How to Manage Sensitive Skin in Different Skin Types
Whether you have dry, oily, or combination skin, you can still have sensitive skin. The key is to learn how to care for it properly by avoiding potential irritants and selecting gentle cleansers, moisturizers, and other skincare products. Below, we’re sharing the top tips you should know when building a daily regimen for sensitive skin.
Sensitive skin is a common skin concern, affecting at least 60% of women and 50% of men to some degree, according to research.1 All skin types can experience sensitive skin—including oily, normal, dry, and combination skin. Sensitive skin requires extra-gentle care, regardless of whether your skin type is oily, normal, dry, or combination. It generally has a lower tolerance to cosmetic ingredients, which can result in stinging, burning, itching, and redness. Read on to discover what to look for (and what to avoid) when choosing sensitive skincare products suitable for each skin type.
Basic Skincare Tips for Sensitive Skin
- Avoid long, hot showers and limit bathing time to 5-10 minutes2
- Steer clear of highly-scented products and detergents
- Use gentle soap-free cleansers that won’t disrupt the skin barrier
- Avoid harsh exfoliants and chemical peels
- Apply moisturizer often to help prevent dry skin
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen year-round
- Look for formulas that are suitable for sensitive skin
What Is Sensitive Skin?
The term “sensitive skin” was first defined in the 1970s.1 It’s generally used to describe skin that is more reactive, and therefore, more prone to skin irritation than other types. Signs of sensitive skin can include redness and sensations like burning, itching, and stinging. For additional tips on how to know if you have sensitive skin, visit our guide to identifying your skin type.
What Causes Sensitive Skin in Different Skin Types?
There are many possible answers to the question, “Why is my skin so sensitive?” Some people are born with skin that’s naturally more sensitive. And while sensitive skin can be caused by genetics,1 it’s also possible for any skin type to experience temporary sensitivity. This usually occurs when the skin is exposed to an allergen or irritant—such as harsh soaps, astringents, fragrances, or cold weather. When it comes to sensitive skin, it’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is unique, and therefore, sensitivities will vary based on each individual’s skin. If you are experiencing sensitivity, your dermatologist can help you identify the underlying cause.
How To Manage Sensitive Skin
Although similar skincare measures can be beneficial for all sensitive skin, there are unique characteristics associated with sensitivity in each specific skin type. Here are some sensitive skincare tips, broken down by skin type, to help you get started.
Dry Sensitive Skin
Dry skin and sensitive skin are sometimes confused with one another, because they share similar characteristics. Dry skin (formally known as xerosis) is lacking moisture in its uppermost layer. This can lead to skin that feels tight and uncomfortable. It may also cause flaking, peeling, scaling, or dry skin rashes. If you have sensitive dry skin, focus on gentle skincare products that provide your skin with plenty of moisture. When choosing a face wash for dry sensitive skin, we recommend using an allergy-tested, pH-balanced, fragrance-free formula designed to effectively cleanse without stripping the skin of its natural moisture—like CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser.
And don't forget to moisturize often with a gentle, barrier-restoring moisturizer, such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream. Suitable for dry and very dry skin on your face and body, this rich, yet non-greasy moisturizing cream is formulated with MVE Delivery Technology to release a steady stream of moisturizing ingredients throughout the day and night. When in doubt, consult with your dermatologist, who can help you choose the best face moisturizer for dry sensitive skin.
Oily Sensitive Skin
Oily skin produces an excess of sebum, which can cause it to appear shiny and greasy, especially around the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin). Because excess oil can clog your pores, oily skin may also be more prone to blemishes. For sensitive skin that tends to be oily, we recommend using moisturizers that are suitable for both sensitive and oily skin, and labeled as “lightweight” and “non-comedogenic” (meaning they won’t clog your pores).
One of our favorite face wash options for oily sensitive skin is a gentle foaming face wash. These foaming formulas can help effectively remove excess oil, dirt, and debris without over-drying or aggravating skin prone to reactions. You can also try on-the-go hydrating cleansing wipes, like CeraVe Hydrating Makeup Removing Plant-Based Wipes. Our non-comedogenic, alcohol-free wipes feel gentle on your skin, eye area, and lashes, and are also accepted by the National Eczema Association.
Sensitive Normal Skin
Normal skin is characterized by skin that is neither too dry nor too oily. If you have normal skin and notice that it suddenly becomes very sensitive or irritated, it’s best to pay a visit to your dermatologist’s office to assess the root cause of any unusual skin reactions.
Sensitive Combination Skin
Combination skin is dry in certain areas and oily in others (usually around the T-zone). When managing this type of skin, it’s important to focus on a combination of effective cleansing and hydration. One cleanser option is CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser. Formulated with three essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid, this gentle, fragrance-free cleanser effectively removes dirt and makeup without stripping your skin’s natural moisture or leaving it feeling tight and dry.
Sensitive Blemish-Prone Skin
Certain blemish-fighting ingredients can cause irritation and dryness, even in those who don’t usually struggle with sensitivity. Like those with oily sensitive skin, people with sensitive blemish-prone skin may also benefit from non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, and alcohol-free skincare products. Cleansers and moisturizers with beneficial ingredients may also offer additional benefits—like helping to maintain the skin’s protective barrier, retaining skin’s natural moisture, and helping to calm your skin. To help support healthy-looking skin, we recommend products that are formulated with ingredients such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide.
And while a cleanser and moisturizer are important, no skincare routine for sensitive blemish-prone skin is complete without adequate sun protection. Sunscreen is essential for all skin types, but it’s especially crucial for sensitive blemish-prone skin, since some treatments (like retinol) may cause increased sun sensitivity. To learn more, consult with your dermatologist or explore more sun protection FAQs in our mineral vs. chemical sunscreen guide featuring board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah.
Remember: Regardless of your skin type, skin sensitivity can sometimes be linked to an underlying skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis. It’s important to consult with a dermatologist for an accurate assessment and guidance if you develop sensitivity—regardless of your skin type.
- Farage MA. “The Prevalence of Sensitive Skin.” Front Med (Lausanne). 2019 May 17;6:98. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2019.00098. PMID: 31157225; PMCID: PMC6533878.
- “Dermatologists’ Top Tips for Relieving Dry Skin.” American Academy of Dermatology Association, 2022.
- Oh SJ, Yoon D, Park JH, Lee JH. “Effects of Particulate Matter on Healthy Skin: A Comparative Study between High- and Low-Particulate Matter Periods.” Ann Dermatol. 2021 Jun;33(3):263-270. doi: 10.5021/ad.2021.33.3.263. Epub 2021 May 4. PMID: 34079186; PMCID: PMC8137329.
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