Face Washes for Acne, According to Dermatologists and Skin Pros

By Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Whether you've been dealing with acne for years or are a recent sufferer due to maskne, getting rid of pimples for good can be a challenge. With so many acne products on the market both over the counter and prescription it's not always a simple task to figure out the skincare routine that will help you beat your breakouts. While everyone's acne story is different, one product that can (almost) always help: an effective acne face wash.

When it comes to choosing the best cleanser for your acne, 'look for specific ingredients, including salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide or sulfur', recommends Jeanine B. Downie, M.D., founder of Image Dermatology PC in Montclair, New Jersey. These top acne-fighting skincare ingredients, found in both cleansers and treatment products, can absorb excess oil, degunk pores and slough away dead skin and bacteria for a clearer complexion. In terms of formulas, 'foaming cleansers tend to be gentler, while gel cleansers can be harsher', Dr. Downie explains. She recommends foaming cleansers for people with dry and sensitive skin and gel cleansers for those with oily skin.

In addition to choosing the right cleanser, you also need to know how to use it properly. Dr. Downie recommends using an acne face wash twice a day, if your skin can tolerate it (or even up to three times a day if you sweat a lot or are extremely active). But just as not all acne is created equal, your cleanser usage should depend on your skin type. If your skin is dry or sensitive, you may want to use a regular gentle cleanser in the morning and an acne cleanser just in the evenings, to remove the impurities of the day.

The ishonest Institute Beauty Lab has decades of experiences testing face washes from drugstore brands and high-end lines for cleansing efficacy and their effects on skin. While our Beauty Lab scientists have not run a formal test specifically for acne face washes, we've tested hundreds of cleansers over the years, keeping factors like texture, scent and how effectively they wash away makeup, impurities and excess oil in mind. Ahead, we've rounded up the best acne face washes you can buy to help treat and prevent pimples according to our own beauty scientists, dermatologists and verified online reviewers.

1 Best Overall Acne Face Wash Reviving Cleanser

This powerful gel cleanser from is, hands down, Dr. Downie's favorite cleanser for all skin types including those with acne. 'It gently exfoliates skin and also contains vitamin C to brighten.' She loves that it effectively deep-cleans skin, but is gentle enough for daily use.

  • Exfoliates to purify skin
  • Gentle formula
  • Pricey

2 Best Value Acne Face Wash Oil-Free Acne Fighting Facial Cleanser

A great bang for your buck pick, Neutrogena's classic gel acne cleanser has been around for years and remains one of the top face washes dermatologists recommend to acne-prone patients. 'The 2% salicylic acid works well without overly drying out skin', Dr. Downie notes. 'Most of my patients tolerate it very well.'

  • Effectively fights acne
  • Won't dry out skin
  • Good value

3 Best Acne Face Wash for Dark Spots AHA & BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

This potent cleanser does double duty, thanks to its high concentration of alpha hydroxy acids, including lactic, glycolic, citric and malic acids, as well as salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that helps exfoliate skin and clear clogged pores. Dr. Downie loves that it 'helps to improve acne, skin tone (read: dark spots), and texture all at once.'

  • Potent mix of acne-fighting ingredients
  • Improves skin tone and dark spots
  • Pricey

4 Best Face Wash for Hormonal Acne Sebium H2O Purifying Cleansing Micelle Solution

A super gentle cleanser, this Bioderma micellar water will remove the makeup, grime and impurities that can clog pores without drying out skin, which is key when you have hormonal acne. 'It leaves my skin feeling clean and moisturized until I wash it', shared one Dermstore user. And it's easy to use just swipe with a cotton pad and go, no rinsing required.

  • Removes makeup and purifies
  • Gentle on skin
  • No rinsing needed
  • Good value

5 Best Acne Face Wash for Oily Skin Normaderm PhytoAction Daily Deep Cleansing Gel

Vichy's gel cleanser is a GH Beauty Lab go-to for acne-prone, oily skin types. 'This tried-and-true face wash cleanses my face well and gives my skin a squeaky clean feeling, while treating my acne with salicylic acid', says Danusia Wnek, a chemist at the ishonest Institute Beauty Lab. 'It also smells great!'

