. None of the products contains sunscreen, which can irritate sensitive skin. Here they are, from cheapest to most expensive (by price per ounce) and capped off by our pick for the best moisturizer for sensitive skin.
Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream
Photo credit: Courtesy of target.com

Price: $10.99 for 11 fl. oz. | Buy it at Target
Scent: Fragrance-free
Recommended For: Very dry skin, hands
Not Recommended For: Oily skin
What It Claims to Do: Restores the skin's moisture barrier and be clinically shown to deliver intense hydration for 24 hours, thanks to ceramide, rich emollients, and something called Triple Oat Complex. It's also fragrance-free and phthalate-free.

woman in bathrobe putting on skin cream
Photo credit: LightFieldStudios/istockphoto

This moisturizing cream isn't specifically marketed as a face lotion, but it's effective on extra-dry skin. When Aveeno says this lotion delivers 24 hours of moisture, it's no joke — this lotion is intensely hydrating and very thick (it comes in a tub, not a pump, and is about the texture and thickness of mayonnaise). For those who don't need intense, non-irritating hydration, the lotion takes a while to absorb and leaves some stickiness. But for anyone who has suffered through a dry winter or desert summer that's left their skin feeling parched, this might be just the thing. Consider it a great emergency option when sensitive skin needs serious moisture.
Olay Moisturizing Lotion for Sensitive Skin
Photo credit: Courtesy of target.com

Price: $8.99 for 6 fl. oz. | Buy it at Target
Scent: Fragrance-free
Recommended For: All skin types
What It Claims to Do: This longtime workhorse (look for old bottles at your grandmother's house) promises to soothe dryness and condition gently. It's also fragrance- and color-free, and won't clog pores.

woman putting on skin lotion on her legs
Photo credit: PeopleImages/istockphoto

Oil of Olay has been around for over 60 years, so it's easy to take for granted, or dismiss as the outdated go-to of an older generation. But it's been around so long for a reason. This lotion does an excellent job of moisturizing without upsetting sensitive skin. There aren't a lot of bold claims on the bottle, but for anyone who has ever gotten a rash from the latest skin-care craze, that's just fine. Olay does exactly what it's meant to do. The version with sunscreen is also a standout and, remarkably, doesn't seem to cause irritation even when you get it in your eyes.
Garnier Skinactive Soothing 3-in-1 Moisturizer
Photo credit: Courtesy of riteaid.com

Price: $11.99 for 6.75 fl. oz. | Buy it at Rite Aid
Scent: Rose/floral
Recommended For: None
What It Claims to Do: This 3-in-1 moisturizer can be used during the day, before bed, or in a thick layer as a moisturizing mask. It's touted as a lightweight, fast-absorbing formula that soothes skin and restores softness and suppleness.

woman putting on lotion on her neck
Photo credit: gilaxia/istockphoto

This is a thick, gooey, strong-smelling moisturizer. Although it does moisturize, it doesn't absorb quickly, sitting on top of the skin in a way that didn't feel great. Worse, after a while, our skin felt irritated. Although the product is "96 percent naturally derived" — it does not contain mineral oil, parabens, silicone, or dyes — and the irritation did not produce a rash, that's not enough to recommend it.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture for Sensitive Skin
Photo credit: Courtesy of walmart.com

Price: $9.52 for 4 fl. oz. | Buy it at Walmart
Scent: Fragrance-free
Recommended For: All skin types
What It Claims to Do: This lightweight lotion doesn't make big promises on the package. It simply pledges to eliminate dryness without making skin greasy or shiny.

woman squeezing moisturizing lotion from a tube onto her hand
Photo credit: FlairImages/istockphoto

This light, creamy lotion absorbs well and, more so than any other moisturizer we tested, doesn't leave a greasy layer or film on top of the skin. It provides a good deal of moisture, although it's tempting to touch your skin to make sure it's there. It's a rare moisturizer that really disappears into the skin the way this one does and still works.
Burt's Bees Sensitive Daily Moisturizing Cream
Photo credit: Courtesy of target.com

Price: $10.49 for 1.8 fl. oz. | Buy it at Target
Scent: Fragrance-free
Recommended For: Severely allergic skin
Not Recommended For: Cosmetic-free skin
What It Claims to Do: This phthalate- and paraben-free face moisturizer uses rice extract and aloe to moisturize and cotton extract to replenish the top layer of skin. It's also not tested on animals.

middle-aged woman smiling and wearing bathrobe while looking in the mirror
Photo credit: Vesnaandjic/istockphoto

While Burt's Bees may win in the no-irritants-added category, it certainly isn't a pleasant moisturizer to wear. It goes on feeling waxy and sticky, and continues to feel that way even after it's had ample time to absorb. It doesn't irritate the skin or cause breakouts, but it's hard not to be aware of the tackiness, which may be especially noticeable if you don't wear foundation or sunscreen. After several days, our skin didn't feel noticeably softer or better moisturized. This cream seemed to sit on the top layer of the skin instead of soaking in.
Shea Moisture Peace Rose Oil Complex Sensitive Skin Facial Moisturizer
Photo credit: Courtesy of target.com

Price: $11.99 for 2 fl. oz. | Buy it at Target
Scent: Floral
Recommended For: Moderately dry skin
Not Recommended For: Tea tree oil allergies
What It Claims to Do: A lightweight moisturizer with certified organic, natural, and fair-trade ingredients, it claims to hydrate, calm, and comfort sensitive skin with peace rose oil and extracts of date palm and camellia leaf.

happy woman smiling with skin cream tube covering one eye
Photo credit: PeopleImages/istockphoto

While this light, water-based moisturizer absorbed easily and moisturized well, it smelled strongly of tea tree oil (one of the ingredients). Tea tree oil is likely to irritate some users with sensitive skin, and we found that it caused some tingling (which wasn't unwelcome). The moisturizer also leaves a slightly sticky film on the surface of the skin.
Pacifica Dreamy Youth Day and Night Face Cream
Photo credit: Courtesy of target.com

Price: $15.99 for 1.7 fl. oz. | Buy it at Target
Scent: Faintly floral
Recommended For: All skin types
What It Claims to Do: This 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free day and night cream promises to minimize fine lines, moisturize deeply, and promote a lifting effect.

smiling woman applying moisturizer to her face in the bathroom
Photo credit: Youngoldman/istockphoto

One of the pricier options at the drugstore, Pacifica actually seems to deliver the goods. While this cream is certainly not a face lift in a plastic container, it does leave skin feeling moisturized and a little bit lifted (without the tightness usually associated with an astringent). The creamy lotion is quickly absorbed and has a very light scent that shouldn't kick up allergies, and while it didn't make fine lines disappear, it left skin looking and feeling pretty darn good.
Olay Moisturizing Lotion for Sensitive Skin
Photo credit: Courtesy of target.com

Picking the best moisturizer in this bunch wasn't easy, as many products work well for specific problems and not all types of sensitive skin. Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream is best for severely dry skin, for instance, and Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture for Sensitive Skin is the lightest and gentlest. But for overall performance — moisturizing without irritation and absorbing completely — Olay is a solid choice for all skin types, and the price is on track for budget-conscious shoppers.

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