Caring for sensitive skin almost requires a holistic approach. It's everything from knowing what fabrics or detergents irritate your skin to always having to patch test skincare products—even generally safe and widely-used ones like vitamin C or bakuchiol. And while you might give a lot of attention and thought to what comes in contact with your face—like a non-irritating cleanser— it's easy to overlook the products you apply to your body.
When you have skin that will react to just about anything, it's key to select body products that cater to sensitivities. "The importance of a body wash that's good for sensitive skin is that it will support the skin barrier, be moisturizing, and won't be drying or irritating," explains Hadley King, MD, a New York-based dermatologist.
Looking for products that are labeled ideal for sensitive skin is a good start, but why not settle on one that also gets a stamp of approval from a skin expert? Consult our guide on how to pick the best body wash for sensitive skin, plus dermatologist-approved options gentle enough to not wreak havoc on your body.
The Best Body Washes for Sensitive Skin:
- Dove Body Wash, Sensitive Skin
- Bioderma Atoderm Face and Body Cleansing Oil
- Eucerin Advanced Cleansing Body and Face Cleanser
- Sebamed Liquid Face & Body Wash for Sensitive Skin
- The Honest Company Eczema Soothing Therapy Body Wash
- Vanicream Gentle Wash
What To Avoid
Knowing what to avoid is a big part of ensuring smooth and non-irritated skin. Dr. King says this means "avoiding harsh detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate that can strip the skin of its natural oils and contribute to dryness and irritation." She also advises against acids like salicylic and glycolic since they can also be drying and irritating to sensitive skin. And generally speaking, the safest options will avoid unnecessary fragrance, she adds.
You should also avoid foaming body washes, despite how much of a clean feeling they leave you with. "The use of surfactants in foaming washes often remove natural oils and strip the necessary hydration from skin, leaving it vulnerable and dry," warns Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist.
What Ingredients To Look For
Dr. King's ideal formula includes humectants, emollients, and occlusives, a combination which she says is usually found in lotion-bases. In case you didn't know, humectants are moisturizing agents frequently used in skincare products to keep skin moist, and include ingredients such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).
For the scientifically inclined, "emollients are hydrocarbons which help in skin barrier function, membrane fluidity and cell signaling leading to overall improvement in skin texture and appearance," says Dr. King. In layman terms, emollients basically support the skin barrier while improving both texture and appearance. Butters, oils, lipids, and fatty acids are all emollients.
Occlusives are, in a nutshell, oils and waxes that create a lasting layer on the skin that prevents existing moisture from leaving your skin. Examples of occlusives are petroleum, beeswax, mineral oil, silicones, lanolin, and zinc oxide.
Another thing to be on the lookout for are lipids, which are a class of moisturizing and skin barrier-improving ingredients that include ceramides and squalane. When your skin barrier is compromised, moisture easily escapes, and the skin becomes weak and vulnerable to germs and infections, which can lead to breakouts.
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Types of Body Washes To Consider
The best texture and formula, according to Dr. King, is "a cream base with no to mild foaming," since lotion-bases typically include her star ingredients—humectants, emollients, and occlusives.
Oil-based washes are another suitable option for sensitive skin since they can be moisturizing and frequently have pared down formulas. Gel-based body washes can also be non-irritating for sensitive skin, but Dr. King warns that they will also be less moisturizing and even potentially drying. Generally speaking, "gel body washes are not as rich in emollients and occlusives as cream formulations." But, she adds that you can still use gel body washes "as long as they don't contain harsh detergents that strip the skin." Dr. King suggests applying a moisturizer containing humectants, emollients and occlusives to the skin immediately after washing with a gel body cleanser.
Then, there are always ultra-gentle baby body washes. Since they are created to be safe enough for, you know, a literal baby, she says that they are likely to be a good choice, given they are moisturizing and free of irritants and common allergens.
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For overall best practices Dr. Nazarian says to keep the water temperature warm instead of hot to avoid irritation, redness, and drying when using a best body wash for sensitive skin. She also recommends hydrating and moisturizing "aggressively and diligently" with creams and lotions after showering or bathing to strengthen the health of your skin.
Ready to shop for a body cleanser that won't aggravate your sensitive skin? The six options below are soothing, and heavily moisturizing, and all dermatologist-approved.
Dove Body Wash, Sensitive Skin
Dove's Sensitive Skin Body Wash comes up frequently among dermatologists when speaking about body cleansers for those with sensitivities. Both Dr. King and Dr. Nazarian mention the cream formula being among their favorites. "This is my classic 'go-to' for my sensitive-skin patients. It's gentle, keeps the skin barrier intact, and effectively cleanses," Dr. Nazarian tells Health. This body wash is hypoallergenic and made with the brand's NutriumMoisture, which is a blend of lipids including glycerin, to renew skin's moisture level.
Bioderma Atoderm Face and Body Cleansing Oil
According to Dr. Nazarian, if you use an oil in the shower, you should be extra cautious because of the increased chance of slipping. That being said, Dr. Nazarian shared, "this is a lipid-based cleanser that is good for sensitive skin—the fatty barrier is really supported with this particular product." It's not only dermatologist approved but reviewers are incredibly satisfied too — the cleansing body oil has almost 11,000 five-star ratings. The ingredients that make this product such a hit are hydrating glycerin and vitamin B in the form of niacinamide, which improves hydration by preventing moisture from escaping.
Eucerin Advanced Cleansing Body and Face Cleanser
This gel cleanser is soap-free, meaning it keeps skin from drying out, while maintaining skin's pH and protective barrier. Plus, it contains omega oils to further moisturize, and niacinamide to calm inflamed skin. Those with sensitivities will also appreciate that it's non-comedogenic (read: won't clog pores) and fragrance-free, so it won't irritate skin. This body wash is effective because it packs a one-two punch of hyaluronic acid and ceramides, "both of which are necessary building blocks for healthy hydrated skin," says Dr. Nazarian.
Sebamed Liquid Face & Body Wash for Sensitive Skin
When your skin's pH is off balance, some of the side effects can include things like redness, dryness, flaking skin, and overall irritation. Your body wash, therefore, should not disrupt your natural pH. Dr. Nazarian is a fan of Sebamed's Body Wash because it matches your natural pH, which means less likelihood of irritation or inflammation using a blend of vitamin Bs such as panthenol which also helps with healthy skin cell rejuvenation. Sebamed products are also always paraben-free which is important since studies have shown that parabens can disrupt hormone function.
The Honest Company Eczema Soothing Therapy Body Wash
The combination of prebiotics, oat, and aloe in The Honest Company's Body Wash make it a suitable, gentle option for sensitive and dry skin, Dr. Nazarian says. The latter two ingredients are household staples known for soothing skin inflammation (think oatmeal baths for chickenpox and aloe for sunburn). This body wash from the Jessica Alba-founded brand is also hypoallergenic and formulated with hydrating coconut oil.
Vanicream Gentle Wash
Dr. Nazarian recommends Vanicream Gentle Body Wash, because "it is free of all the things I don't like—perfumes, dyes, and parabens." The formula uses glycerin, a gentle and hydrating humectant that nourishes the skin. She describes the formula as being "incredibly gentle," so much so that she uses it on her kids. Many of the nearly 1,000 five-star ratings praise its effectiveness on eczema and ability to work gently with even the most sensitive and problematic skin.