Sensitive Skin? Try These Fragrance-Free Skin-Care Products Recommended by Dermatologists

Sensitive Skin? Try These Fragrance-Free Skin-Care Products Recommended by Dermatologists featured image

If you have sensitive skin or a compromised skin barrier, your dermatologist (or Dr. Google) probably told you to avoid skin-care products containing fragrance. “Fragrances can be a love-hate situation when it comes to skin care,” says Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “Most of my patients are stunned when I encourage them to avoid fragrance, but it makes sense to me as a dermatologist. Having said this, I do feel there are some products that add a natural and safe fragrance to products. But, they must be used very sparingly and always identified on the ingredients.” 

Here, we uncover what “fragrance-free” really means and who fragrance-free skin-care products are best for. We’re also sharing the top fragrance-free products recommended by leading dermatologists. Sensitive skin? Try incorporating these picks into your skin-care routine.

The Difference Between Fragrance-Free and Unscented

Have you ever smelled a skin-care product that says “fragrance-free” on the label, but it still has a scent? This is where things can get tricky. Spokane, WA dermatologist Wm. Philip Werschler, MD says it’s important to remember that “unscented” and “fragrance-free” are different. “Unscented means the product often has a masking fragrance to hide an offensive odor. Many skin-care products have an offensive odor from their constituent ingredients. For example urea, sulfur/sulfa, hydrolyzed collagen, or other animal extracts can be considered offensive by some noses.”

Fragrance-free, on the other hand, means no synthetic fragrance ingredients, but it doesn’t always mean the product won’t have a smell. Many products (especially those made with essential oils) are naturally fragrant thanks to their ingredient lineup, so it’s important to know the difference between the two. “I tell my patients that skin irritation is not always from fragrance, and fragrance-free doesn’t always mean no odor,” says Dr. Werschler. “I know this is seemingly complicated, but unfortunately that’s the reality. If someone wants fragrance-free, they need to read labels for ‘no added fragrance’ and then try it and see what their noses or skin tell them!”

Additionally, Dr. Schlessinger says fragrances in skin care are not regulated, so it’s often difficult to know what the fragrance is sourced from and how much is used in the product. “Natural fragrances may be more easy to decipher because they are extracted from a source,” adds Campbell, CA dermatologist Amelia K. Hausauer, MD. “On the other hand, synthetic/semi-synthetic fragrances are made in a lab and have longer shelf lives. It’s key to always check the expiration date on any skin-care product.”

Who are fragrance-free skin-care products best for?

Those with sensitivities and/or compromised skin. “Fragrance is a common allergen and irritant,” says Dr. Hausauer. “For those with true sensitivities, many or specific fragrances can result in delicate, itchy or inflamed skin, as well as headaches. Fragrance is actually a migraine trigger, so those who suffer from migraines may want to adhere to a fragrance-free skin-care routine.”

Dr. Schlessinger adds that fragrances are a known trigger for those with eczema as well. “If you have or suspect you have an allergy or irritation, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid fragrance,” says Dr. Hausauer. “If you aren’t sure, a board-certified dermatologist or allergist can patch-test your skin to determine the exact cause of your sensitivity. Those with inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea and eczema should also stick to fragrance-free products. And lastly, those with hyperpigmentation—dark discoloration—should avoid too, as fragrance may cause irritation that will worse then condition. The bottom line: If you have a compromised skin barrier or more generically sensitive skin, steer clear of fragrance to be safe.”

Fragrance-Free Skin-Care Products Recommended by Dermatologists

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Vanicream Daily Facial Moisturizer ($19)

“Note that even ‘fragrance free’ products often contain ‘masking fragrance’, an undetectable fragrance that masks the smell of the underlying ingredients, and many patients with a true fragrance allergy can’t tolerate a masking fragrance. The Vanicream line of products is my go-to for those patients. I particularly like this moisturizer, but the line also has cleansers, body lotions, sunscreens, shampoos and conditioners.” —Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD

BUY NOW – $19

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La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer ($23)

