Today we’re talking all about the best serums for sensitive skin in this unsponsored roundup. All opinions are my own (and I have personally tried each of the products recommended unless noted). This post may contain affiliate links.
Let’s Talk Serums!
…and sensitive skin
Are you looking for the best serum to use with your sensitive skin? In this article we’ll cover:
- reasons you’d want to try a serum when you have sensitive skin
- skincare ingredients to look for (and those to avoid)
- my top recs + favorite serums to order
My Sensitive Skin:
I always responded with “combination skin” when someone at the skincare counter would ask me about my skin type. Sometimes it was dry, right? And I got pimples. And how was I even supposed to know what kind of skin I had at 18 anyway?
As I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve learned that I have mildly sensitive skin. I can’t handle using some types of skincare products – there are products that are supposed to be helping that just make my skin worse. In this article we’re going to dive into what ingredients help, what hurt, and which are the best serums to use if you have skin like mine.
A few indicators that I have sensitive skin:
- skin flushes and turns red easily
- beauty products sting or burn (depending on the product)
- I have dry patches
- my skin is sensitive to the sun’s UV rays / sunburn easily
- my skin reacts to weather changes
A few other indicators that YOU might have sensitive skin:
- You’re prone to rashes and bumps
- Your skin feels itchy
- You have broken capillaries on your nose and cheeks
- Fragrances irritate your sin
- You break out easily
Can I use Serums when I have sensitive skin?
Absolutely! Serums are a great way to soothe irritated skin and protect against possible sensitivities. I’ve found that serums make a big difference in how my sensitive skin feels and looks. Adding these into your skincare routine slowly (and one at a time) can help you pick the right serum for you.
Ingredients to look for when choosing a serum for sensitive skin
Which serum you pick to use when you have sensitive skin is going to depend on what your goals are. I’ve narrowed it down to two different categories:
Active Ingredients that are better for sensitive skin
If you’re trying to combat signs of aging, dark spots, or acne, here are two active ingredients that are more gentle for sensitive skin. These are also great for improving skin tone.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C promotes collagen production and brightens the skin. Vitamin C is generally less of an irritant than other active ingredients so its a good place to start if you have sensitive skin.
- Azelaic Acid: This chemical exfoliator unblocks pores which facilitates cellular turnover and targets/eliminates acne-causing bacteria. This is a less potent ingredient than traditional retinoids that can still improve acne, hyper pigmentation, improving texture and brightening skin.
Serum Ingredients to help soothe sensitive skin:
These ingredients are great for soothing sensitive dry skin, especially if your skin is reacting to something (harsh winter weather, stress, a new skincare product):
- Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid is like a moisture magnet. It can hold onto a lot of water, making your skin look plump and hydrated. It’s a natural substance found in your skin that’s really good at keeping things moisturized.
- Glycerin: Glycerin is like a drink of water for your skin. It attracts moisture from the air and locks it into your skin, making it soft and smooth. It’s like a protective shield that keeps your skin from getting dry.
- Ceramides: Ceramides are like the bodyguards of your skin. They’re part of the skin’s defense system, sealing the protective barrier to keep water in and bad stuff out.
- Polyglutamic Acid: Think of this as a cozy blanket for your skin. It forms a gentle, thin layer that holds onto water, so your skin stays moisturized. It’s like having a shield against dry air.
- Jojoba Oil: Jojoba oil is a bit like the natural oils your skin makes. It sinks in nicely and helps balance out how much oil your skin produces.
- Argan Oil: Argan oil is like a treat for your skin. It’s packed with good stuff like fatty acids and vitamins that make your skin feel soft and happy. Consider it a nourishing snack for your skin.
- Squalene: It’s really good at sinking into your skin and locking in moisture. It’s like a shield that fights off dryness.
- Calendula: Known for soothing irritation and redness, consider it a gentle hug for your skin.
- Niacinamide: Niacinamide is like a multitasker for your skin. It helps repair your skin’s DNA and reduces redness. It also helps make your skin stronger and more bouncy by boosting collagen and ceramides.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is like a bodyguard for your skin cells. It’s great at protecting your skin from damage and it also helps to lock in moisture. It’s like a shield that keeps your skin safe and hydrated.
ingredients at a glance:
- Vitamin C
- Azaelic Acid
- Hyaluronic Acid
- Polyglutamic Acid
- Jojoba Oil
- Argan Oil
- Vitamin E
- Aloe Vera
Serum Ingredients to avoid when you have sensitive skin:
Everyone’s level of tolerance to active ingredients is different but more sensitive skin types should be mindful when it comes to anything with AHAs and BHAs. As a general rule, exfoliating acids can trigger extreme dryness. Azelaic Acid seems to be the exception to this and has been recommended by some dermatologists for those with sensitive skin. I don’t do so well with products with salicylic acid or toners.
