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These foams, gels, and clays are enriched with ingredients that target breakouts to help you get a handle on your acne.
Face wash may just be the unsung hero of an entire skincare routine. It never seems to get its due; instead, it’s often dismissed as a boring first step before the fun of serums and creams begins. Yet, a facial cleanser sets the stage for every other product and ingredient that comes after, especially when it comes to treating acne.
“A daily cleansing regimen is the cornerstone of any basic skin care routine,” says Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, a board certified dermatologist in Minneapolis. “For acne prone skin, you should use your cleansing routine to take it a step further and employ a cleanser that pulls double duty. It should not only clean your skin, but also contain ingredients that help treat and prevent acne.”
Related:The 16 Best Acne Serums of 2023 for Clearer, Brighter Skin
Best Overall: Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Cleanser Acne Treatment
What We Love: This cleanser has been shown to help reduce breakouts caused by hormonal acne.
What We Don’t Love: Sulfur has a distinct scent that may take some getting used to.
This face wash from Kate Somerville stands out above the rest, thanks to its clinical strength formulation that fights against all types of blemishes, from blackheads and whiteheads to moderate acne and papules. Unlike many other acne cleansers, this face wash feels more like an airy, whipped body cream than a heavy duty pimple fighter, which also makes it gentle enough to use daily, despite its concentration of strong ingredients. The reason for this light texture is two-fold: To thoroughly cleanse the skin and balance oil production, but in a way that prevents the skin from feeling tight and dry.
The hero ingredient in this popular face wash is sulfur. With three percent sulfur, one of the highest levels we've seen in a non-prescription cleanser, it kills bacteria on contact, tamps down on sebum, and dries out blemishes. Its patented botanical complex taps honey and rice bran extracts to calm angry, reactive skin, while oat extracts naturally absorb excess oil on skin to prevent pores from clogging in the first place. Sulfur is also better tolerated by sensitive or reactive skin than benzoyl peroxide, making this option safe for nearly anyone to use.
Price at time of publish: $44
Active Ingredients: Sulfur, natural oat extracts, honey and rice bran extracts｜Texture: Foaming｜Skin Type: Normal, oily, dry｜Size: 4 oz
Best Budget: PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
What We Love: Even though this cleanser is thick and creamy, it washes away quickly and easily and doesn’t leave skin feeling tight afterwards.
What We Don’t Love: This cleanser is strong and can be drying.
PanOxyl’s acne cleanser contains a whopping ten percent benzoyl peroxide, the highest concentration available over-the-counter, so it’s incredibly useful in dissolving acne-causing bacteria as soon as it's massaged into skin. The foaming wash is antimicrobial and works to clean and unclog pores after just one use. Plus, it’s designed not only for facial use, but also on the neck and chest, so you can have the same success with body breakouts that you do with those on your cheeks, chin or forehead.
Price at time of publish: $10
Active Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide, glycerin｜Texture: Foamy｜Skin Type: Normal to oily｜Size: 5.5 oz
Best Drugstore: CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
What We Love: This cleanser targets acne without sacrificing the quality of your skin barrier, thanks to the inclusion of three essential ceramides that soothe and calm skin.
What We Don’t Love: Because of its high level of benzoyl peroxide, it can stain towels and clothing.
This CeraVe cleanser is a top pick among many dermatologists who praise it for treating and preventing breakouts without stripping skin. The formula’s balance of powerful acne-fighting ingredients, including four percent benzoyl peroxide, along with hydrating heroes, like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, ensure that your breakouts are addressed without causing further irritation. Although it starts as a cream, it foams into a bubbly mixture upon application to thoroughly remove dirt and excess oil.
Price at time of publish: $19
Active Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide, hyaluronic acid, ceramides｜Texture: Creamy｜Skin Type: Normal to sensitive｜Size: 5 oz
Best for Oily Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser
What We Love: It's recommended by dermatologists, even for the treatment of deep and uncomfortable cystic acne.
What We Don’t Love: Since this cleanser works to control oil production, it may not be ideal for sensitive or dry skin.
With salicylic acid as its prime ingredient, this medicated cleanser is ideal for acne-prone and oily skin. This dermatologist-tested face wash is so powerful, in fact, that it is clinically proven to reduce excess surface oil by up to 47 percent. And while that may sound incredibly drying, a flurry of hydrating ingredients prevents skin from becoming parched or dehydrated. This lightly foaming gel wash feels tingly at first, yet also quite refreshing, and it’s gentle enough for most skin types to use every day.
Price at time of publish: $16
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid, glycerin｜Texture: Gel｜Skin Type: Normal to oily｜Size: 6.76 oz
Best Oil-Free: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Face Wash
What We Love: This cleanser is oil-free and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores and is ideal for oil-prone skin.