“As a dermatologist who also struggles with sensitive eczema skin, I’m constantly on the look out for moisturizers that provide good hydration and must be fragrance-free. One of my favorites for the face is La Roche-Posay Double Repair. It contains ceramide-3, niacinamide and prebiotic thermal water, which has a unique prebiotic action on the skin microbiome, helping to replenish moisture up to 48 hours, as well as restoring skin’s natural barrier. It’s also oil-free and noncomedogenic, so it’s a great product for my acne-prone patients, as it doesn’t clog the pores and will not cause breakouts.” —Flushing, NY dermatologist Dr. Winifred Chu

“It’s one of my favorite non-fragranced facial moisturizers that does the trick on a crisp, winter day on patients with sensitive skin!” —Austin, TX dermatologist Sarah Gee, MD

“This moisturizer is one of my favorite creams. It contains ceramides and niacinamide to counteract inflammation and support the skin barrier. It absorbs without a trace and is non-comedogenic.” —Dr. Marcus 

BUY NOW – $23

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CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($20)

“CeraVe Cream is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free and contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid. As someone who has both acne and eczema, these are favorites of mine, as they are also noncomedogenic.” —New York dermatologist Shari Marchbein, MD

BUY NOW – $20

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Dove Soothing Relief Body Wash ($10)

“This fragrance-free body wash is good for sensitive skin, as the creamy formula works to nourish the skin while also cleansing. It’s sulfate-free and has the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance, making it a good option for those with eczema-prone skin, too.” —New York dermatologist Marisa K. Garshick, MD

BUY NOW – $10

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SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore ($150)

“I love this moisturizer because it provides the perfect level of hydration and protects the skin, without being heavy or clogging pores. The balance of fatty acids is what makes it unique.” —Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD

BUY NOW – $150 

NB47 Awards FastFixes SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore
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Covey Sun & Done Moisturizing SPF 50 Sunscreen ($34)

“Fragrance is a very common allergen for a lot of patients. Many products have masking fragrance, where you might not even know there’s a fragrance by its smell, but it can exacerbate skin irritation. Covey makes a great line of straight-to-the-point, fragrance-free products, including this sunscreen. In addition to being fragrance-free, they are also free of sulfates, silicones, phthalates, synthetic dyes and essential oils, and they are hypoallergenic, suitable for all skin types, vegan and cruelty-free.” —New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD

 BUY NOW – $34

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Avène XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cream ($34)

“I love this cream. It’s fragrance-free, preservative-free, dye-free, and noncomedogenic! It’s particularly great for people who are prone to eczema flare-ups, but it’s a wonderful moisturizer for the entire family!” —Harrison, NY dermatologist Jennifer Silverman Kitchin, MD

BUY NOW – $34

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EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($43)

“It’s my daily go-to that provides quality sun and skin care without the concern of added fragrance.” —Rochester, NY dermatologist Lesley Loss, MD

BUY NOW – $43

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The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA ($7)

“It’s a hydrating, nongreasy option for dryness that layers well with serums. It contains plant-based NMFs (natural moisturizing factors) such as amino acids, dermal lipids, saccharides and hyaluronic acid, which provide lightweight moisturization.” —Washington, D.C. dermatologist Farhaad Riyaz, MD

BUY NOW – $7

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SkinMedica TNS Advanced+ Serum ($295)

“As far as unscented or odorless products, I love the TNS A+ Serum by SkinMedica. This dynamic, multipurpose serum is full of antioxidants and collagen-boosting ingredients. It’s also super tolerable and produces an immediate plumping effect, as well as lasting effects that change your skin in the long-run.” —Chico, CA dermatologist Kafele Hodari, MD 

BUY NOW – $295

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La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser ($17)

“I love this cleanser because it’s so gentle, but cleans the skin effectively. It’s a milky, non-foaming cleanser that can easily be wiped off instead of rinsed off without leaving any residue. Great for all skin types, especially dry and sensitive skin.” —Warwick, RI dermatologist Caroline Chang, MD

BUY NOW – $17

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Vanicream Facial Moisturizer Broad Spectrum Sunscreen ($20)

“The is a lightweight mineral sunscreen that provides SPF 30 broad-spectrum coverage and is a great option for those with sensitive skin, as it is fragrance-free and paraben-free. It also contains ceramides to support the skin barrier and moisturize the skin.” —Dr. Garshick