  • Deep-cleans skin
  • Contains strong acne treatment ingredients
  • May be drying

6 Best Acne Face Wash for Dry Skin Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

With a unique cream-to-foam formula, this CeraVe cleanser helps heal acne with the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide, while hydrating skin with hyaluronic acid and ceramides. 'My skin does not feel overly dry or irritated which was a concern I had when considering a peroxide wash', one Amazon reviewer said. 'I will definitely be purchasing again.'

  • Good value
  • Doesn't over-dry or irritate skin
  • Benzoyl peroxide can stain sheets and clothes

7 Best Acne Face Wash for Sensitive Skin Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash

A top-rated acne face wash on Amazon with over 2,000 five-star reviews La Roche-Posay's gel cleanser fights breakouts with salicylic acid. It's also been clinically tested to help reduce excess oil. But the best part is that it's still gentle enough to use on those with acne and sensitive skin. 'It's very mild, lathers beautifully, and leaves your face feeling extremely clean without being tight or stripped of moisture', a reviewer reported. 'There was a noticeable difference in the clearness of my skin within the first week of use!'

  • Mild, non-drying formula
  • Contains breakout-fighting active ingredients
  • Reduces excess oil

8 Best Fast-Acting Acne Face Wash Rapid Rescue Deep Treatment Wash

A Walmart best-seller and for good reason: This intensive Clearasil cleanser with salicylic acid works its magic quickly, helping to reduce breakouts in as fast as 12 hours. 'I would recommend it to anyone who has any type of acne or even just a few blemishes they want to clear up', one Walmart reviewer said. 'It works quickly as stated on the bottle.' Note that the formula can be drying, so make sure to follow with a good moisturizer.

  • Strong salicylic acid formula produces quick results
  • Bargain price
  • Can be drying on skin

9 Best Exfoliating Acne Face Wash Acne Clearing Cleanser

Thanks to a combination of salicylic and glycolic acids, this cleanser from Glytone, top-rated on Dermstore, treats breakouts and exfoliates skin at the same time. Not only is it purifying your complexion, it's improving the texture, too. 'I love this cleanser because it makes my skin feel so smooth and clear', a reviewer shared.

  • Exfoliates and deep-cleans skin to fight acne
  • Smooths texture
  • Pricey

10 Best Acne Face Wash for Combination Skin BPO 5% Cleanser

Boasting a high percentage of benzoyl peroxide, a powerful acne-fighting ingredient, this Nordstrom top-rated PCA Skin cleanser treats even the most stubborn acne. It also contains gluconolactone, which calms and moisturizes skin while treating breakouts. 'I have a mix between dry and oily skin and so, I often breakout', a reviewer reported. 'After purchasing this cleanser I haven't experienced a breakout in really long time!'

  • Contains both acne-fighting and moisturizing ingredients
  • Pricey

11 Best Acne Face Wash for Large Pores Clarifying Cleanser

While you can't technically shrink your pores, using a cleanser that deeply cleans them, like this one from Murad, can help reduce their appearance. This Sephora best-selling formula does just that it's made with two different kinds of salicylic acid that penetrate deeply into skin to purify pores and get rid of acne-causing bacteria. 'I have never used a product that has done this good of a job at minimizing my black heads and pores!' a reviewer raved.

  • Helps unclog pores and reduce breakouts
  • Minimizes blackheads
  • Pricey

12 Best Acne Face Wash for Glowing Skin Ain't Misbehavin' Medicated AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser

Looking to smooth skin while also prevent pimples? No problem. Dermadoctor's acne-fighting cleanser, an Ulta best-seller, is strong but soothing with salicylic acid and witch hazel as top ingredients. 'It makes my face feel super clean and soft, and it's also helping with my breakouts', a reviewer said.

  • Made with acne-fighting active ingredients
  • Smooths and softens skin
  • Pricey

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