What We Don’t Love: There is a cooling menthol sensation when using this wash, which some may not like.
“Those who suffer from severe or persistent acne may want to look for a cleanser that is formulated with acne-fighting ingredients, like salicylic acid,” says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologist in New York City.
Neutrogena’s cleanser is formulated with two percent salicylic acid, meaning that it gets the job done to thoroughly wash away grime and bacteria. At the same time, soothing and conditioning ingredients, like glycerin and panthenol, work to moisturize skin and prevent irritation. Developed with the brand’s proprietary MicroClear technology, which is scientifically proven to help the formula’s potent ingredients penetrate more deeply into skin, this face wash will combat acne both at the skin’s surface and beneath it in order to get to the root of the breakout.
Price at time of publish: $6
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, glycerin｜Texture: Creamy｜Skin Type: Normal to oily｜Size: 6.7 oz
Best for Hormonal Acne: SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel
What We Love: Strong enough to cut through makeup, dirt, and oil, this face wash is excellent for someone who wants to control acne, but with a streamlined routine, as it enables you to skip a pre-cleanse or makeup remover.
What We Don’t Love: The design of the bottle can cause the face wash to get stuck near the cap.
This cleanser from SkinCeuticals is formulated with lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA) and glycolic acid to exfoliate skin, wash out pores, and refine the skin’s texture from any bumpiness or hyperpigmentation from past acne flare-ups. It’s also anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, meaning that bacteria on the surface of the skin is neutralized, which reduces the risk of pores from clogging in the future. As a bonus, it also boosts cell renewal, which brightens skin tone and strengthens aging skin.
Price at time of publish: $42
Active Ingredients: Lipo-hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid ｜Texture: Gel｜Skin Type: Normal to oily, mature skin｜Size: 8 oz
Best for Sensitive Skin: Cetaphil Acne Face Wash
What We Love: It’s gentle enough that you can use it both morning and night without experiencing dryness.
What We Don’t Love: The creamy texture makes it difficult to emulsify and spread evenly around the face.
This Cetaphil cleanser is specifically designed to treat acne for those with sensitive skin. Although the face wash offers a relatively low concentration of salicylic acid, it’s still able to reduce the appearance of blemishes in just 72 hours, according to the brand, while also keeping irritation and dryness at bay. The addition of zinc and niacinamide help protect skin from harsh environmental damage, as well as diminish post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from previous blemishes.
Price at time of publish: $10
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, zinc, niacinamide｜Texture: Creamy｜Skin Type: Sensitive｜Size: 4.2 oz
Best Splurge: Glo Skin Beta-Clarity Clear Skin Cleanser
What We Love: Developed with apple enzymes to naturally improve the skin texture, the cleanser is potent and feels invigorating on skin.
What We Don’t Love: The double-duty exfoliation means that it can be drying and may not be ideal for sensitive skin.
A favorite of Dr. Engelman’s, this cleanser provides both a chemical exfoliant in the form of salicylic acid and a physical exfoliant with gentle, eco-friendly beads, to work overtime sloughing away dead skin cells and acne-causing bacteria to treat blackheads and pimples. By controlling overactive sebum production, this foaming cleanser clarifies the skin’s surface, while the apple amino acids strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier. Even better, the exfoliants shrink the size of pores as they wash away the grime.
Price at time of publish: $50
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, amino acids, apple enzymes｜Texture: Creamy｜Skin Type: Normal to oil｜Size: 6.7 oz
Best with Glycolic Acid: Dermalogica Daily Glycolic Cleanser
What We Love: Calendula extract and allatonin deliver antioxidant benefits while also removing buildup caused by pollution and other environmental factors.
What We Don’t Love: Glycolic acid can be quite drying, so those with sensitive skin should avoid daily use.
Although it’s not technically marketed as an acne cleanser, the concentrated glycolic acid in this Dermalogica face wash makes it a great choice for fighting breakouts. It buffs away dead skin cells, dirt, and grime, while busting acne-causing bacteria on the spot. Glycolic acid also balances uneven skin tone, revealing a brighter complexion, and improves dull or rough texture over time. Jojoba seed oil, a lightweight hydrator, keeps skin feeling moisturized (not taut) and supports the skin barrier.
Price at time of publish: $37
Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, jojoba oil, calendula extract｜Texture: Gel｜Skin Type: Normal to oily｜Size: 5.1 oz
Best for Blackheads: SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
What We Love: Skin has a noticeable glow after using this face wash, appearing brighter and refreshed.