BUY NOW – $20

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Drunk Elephant E-Rase Milki Micellar Water ($30)

“I personally use this on my sensitive, dry skin. Drunk elephant is 100-percent fragrance- and essential oil– free. I love this micellar water as a way to remove makeup without removing all the beneficial oils our skin needs to hydrate and protect.” —Dr. Hausauer

BUY NOW – $30

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Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream ($140)

“My favorite fragrance-free product is as one of the most effective and well-tolerated hero skincare products that combines a retinoid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, peptides, and vitamin C, in an advanced formulation, for little to no irritation.” —New York dermatologist Melissa Levin, MD

“This is one of my personal favorites because it is a heavy-hitting targeted treatment—a retinoid infused with lactic acid. Most medical-grade skin care like this that is sold through physicians is now fragrance-free in order to avoid unwanted allergens and irritants.” —Dr. Hausauer

BUY NOW – $140

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Maei MD Serum 6 ($140)

As a dermatologist, one of the very first things I tell my patients about skin care is that fragrance is a no-no: it is a frequent cause of irritation, and does not belong in skin care. In order for skin care to work, we have to be able to use it regularly, so of course it needs to be tolerable in addition to being effective. I am always surprised when I see fragrance added to a skin care product—it should not be there! This is an all-in-one, super active serum that includes six categories of derm-approved skin essentials, and is of course fragrance-free. Compatible ingredients are combined in their ideal proportions to create a serum with an overall power that is greater than the sum of its parts. Functioning as a daily antioxidant, collagen and elastin builder, and intense hydrator, Serum 6 delivers superior results in one streamlined step.” —Dallas dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, MD

BUY NOW – $140

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Vanicream Moisturizing Lotion ($19)

“There are so many fragrance-free products available now that it is much easier to find a regime without dye or fragrance. Among the ones I like are Vanicream’s Moisturizing Lotion—it’s a lighter version of their cream—and sunscreen.” —West Palm Beach, FL dermatologist Kenneth R. Beer, MD

BUY NOW – $19

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Doctor’s Daughter Skincare The Better Together Duo ($181)

“This Extremolyte Stem Cell Serum is excellent for preventive care, anti-aging, hydrating, protecting against pollution, and skin tightening. It is great for all skin types and has very few strong and powerful ingredients. The following product is the Papaya Enzyme Peel, an at-home treatment that is strong enough to see benefits and results after a few times of use, but sensitive enough that you don’t see the actual peeling process. The peel has become part of my Sunday ritual. You can apply it for 10 to 15 minutes or leave it on overnight. I wake up glowing and stay glowing all week long. Most importantly, both of these products have clean ingredients and are fragrance-free!” —Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill

BUY NOW – $181

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Doctor Rogers Restore Face Wash ($38)

“This cleanser provides the perfect balance of getting skin completely clean without stripping it of what it needs to stay healthy. Gentle surfactants thoroughly remove makeup, dirt and sunscreen, while glycerin hydrates and supports the skin barrier. It’s fantastic for sensitive skin, and of course fragrance-free!” —Dr. Marcus

BUY NOW – $38

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Alastin Restorative Skin Complex ($230)

“This boosts your natural collagen and elastin fiber production while clearing out old defunct fibers—without the use need for masking scents that may cause some low-level irritation that may potentially work against skin barrier health and integrity. My husband does notice the lack of perfumed scent at times…I have told him ‘that’s the smell of science.'” —Dr. Hausauer

BUY NOW – $230

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Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm ($20)

“It contains ceramides, but has the added benefit of colloidal oatmeal to help with itching and inflammation. I use this when my skin needs extra barrier protection overnight with intense moisturization.” —Bloomfield Hills, MI dermatologist Linda C. Honet, MD

BUY NOW – $20

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LovelySkin LUXE Mattifying Antioxidant Moisturizer ($65)

