If your skin reacts to beauty products often, you might be tempted to go for doctor's orders when it comes to your face cream. But there are good ones out there for sensitive skin - you just have to find them, writes Judy Johnson
As a beauty writer, it shames me to say that for around five years, possibly more, I slathered E45 cream on my face morning and night. That was my moisturiser. So scared was I of yet another reaction to yet another product that I went for the 'safest', most medicinal-looking creams on Boots' shelves and picked this paraffin-based brand out from the crowd. I honestly thought I was doing my skin good, treating it far better than everybody else who used perfumed this and acid-filled that. I never reacted; or at least, not in the conventional oh-no-my-face-is-one-big-rash way.
But now, when I look back, I realise it was doing me no good at all. I had the driest forehead you could imagine. It was quite horrid to look at, and felt sore for most of the time. The cream soothed it at first, leaving a greasy sheen that I mistook for healthy, hydrated skin. But I had spots , lots of them; I had dry patches that were never quenched. My skin never felt healthy.
Fast forward to now and my skin is transformed. It's by no means perfect, but I don't have the flakiness that plagued my early twenties; if anything I have the pretty standard very slightly oily T-zone, slightly dry skin type overall and a sheen that comes from cleansing gently and drinking gallons of water.
My dry skin needs a good moisturiser but these days I try to pick more 'natural' brands with no synthetic fragrance ; there's just no need. Here are my top picks for face moisturisers that are kind to your skin - they might not be recommended by the NHS for dry skin like my previous ill-advised choice, but they have my seal of approval.
Best moisturiser for going back to basics: Neal's Yard Remedies Sensitive Replenish & Balance Moisturiser
Launched as part of Neal's Yard's first sensitive skin range , if there were such a thing as no-skincare skincare in the way that we talk of no-makeup makeup, this minimalist moisturiser would be it. It has a light texture that feels more comfortable than some of the richest creams I use. This quick-absorbing cream has vitamin E-rich oat oil in the ingredients list to lock in moisture.
Best no-frills moisturiser: CeraVe Moisturising Cream
This hefty tub falls into the medicinal-looking packaging camp, but there's a reason Cerave caused such a stir among beauty editors when it arrived on UK shores - reasonable price points, combined with no-fuss, effective formulas make for quite the combination. This cream contains three essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid to moisturise and protect the skin’s natural barrier. It relieves dry, uncomfortable patches and can be applied as frequently as you like with no fear of it feeling greasy.
Best moisturiser for dry skin: Curél Intensive Moisture Facial Cream
This Japanese moisturiser is alcohol, colourant and fragrance-free. Curél, which is Japan's number one skincare brand for sensitive skin, was created specifically to replenish, protect and promote the natural ceramide moisturisers in the skin, which dry, sensitive skin is often lacking. This light cream has a silky texture but certainly delivers in the nourishment stakes.
Best moisturiser for mature skin: Trilogy Sensitive Very Gentle Moisturising Cream
Though this does contain alcohol (as many do) so might need a patch test, the sensitive range from Trilogy has no essential oils or fragrance and instead works its magic using chamomile, calendula, olive and evening primrose - the kind of list that makes us sensitive types breathe a sigh of relief. Even better, it contains hyaluronic acid. Though produced by the body, we make less of it as we age and it's responsible for storing water in the upper layers of the skin so we need as much as we can get. It has a gorgeously rich and creamy texture in a bottle which has a pump top - nice, less contamination - and leaves skin feeling plumped up and soothed. It has a very vague, natural scent because of the ingredients; it's barely noticeable but if I had to describe it I'd say it almost smells like a weak cup of chamomile tea.
Best moisturiser for rough skin: REN Vita Mineral Emollient Rescue Cream
I've only just discovered REN skincare and I have to say I am really impressed. In their products you'll find no parabens, fragrance or alcohol which is a relief in more ways than one. The cream is very thick, as you'd expect for an emollient, but although it's not scented it also doesn't have that clinical smell either - a bonus in my book. Promising to quickly soothe rough, dry and dehydrated skin, it also adds a protective layer. I'll be using this one in the cold winter months to keep skin glowing thanks to its vitamin-rich ingredients.
MORE GLOSS: The best body moisturisers for sensitive skin
Best moisturiser for stressed-out skin: Kiehl's Skin Rescuer
Kiehl's have a theory that some of us aren't particularly sensitive, our skin is just stressed. Though I can and will react to all sorts, it's true that stress makes it worse, whether it's a case of redness, blotchiness or even dryness (eczema can flare up when you're feeling highly strung). This cream has a consistency that's somewhere between a gel and a cream, and it creates a really pleasant cooling sensation on the skin. With chamomile and rose to calm plus mannose to strengthen the barrier of the epidermis, despite its impressive functions it's a very light formula - perfect for everyday use to combat redness and poor texture.
Best organic moisturiser: Pai Instant Calm: Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream
As any regular readers will know, I can't sing the praises of Pai enough. An organic skincare range whose USP is that their products are sensitive skin-friendly, this is one of their best products in my eyes and leaves skin feeling happier in all sense of the word. Soothing, repairing and full of natural goodness, I wouldn't be without it.
MORE GLOSS: The best cleansers for sensitive skin
Best budget moisturiser: Cetaphil Mosturising Lotion
I've already raved about Cetaphil's cleanser, but actually their moisturiser is where I really saw the difference in my skin. It may sit closer to the likes of E45 on the shop shelves but this non-comedogenic lotion is on another level in terms of looking after your skin. Recommended for skin conditions such as psoriasis and rosacea, it is ideal for sensitive types and glides on like a dream. You need a blob only the size of a ten pence piece to fully hydrate your face, and another for the neck. It can leave a slight shine but I actually like that finish on my otherwise dry skin; it makes me look glowing and healthy instead of pale and lacklustre. The best bit? It's under a tenner too.