Now that we’re in the thick of allergy season (and experiencing the itchy eyes and irritated skin that go along with it), there’s been a recent peak in searches for “hypoallergenic face wash.” In theory, it makes sense to want to find a formula that won’t upset your skin when you’re already dealing with other annoying allergy symptoms… but in reality, that term doesn’t mean much of anything at all.
“Unfortunately, there is no standard definition of hypoallergenic,” says Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pasadena, California. “The last time the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed this term was 1975.” However, she does say that there are some great face washes for those with allergenic, sensitive, and/or irritated skin.
Out of the thousands of face washes out there, Dr. Lee recommends CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($14), the CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser ($14), or the Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser ($9). Both the CeraVe options are made with three essential ceramides to help maintain the skin’s natural barrier, hyaluronic acid to hydrate, and niacinamide to calm. The hydrating version is best for those with dry skin (and has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance) and the foaming version is best for normal to oily skin types. The Vanicream cleanser is soap-free and was designed specifically for those with sensitive skin, also has the eczema Seal of Acceptance, and is free of many common irritants like sulfates, dyes, fragrance, masking fragrance, lanolin, parabens, and formaldehyde releasers.
Once you’ve got a gentle face wash that you love, Dr. Lee says to keep it simple until your skin calms down. “Wash your face once or twice daily with warm water,” she says. “Follow with patting dry with a soft towel. Then apply a gentle moisturizer.” If you need a rec, Dr. Lee loves the Avène Hydrance Optimale Light Hydrating Cream ($35) for those who are prone to acne and clogged pores and the Avène Hydrance Rich Hydrating Cream ($35) for those with dry skin. Both are made with Avène’s thermal spring water to soothe, soften, and calm the skin.
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