“This line of skin care is not only fragrance-free, but also medically safe and highly effective. This line contains active, proven skin-care ingredients like resveratrol, peptides and the line’s signature ingredient, afaLUXE, which is a novel blend of amino-based filaggrin antioxidants, vitamin C and Dead Sea minerals. This patented ingredient complex encourages natural exfoliation with a nonirritating, yet low pH to help improve skin’s barrier functions, making it an effective option for all skin types, including sensitive. This moisturizer is a customer favorite.” —Dr. Schlessinger

BUY NOW – $65

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Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser ($13)

“I love all of the Vanicream products, but especially this face wash. Even their deodorants are great. Their products are free of common irritants, dyes and fragrances. They are super affordable, and you can find them at any drugstore or on Amazon. They are great for sensitive skin patients. I even use them on my toddler who has eczema, too.” —Washington, D.C. dermatologist Sarika Snell, MD

BUY NOW – $13

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Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Cream ($20)

“This moisturizer is elegant, cost-effective, complements dermatologists’ anti-aging treatments, and works well with acne medications.” —Vienna, VA dermatologist Brenda Dintiman, MD

BUY NOW – $20

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A Method C Antioxidant Gel 20% ($118)

“It’s the most popular product in my office. Not only do I use it every morning myself, but I prescribe it for nearly every patient I treat. Its formulation is just the right weight—not too greasy—and provides enough hydration that an additional layer of moisturizer is often unnecessary. A real time-saver! Lastly, the airless pump dispenses just the right amount of product to cover the entire face and keeps the product from turning yellow over time, thus keeping it fresh and effective. And, it’s also now available on Amazon.” —Washington, D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD

BUY NOW – $118

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CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($18)

“I recommend this for my patients with normal or dry sensitive skin on their face.” —Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie Callender, MD

BUY NOW – $18

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Burt’s Bees Sensitive Solutions Calming Night Cream ($15)

“Burt’s Bees has a great lineup for sensitive skin. This includes the facial cleanser, daily moisturizer and night cream. All have been accepted by the National Eczema Association. These products have soothing aloe, as well as cotton extract, which helps to guard skin against potential irritants. But the biggest reason I like them is that they’re sulfate- and propylene glycol–free, which is NOT easy to find these days.” —Rutherford, NJ dermatologist Aanand Geria, MD

BUY NOW – $15

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Cover FX Radiant Start Tinted Moisturizer ($40)

“I love to blend this with my sunscreen for an immediate glow. I particularly appreciate that this product is not only fragrance-free—an excellent choice for my sensitive skin patients—but also mineral oil–free, phthalate-free, and talc-free. I also love that it supports our skin’s healthy microbiome by incorporating prebiotic and probiotic complexes.” —New York dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD

BUY NOW – $40

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Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar ($4.50 for two)

“For those who prefer a cleansing bar option, this fragrance-free bar won’t dry out the skin or strip it of its natural oils, as it is also formulated with one-fourth moisturizing cream to help restore moisture.” —Dr. Garshick

BUY NOW – $4.50

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Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream ($16)

“This moisturizing cream is rich and goes onto skin so smoothly. I love it as a body moisturizer and recommend applying it within three minutes after getting out of the shower for best results. It absorbs quickly and hydrates completely!” —Dr. Marcus

“This is a great option for patients who have dry skin all over their body.” —Dr. Callender

BUY NOW – $16

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Avène Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream ($42)

“I love this Cicalfate+, which is fragrance-free. I use it on my face, hands, neck! Very good for very dry, sensitive skin without being too greasy, and it’s safe to use on children. I love the Avène Thermal Water in the a.m. and p.m. and my moisturizer after, which is great for hydration.” —Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD

BUY NOW – $42

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Alastin Hydratint Pro Mineral Sunscreen SPF 36 ($76)

“I also love Alastin products for daily skin care, especially the broad-spectrum Hydratint Sunscreen, which is elegant and great for all skin types. Alastin has an amazing lineup of effective, gentle skin care for even the most sensitive skin types.” —Dr. Honet

BUY NOW – $76

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Skinbetter Science Even Tone Correcting Serum ($160)

“This serum is a non-hydroquinone and non-retinol formula; instead it contains their patented bioactivated ingredient diglucosyl gallic acid to help improve the appearance of uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation.” —New York dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD

BUY NOW – $160

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Aquaphor Advanced Therapy Ointment Body Spray Moisturizer ($13)

“I use this right after the shower as an allover body moisturizer. I like this because it’s easier than applying cream to my whole body.” —Portland, OR dermatologist Dr. Stephanie Campbell

BUY NOW – $13

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SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($182)

“This vitamin serum is super potent and long-lasting in the skin, and it not only lightens brown spots and brightens the complexion, but it can also stimulate collagen production to help smooth the appearance of fine lines and firm and tone skin.” —Dr. Papantoniou

BUY NOW – $182

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DefenAge 24/7 Barrier Balance Age Repair Fragrance-Free Cream ($127)

“I am always on the lookout for the most cutting-edge and scientifically proven active ingredients to help each one of us reach our healthy skin goals. One fragrance-free product that I love to rotate into my personal skin-care regimen is the DefenAge Barrier Cream, a powerful moisturizer with the key ingredient of defensins. Research shows that defensin molecules can reprogram dormant cells to promote healthy and more youthful-looking new skin in a short period of time, resulting in improvement of pigmentation, pores, fine lines and wrinkles, as well as enhancing hydration.” —Dallas dermatologist Flora Kim, MD

BUY NOW – $127

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Olay Complete Daily Moisturizer SPF 30 for Sensitive Skin ($18)

“I have very sensitive skin, and I am always very cautious what I recommend. Many over-the-counter and prescription products make my face fall off. My go-to everyday sunblock is Olay Moisturizer SPF 30 for Sensitive Skin. You won’t find it with the other sunscreens—it’s found in the anti-aging aisle. I love it. I can use it all over my face, including my eyelids. It rubs in quickly and does not have a pasty look. It also does not feel or smell like sunscreen. Of course, you would want to use caution not to get it in your eyes.” —Wilmington, NC dermtologist Kendall Egan, MD

BUY NOW – $18

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Skinfix Remedy+ 911 Ointment ($28)

“This is great for babies who have a bad diaper rash, great for eyelids that get eczema and hands that get cracked from all the hand washing we are doing lately.” —West Islip, NY Kavita Mariwalla, MD

BUY NOW – $28

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Skintensive Bruise & Scar Cream ($30)

“This Bruise Cream contains arnica and vitamin K, and is a great option for bruising that is fragrance-free. I helped develop this product and have received great feedback about them from patients and customers nationally.” —Beverly, MA dermatologist Vlad Ratushny, MD

BUY NOW – $30

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Epionce Lytic Gel Cleanser ($40)

“I like this fragrance-free cleanser because it removes dirt and grime without stripping the skin of its natural oils, which will cause oil production to go into overdrive.” —Dr. Engelman

BUY NOW – $40

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Cetaphil Eczema Restoraderm Soothing Moisturizer ($15)

“I usually recommend the Cetaphil Restoraderm line. I do a lot of patch testing in the office, and although not perfect, these products don’t have a lot of the common preservatives that cause sensitivity in a lot of patients. It’s also paraben-free, which many patients want, although that doesn’t concern me.” —Bay Harbor Islands, FL dermatologist Melissa Chesler Lazarus, MD

BUY NOW – $15

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La Roche-Posay Micellar Water Ultra ($18)

“This is a great fragrance-free no-rinse cleanser for sensitive skin that also removes makeup.” —Miami dermatologist Debra Price, MD

BUY NOW – $18

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Vanicream Gentle Body Wash ($11.50)

“This is a great for patients with dry skin or eczema on their body.” —Dr. Callender

BUY NOW – $11.50

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Skinfix barrier+ Strengthening and Moisturizing Triple Lipid-Peptide Refillable Cream with B-L3 ($54)

“Skinfix makes excellent moisturizers for the super dry or eczema-prone. They started in 1950 with a handmade healing cream from a single Canadian pharmacy.” —Dr. Hausauer

BUY NOW – $54

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Avène Tolérance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Balm ($38)

“Avène has an amazing line that has been extensively tested to minimize allergic reactions. It is my go-to for patients who come in and say they have very sensitive skin and have failed with other products.” —Ontario, Canada dermatologist Dusan Sajic, MD

BUY NOW – $38

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