Insider Picks writes about products and services to help you navigate when shopping online. Insider Inc. receives a commission from our affiliate partners when you buy through our links, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.
- Makeup removers for sensitive skin use gentle ingredients to dissolve clingy cosmetics without leaving an unpleasant stinging or stripping sensation behind.
- Our favorite is Glossier’s newly launched Milky Oil, a combination of micellar water and oil that eradicates hard-to-remove eyeliners and mascaras in seconds, with minimal residue.
I think I’m the only person in the world who can’t use most popular micellar waters to remove makeup. They work just fine on my face, but they burn the heck out of my eyes – not ideal when I’m trying to scrub off stubborn eyeliner and long-lasting mascara at the end of a long day.
When I first looked into skin-care, I quickly realized I preferred oils, balms, and bi-phase removers with a lot of slip to them. The kind you can really massage into your face without tugging at gentle skin, especially around the eyes and mouth. Lots of tugging not only encourages wrinkles but can also cause irritation.
“Oil-based or cream-based removers are recommended [for sensitive skin] and then a mild face wash to get off the makeup remover,” Dr. Purvisha Patel, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, told Insider Picks.
It can be challenging to figure out which products could irritate your skin just by looking at the bottle, especially if you’re experimenting with a new ingredient. For some general guidelines, Dr. Patel recommends steering clear of “alcohol-based astringents and foaming cleansers” or removers that contain “strong acids, sulfates, and parabens,” all of which can have a sensitizing effect on reactive skin.
Through trial-and-error (and lots of burning eyelids), I’ve narrowed it down to five favorites that I can count on to remove my makeup quickly, minus any unpleasant side effects.
If you have concerns, consult a dermatologist before applying a product on your sensitive skin.
The best makeup removers for sensitive skin you can buy in 2019:
- Best makeup remover overall: Glossier Milky Oil
- Best oil-free makeup remover: Neutrogena Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover
- Best waterproof makeup remover: Cetaphil Liquid Makeup Remover
- Best oil-based makeup remover: Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil
- Best makeup cleansing balm: Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm
Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.
The best makeup remover for sensitive skin overall
Why you’ll love it: Glossier Milky Oil is a micellar-water-and-oil-in-one that dissolves waterproof makeup, minus the sticky residue or eye-stinging effects of other removers.
Glossier does it over and over again. Most products the brand launches quickly become staples in my makeup and skin-care routines and the brand-new Milky Oil is no exception. Like fine wine and cheese, it pairs beautifully with the Milky Jelly Cleanser.
Yes, the bottle is precious, with a rounded baby-bottle shape that cleverly mirrors the cleanser’s design. But the formula inside also packs a powerful punch. It contains micellar water and castor oil to dissolve waterproof makeup, and Pro-Vitamin B5 and comfrey root extract to hydrate and soothe skin – absolutely no stinging or irritation.
The packaging is functional as well as adorable, with a tiny squeeze nozzle that lets you dispense just the right amount of product – which is great because you really only need a few drops at a time. Milky Oil is geared toward targeted makeup removal around the eyes and lips, but it works just as well on face makeup.
The directions say to use a cotton pad, but I’ve also tried applying with my fingertips because it wastes less product – not to mention saving the cotton pad for something else. The bottle is on the smaller side at 3.4 fluid ounces, so conservation is key.
Pros: Effective micellar water/oil combo, dropper packaging is convenient and good for travel, inoffensive scent, doesn’t sting eyes or leave much residue
Cons: Small bottle for the price
The best oil-free makeup remover for sensitive skin
Why you’ll love it: Neutrogena Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover uses poloxamers to remove makeup without the addition of oil. It’s safe for contact lens wearers, too.
Prefer to avoid oils in your skin-care? Neutrogena Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover is an excellent oil-free option. It performs just as well as most oil-based removers I’ve tried, but is formulated with poloxamers (polymers used in cosmetics and skin-care) and other non-oil ingredients to breakdown makeup.
With a couple of swipes, the bi-phase (two in one) formula is gentle enough to use while wearing contact lenses yet powerful enough to erase waterproof mascara. Perhaps a little ironic, I find this heavier and greasier than the Glossier Milky Oil, but any residue is easily rinsed away with my usual face wash.
Aloe and cucumber extract round out the formula, ensuring that sensitive skin recovers nicely from all that makeup and scrubbing. While best for eye makeup removal, as its name suggests, you can use the remover on the entire face if you don’t mind the texture.
Experts and shoppers love this drugstore standby. It has a 4.5 rating from Ulta based on 1459 reviews and has been featured by Allure, Stylecraze, and Byrdie. “It’s gentle, has been tested by ophthalmologists, and is relatively cheap,” Danielle Trief, a Columbia University assistant professor of ophthalmology, told Allure.