What We Don’t Love: This cleanser provides intense exfoliation, so it’s not great for sensitive skin.
This cleanser harnesses the powers of both alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids to clear dead skin cells and other impurities from the skin’s surface. A quartet of AHAs — lactic, glycolic, citric and malic — offer a mild exfoliation to unclog pores and wash away dead skin, while improving the appearance of skin overall. These acids can also refine and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Citrus oils, a mild astringent, triggers large pores to contract, making them less visible over time, and lavender extracts neutralize inflammation.
Price at time of publish: $48
Active Ingredients: Lactic acid, glycolic acid, jojoba oil｜Texture: Soft scrub｜Skin Type: Normal to oily｜Size: 6 oz
What to Look For
When shopping for a new cleanser to address your breakouts, Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, a board certified dermatologist in New York City, recommends focusing first and foremost on the ingredients. Most acne-fighting cleansers will have one or both of two types of ingredients: Exfoliants, like salicylic acid or glycolic acid, or anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide or sulfur.
“Exfoliants are beneficial in the treatment of acne, by loosening up the excessive dead skin cell, sebum, and build-up in pores to prevent blackheads, whiteheads, and overall congestion that can result in inflammatory lesions,” explains Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. “Benzoyl peroxide is an important component of a topical therapy for acne since it reduces the overgrowth of the bacteria responsible for inflammatory acne as well as treats inflammatory red acne flares.”
In addition to clarifying ingredients, you should look for ones that calm and counteract the uncomfortable feeling that comes with dry skin. “Equally as important as acne-fighting ingredients in a cleanser are gentle, soothing, and hydrating ingredients that balance out the irritating properties of hydroxy acids and benzoyl peroxide,” says Dr. Engelman. “Glycerin and niacinamide are great ingredients to look for.”
It’s also important to consider the formulation and texture of the cleanser. Creams, gels, foams, and oils are all common and effective forms for face washes for acne, so it really comes down to personal preference. You may enjoy the lightweight consistency of a foam or prefer the down-and-dirty feel of a gel — and you can even opt for different textures for different times of year or for just morning and night.
One more thing to keep in mind here is where you’ll be using the cleanser, if it will just be for your face or if you’d like to use it to treat breakouts on other parts of your body as well. “Acne can affect different areas of the body, usually the chest and back as well,” adds Dr. Maguiness. “So, finding a great cleanser that you can use in the shower to help fight acne in all affected areas is a terrific option.”
Your Questions, Answered
How often should you wash your face if you have acne?
How frequently you wash your face will depend greatly on your individual skin type and needs, as well as your daily activity. That said, the bare minimum to prevent bacteria from causing breakouts — whether you’re naturally acne-prone or not — is once a day, at night. It’s also standard practice to cleanse in the morning as a first step in your skincare routine.
“Washing the face daily with a good cleanser will help prevent acne, even if the cleanser is not specifically formulated to treat acne,” says Dr. Engelman. “I often recommend the double-cleansing method to those with acne-prone skin, as it’s a great way to ensure that you’re getting a thorough cleanse without irritating or stripping your skin.”
What’s the best way to wash your face if you have acne?
The best way to wash your face is really just to wash your face. It’s important to ensure you’re using enough product to fully cleanse every area of your face and massage it all around, concentrating on your common breakout spots.
Is washing your face with cold water good for acne?
Although most people opt for lukewarm water when washing their faces, there can be some benefits to cleansing with cold water. Hot or even warm water is known to strip sebum levels, leaving skin dry and tight and often exacerbating breakouts.
Cold water, on the other hand, can not only reduce any inflammation — a common cause and effect of acne — but it can also tighten the appearance of pores, theoretically making it more difficult for dirt or bacteria to fester there.
Why Shop With Us
Gabby Shacknai has been writing about beauty for more than six years. She covers all things skincare, but has a particular interest with acne, from its causes to its treatments. For this story, she consulted three board certified dermatologists, Dr. Dendy Engelman, Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, and Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin. She also scoured through reviews and tested dozens of face washes herself to bring you the best of the best.
Related:The 15 Best Acne Treatments for Every Type of Spot
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Read the original article on InStyle.
The 10 Best Face Washes for Acne of 2023 to Battle Any Type of Blemish? ›
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser.Which is the No 1 face wash in the world for acne? ›
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser.How do you clear up acne? ›
- Wash problem areas with a gentle cleanser. ...
- Try over-the-counter acne products to dry excess oil and promote peeling. ...
- Avoid irritants. ...
- Protect your skin from the sun. ...
- Avoid friction or pressure on your skin. ...
- Avoid touching or picking acne-prone areas. ...
- Shower after strenuous activities.