People with sensitive skin need to make sure they use gentle serums that target their concerns without causing irritation. If you’re in need of a sensitive skin-friendly serum, we’ve created a guide to the best hydrating serums for sensitive skin.

Our Recommendations

1. Hydrium Centella Aqua Soothing Ampoule

Hydrium Centella Aqua Soothing Ampoule

COSRX Serum for Soothing and hydrating

COSRX Hydrium Centella Aqua Soothing Ampoule

This soothing and hydrating serum is packed with effective yet gentle ingredients that help soothe the skin. It is even suitable for calming current breakouts.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Soothing and hydrating
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, apply a few drops of the serum to the face. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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One of the key ingredients in this gentle serum is centella asiatica extract. This plant extract has been shown to effectively treat wounds and soothe inflammation in the skin. It also contains vitamin B5 (AKA panthenol), an anti-inflammatory ingredient that improves hydration and elasticity while soothing the skin.

Pros

  • Lightweight and non-sticky
  • Gentle
  • Vegan and cruelty-free
  • Fragrance-free

Cons

  • The lighter hydration may not be hydrating enough for very dry skin

In addition to the ingredients mentioned above, this Korean serum contains madecassoside, which has antioxidant benefits, and allantoin, which soothes.

Water, Centella Asiatica Extract, Dipropylene Glycol, Glycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Betaine, Chondrus Crispus Extract, Saccharum Officinarum (Sugarcane) Extract, Pentylene Glycol, Octanediol, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Xanthan Gum, Ethylhexylglycerin, Allantoin, Madecassoside, Panthenol

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Centella asiatica in cosmetology"

    Accessed Nov. 9, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Skin moisturizing effects of panthenol-based formulations"

    Accessed Nov. 9, 2021.

2. Moisture Renewal Oil Booster

Paula’s Choice Moisture Renewal Oil Booster

Paula's Choice Serum for Extra Moisture

Paula’s Choice Moisture Renewal Oil Booster

This oil booster contains a blend of nourishing plant oils and renewing ceramides to help moisturize and revitalize dry skin.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Extra Moisture
Tested on animals: No
How to use: Massage a few drops into clean skin. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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This customer favorite booster contains nine non-fragrant, antioxidant-rich plant oils that alleviate dryness and calm the skin. It also contains ceramides, which further help restore the moisture barrier of the skin.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Non-irritating

Cons

  • Some reviewers note it feels greasy on the skin

One of the key oils in this booster is jojoba oil, which is anti-inflammatory, can help restore the skin’s barrier, and has the ability to help fight the signs of aging. Another key ingredient in this blend is argan oil, a skin-softening oil that has been shown to improve elasticity and hydration.

Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Seed Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Borago Officinalis (Borage) Seed Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Echium Plantagineum Seed Oil (non-fragrant oil/skin-soothing/antioxidant/emollient), Ceramide NS (hydration/skin replenishing), Cholesterol (hydration/skin replenishing)

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin's own natural moisturizing systems"

    Accessed Jul. 30, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils"

    Accessed Jul. 30, 2021.

3. 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

The Ordinary Serum for Lightweight Hydration

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

This squalane product looks, feels, and acts similarly to a light oil, but is actually oil-free. It is excellent for adding an extra boost of hydration to your skincare routine.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Lightweight Hydration
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing and applying serums, gently massage a few drops into the face, neck, and chest. Follow up with a moisturizer. This may also be used on top of a moisturizer to seal in hydration.
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This squalane hydrator is one of the best The Ordinary products for acne-prone skin, because it is non-comedogenic. Even those who aren’t prone to breakouts will benefit from extra hydration this gentle and lightweight plant-based product provides.

Pros

  • Oil-free
  • Alcohol-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free
  • Gentle
  • Fragrance-free

Cons

  • May not be hydrating enough for drier skin types

Squalene is naturally found in human sebum, which makes squalane (a derivative of squalene) well-tolerated by most. While this option is particularly great for those with normal to oily skin, all skin types can benefit from this gentle hydrator.

Squalane

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Moisturizers: The Slippery Road"

    Accessed Aug. 13, 2021.

4. Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

The Ordinary Serum for Hydration

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

This unique hyaluronic acid serum effectively attracts moisture to the skin to leave it feeling hydrated and plump.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Hydration
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, massage a few drops of the serum into the skin. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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This serum contains low-, medium-, and high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid, as well as a next-generation hyaluronic acid crosspolymer. This allows the serum to deliver much-needed hydration to all layers of the skin.

Pros

  • Alcohol-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free
  • Oil-free
  • Hydrating
  • Fragrance-free

Cons

  • Some reviewers complain the serum feels sticky

In addition to the multiple forms of hyaluronic acid, this serum contains vitamin B5, which is anti-inflammatory and further helps hydrate the skin.

Aqua (Water), Sodium Hyaluronate, Pentylene Glycol, Propanediol, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Panthenol, Ahnfeltia Concinna Extract, Glycerin, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Citric Acid, Isoceteth-20, Ethoxydiglycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Hexylene Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol.

FAQs

What is the best affordable hydrating serum for sensitive skin?

If you’re looking for more budget-friendly skincare products, The Ordinary is a great brand to check out. Two The Ordinary hydrating serums that are affordable and suitable for sensitive skin are the Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 and the 100% Plant-Derived Squalane. 

What should you not use if you have sensitive skin?

If you have sensitive skin, there are a few ingredients that you’ll want to avoid in the serums that you use (as well as all other skincare products). Fragrances, essential oils, harsh exfoliants, benzoyl peroxide, and chemical sunscreen filters typically do not play well with sensitive skin. 

Is hyaluronic acid safe for sensitive skin?

Hyaluronic acid (which is a humectant ingredient) is typically suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. However, since everyone’s skin is different, if you have sensitive skin and are using hyaluronic acid for the first time, you may want to do a patch test to ensure your skin tolerates this ingredient. 

The Bottom Line

If you have sensitive skin, there are a few highly effective hydrating serums available on the market that will quench your skin without causing any irritation. Our recommended serums will help you maintain a hydrated, healthy, and comfortable complexion.