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These Are My Favorite Moisturizers For My Dry, Sensitive Skin

by Katie Muirhead

Jun 2, 2021

Seemingly simple, moisturizer is a crucial step in even the most basic skincare routine. While there are some great no-frills options on the market, having an understanding of your skin type and subsequent moisture needs will improve the efficacy of this critical step.

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My Skin Type

Growing up acne-prone, my first moisturizing experiences were with the oil-free, highly-fragranced formulas targetted towards pimply teenagers. I loathed any signs of "grease," and blasted my blemishes with whatever active ingredients the drugstore acne aisle could offer me.

Needless to say, this was a horrible idea. Only after the irritation became too much and I took a break from these potent concoctions did my skin start to improve. It became clear that while my skin was acne-prone, it was also very sensitive. If my skin was going to improve, I would have to avoid further irritating my already inflamed skin.

The Skin Barrier & Sensitivity

While supporting the skin barrier is (thankfully) a concept we're all a lot more familiar with these days, the former ignorance toward this delicate shield and its microbiome has left a lasting impact on many of our skin.

The outermost layer of the epidermis has two main functions: to keep environmental stressors out and protective lipids and hydration in. The skin barrier is complex and ever-adapting, and when functioning correctly is what gives the appearance of smooth, healthy-looking skin.

If the skin barrier is compromised by aggressors such as harsh ingredients, irritating fragrance, or environmental stress, a whole range of skin concerns can develop. Sensitivty, acne, rashes, or any form of dermatitis can be triggered with a compromised skin barrier, and once the delicate balance is thrown off it can be hard to get it back.

To support this balance look for ingredients such as ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, while avoiding irritants such as fragrance, dyes, or active ingredients like retinol, AHAs or BHAs. And guess what? Forget what your teenage-self thought about oils: in the quest for a healthy skin barrier and acne-management, they are crucial.

Why Oils Are Important

While acne is indeed caused by the over-production of sebum (the oil your skin produces) that then clogs pores, it is often a response to dehydrated or irritated skin. In trying to balance out parched skin or a disrupted skin barrier, your skin may kick oil production into overdrive.

It might seem counterintuitive, but the way to settle this response and ultimately reduce overproduction of acne-causing-sebum is actually to feed your skin more oil. With a little external help, your skin won't need to be quite so reactive.

For me, the introduction of oil into my routine was a gamechanger in managing my acne-prone skin. Whether an ingredient in a moisturizer or as an extra skincare step, don't shy away from the right oils. Once you find ones that work well for your skin you will be helping support the delicate skin barrier for healthy, smooth, glowing skin.

My Fave Moisturizers

If your skin is both sensitive and acne-prone like mine, here are some of my favorite moisurizers at the core of my skincare routine:

One of the only moisturizers that keeps my skin feeling soft and plump until morning, this rich cream is one of my all time faves. With a combination of lipids to mimic the skin's natural barrier, this cream combines squalane, omega fatty acids, ceramides and plant sterols to moisturize and support.

When I first tried this product I thought that there was no chance the extremely thick texture would be tolerated on my face, so I used it only on my hands. It was only when I resorted to using this as a facial barriar against in-flight dryness did I realize my mistake. This ultra-rich formula is a cult fave for a reason, and while the initial scent may seem strong, rest-assured that it is generally non-irritating.

Harnessing the microbiome-supportive quality of honey, this soothing moisturizer also contains ceramides to prevent moisture loss. While the formula is, of course, not vegan, the antibacterial properties of the hero-ingredient honey can be beneficial in treating acne.

Formulated with a blend of supportive oils, this soothing cream is intended to protect the skin from the barrage of environmental stressors associated with modern life. Antioxidants fight against free radicals while omega fatty acids support skin hydration, all in a formula that is lightweight enough for morning use.

While there are many oils and oil-blends available, rosehip seed oil is an option that is tolerated incredibly well. Use this oil over another, lighter moisturizer, or on its own as the emolliant over a humectant serum such as hyaluronic acid. Oils do a an excellent job of "sealing in" important hydration, and this one is a great, affordable option.

Full of microbiome-supportive probiotics, this moisturizing cream is lightweight-yet-rich enough to use morning and night. Containing a blend of antioxidants and skin-loving lipids, this formula will work with your skin to soothe.

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