Best Face Serums for Sensitive Skin:
Here are the best facial serums to use with sensitive skin that are under $100. I haven’t ventured into skincare above that price point (but if I did I would buy the Cle De Peau serum and this Dr. Barbara Sturm night moisturizer and see if they’re worth the hype).
I usually use 2 of these each morning or evening and rotate through them depending on what my skin concerns are at the moment. I have also added in Merit’s “Better Skin Serum” as a primer under my foundation when I am doing a full face of makeup and it makes a big difference.
Best Hyaluronic Acid Serum for sensitive skin
1. Dime Beauty Hyaluronic Acid Serum
I have been using this one for 4 months and love it (besides the perfumes, it is my very favorite product from Dime Beauty). This is the brand’s flagship product for a reason. The viscosity is such that it isn’t too thin (it doesn’t drain through your fingers and drip everywhere and run down your face before you can rub it in). It also isn’t too thick that it doesn’t absorb easily. This leaves my skin feeling full, hydrated, and happy.
Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid
Favorite Acne Fighting Serum for sensitive skin
1. Hey Honey Be Clear Serum
This oil-free formula is made from bee propolis that helps clarify, balance and restore. It is hydrating and gentle on skin and uses the anti-microbial properties of honey to help combat pesky acne. I love how this one feels going onto my face and can easily be layered under makeup in the morning or after cleansing in the evening.
Key Ingredients: Bee Propolis, Oat Beta-Glucan, Honey
Best Budget Serum for sensitive skin
1. The Ordinary Niacinamide Serum
The Ordinary skincare brand wins for solid formulations at budget prices. This niacinamide serum is very soothing and hydrating, perfect if you have any skin irritation (after starting a retinoin or other product). This one reinforces your skin barrier over time. It will feel nice and hydrating day one but you’ll see the more important benefits over a few weeks. You can purchase online or in-store at Ulta. I also really like their hyaluronic acid and squalene.
Key Ingredients: Niacinaminde, Zinc
Budget Serum Runner-Up: The Ordinary 100% Plant Based Squalene
1. The Ordinary Squalane Serum
This plant-derived squalene serum is very hydrating. It is thicker than the other serums and takes a second to absorb but to get anything else close to this from another brand you’ll pay double. I also really like the Hyaluronic Acid from The Ordinary (just not quite as much as the others on this list).
Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid
Another Super Hydrating Option for Sensitive Skin
Farmacy Filling Good Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Another fantastic hyaluronic acid choice, this serum plumps and fills your skin. It is ultra-moisturizing and a great thickness. It is a very lightweight formula and I LOVE how it feels. Plus, that bottle will look gorgeous on your counter 😉
Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid
Best Multi-purpose Serum for Sensitive Skin
Dime Beauty Blue Facial Oil
I’ve only been using this one for a few weeks and I LOVE it. This is your all-in-one serum solution. The three powerhouse oil ingredients nursing and hydrate, leaving your skin feeling soft and full. It also helps fight damage from free radicals, fills in fine lines and wrinkles, and has anti-inflammatory properties (so it helps fight redness and and sensitivities from the retinoid).
Most nights I use 2-3 different serums after my retinoid but if I use this one, I only need one.
You can use code “ELISABETH” for 15% off
Key Ingredients: Blue Tansy Oil, Black Cumin Seed Oil, Rosehip Oil
Best budget Vitamin C Serum for sensitive skin
MaeLove Vitamin C Serum
This budget-friendly serum has a cult following as a fantastic dupe for the iconic Skinceuticals c e Ferulic acid serum. If you’re not up for the $182 price tag, this serum delivers a lot of the same brightening and hydrating benefits.
*I haven’t actually used this one yet but once I’m out of my current vitamin C serum, I already have this in my cart.
Key ingredients: Vitamin C
BONUS: Best facial sunscreen for sensitive skin
Elta MD is the #1 dermatologist-recommended skincare brand for a reason (and more dermatologists personally use this sunscreen than any other brand). I have tried a million different facial sunscreens from Dime’s Wonderscreen to Tula and this one is just better than all of them. It absorbs without a white cast and protects your skin. It goes on under my makeup just fine and I forget I even put it on. I’ve spend more money on other brands and I keep coming back to this one.
Tip: Just don’t forget to moisturize!
We covered serums in this post but don’t forget to use a thick moisturizer at night following your serum. If you’re looking for the best moisturizers, this is the one I’m currently using and love.
Also, wait 1 minute between serums or moisturizers to let the previous product absorb into your skin before applying another.
Face Serum FAQs
When looking for a face serum, stick with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and ceramides. I hope you found some great options on this list!
Yes, you can use a vitamin C serum with sensitive skin. Vitamin C is best applied in the morning, as it provides antioxidant protection and boosts collagen production. Be sure to follow it up with a great moisturizer and sunscreen.