“This is my go-to makeup remover. I have my friend and Mom using it now too. They tried it and loved it. Gets everything off from concealer to mascara. Good thing is it doesn’t dry out your skin and is good for sensitive skin too,” an Ulta reviewer wrote.
Pros: Oil-free, affordable, safe for contact lenses
Cons: Best for eyes, slightly greasy residue
The best face makeup remover for sensitive skin
Why you’ll love it: Cetaphil Gentle Makeup Remover uses ingredients that soothe and condition your face while removing makeup.
Many makeup removers are marketed for the eyes, but what about the rest of your face? If you wear foundation, blush, or concealer, you’ll probably want to scrub it off before going in with your cleanser.
Cetaphil Gentle Makeup Remover is designed for use on all over the face. It’s a bi-phase, oil-free formula similar to the Neutrogena, but it’s gentler. Aloe, ginseng, and green tea help balance and condition the skin. Not only does it effectively remove makeup, but it’s also noncomedogenic (doesn’t block pores) and fragrance-free.
This remover leaves skin feeling super-soft. It may take a little more effort to get sparkly eyeshadow or long-wear lipstick to disappear, but you won’t be able to stop touching your face afterward.
Editors at PopSugar, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and Real Simple rave about the Cetaphil Gentle Makeup Remover. The product is also an Allure Best of Beauty winner for its ability to “[spirit] away makeup without stinging our under-eyes or blurring our vision.”
“This is a great makeup remover. It really takes everything off and is very gentle on the skin. It does leave somewhat of a film, but my skin absorbs it pretty quickly. It seems to moisturize also, I haven’t had a problem with dry skin since switching to this,” one Ulta shopper wrote.
Pros: Very gentle, contains soothing ingredients, removes all makeup
Cons: Takes a bit more effort to remove waterproof makeup
The best oil-based makeup remover for sensitive skin
Why you’ll love it: The Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil lives up to its name with a formula packed with nourishing essential oils and botanicals that hydrate while they cleanse.
I don’t pack any skin-care when I stay with my parents, choosing instead to raid their medicine cabinet. My mom uses grapeseed oil to take off her makeup, so that’s what I use when I visit. It’s honestly so effective I’ve wondered why I bother with “real” makeup remover after all.
Of course, there are plenty of makeup-removing oils formulated specifically for use on your face. Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil is my current favorite. It’s the perfect first-step to a double-cleansing routine as it removes makeup easily while nourishing the skin with healthy oils. However, it definitely leaves behind some residue.
The ingredients list contains “an aromatic blend of pure botanical oils” including hydrating squalane, primrose oil, and redness-soothing lavender essential oil, with no mineral oil, soap, or sulfates.
I apply this with my hands, massage to break the makeup down, and wipe off with a warm cloth before washing my face. It’s a godsend if you’re feeling dry or wearing heavy, waterproof makeup. I also love the pump-bottle packaging, which makes the product harder to spill than most oils, and keeps the sleek blue bottle clean.
Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil has a 4.4-star rating at Sephora based on 126 reviews. “I really like this because it is gentle but actually gets all of my makeup off. Makeup wipes typically burn my eyes, so I was looking for something that didn’t. My face feels refreshed after I wash this off and I would definitely recommend,” wrote one shopper.
The remover is featured by editors at Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, PopSugar, and Vogue. Allure’s Jessica Chia wrote, “Unlike other oil cleansers, though, it gives a little lather, so you can really tell it’s cleaning.”
Pros: Pump bottle, hydrating, a little goes a long way
Cons: Greasy residue (but rinses off easily), pricey
The best makeup cleansing balm for sensitive skin
Why you’ll love it: The Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm is a solid oil/wax blend that emulsifies on contact with water to remove makeup without tugging.
Cleansing balms are the no-spill alternative to cleansing oils. The Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm is a solid oil-based cleanser that melts on contact and emulsifies when combined with water. The result is a clean, hydrated face without a trace of shimmer, mascara, or foundation left behind.
Formulated with nine essential oils, including fatty-acid-rich elderberry oil and linoleic-acid-packed starflower oil, plus nourishing rose and mimosa waxes, this balm has everything you want on your skin and nothing you don’t. I’ve tried similar products that contained harsh ingredients, but Pro-Collagen is made without mineral oil, artificial dyes, and parabens.
There is a rather strong scent to this product, but I’ve never found it irritating on my skin or eyes. The cost is high, but you need very little to remove a full face of makeup, which you can do by massaging, combining with a little water, and then wiping away with a cloth.
“Because some of the balm will be left behind, the collagen-boosting and antioxidant-rich blend will have more time to get to work,” according to Allure. Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm also appears on best-of lists at Stylecraze, Refinery29, and Glamour.
Pros: Solid-to-oil formula, boosts collagen production, won’t spill
Cons: Expensive, strong fragrance