If you struggle with acne, you're likely already on a strict skincare routine. You have your exfoliating serums, your spot treatments, and your oil-free moisturizer, but something you may have overlooked: an acne-approved face wash. I know what you're thinking: 'Can a cleanser really make a difference with my acne?' And the answer is yes.
'If you have mild acne using the appropriate cleanser for your acne type and a gentle moisturizer can go a long way to repairing your skin', says Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, a dermatologist and founder of Vibrant Dermatology and Skin Bar MD. And by appropriate she means to make sure you're choosing a cleanser with the right ingredients to fight your type of acne. 'If you have whiteheads and blackheads only, a cleanser containing salicylic acid will be helpful whereas benzoyl peroxide will be more beneficial for those painful cysts', says Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip.
Though sometimes, the best cleanser for your pimple-prone skin could be one with no acne-fighting ingredients at all. 'If your dermatologist has prescribed you prescription-strength medication, then you don't want acne medicine in your cleanser', warns Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip. 'The combination will be too irritating to the skin and may worsen your breakout.'
As for when you should cleanse, she still recommends morning and evening and advises to always do so with clean hands and lukewarm water (too hot or too cold can also irritate your skin). And if your cleanser does include active ingredients (i.e. an acid), let it sit on the skin 'while singing the alphabet', recommends Joshua Zeichner, MD, and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. 'This ensures enough contact time to allow any active ingredients to do their jobs.'
Here are the best acne face washes for every type of pimple problem.
1. Best Gentle Cleanser: Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser
This was Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip's number one pick for a gentle cleanser. The unscented, creamy formula still cleans away makeup, dirt, and oil, but it won't leave your skin tight and strippedideal if you're already using drying acne treatments.
2. Best Foam: InnBeauty Project Foam Around Clarifying Daily Cleanser
A mix of glycolic, lactic and gluconolactone acids give you a light exfoliation every time you cleanse. On top of that, a blend of plant botanicals (turmeric, pine bark and the boerhavia diffusa plant) work to help even out your skin's tone.
3. Best Oil: Epara Natural Cleansing Oil
If you have extra dry skin or a lot of makeup to break down, a cleansing oil might be your best bet. This one uses a group of non-comedogenic ones (moringa, marula, argan, and apricot kernel) as well as licorice root extract to brighten, plankton extract to even out skin's tone, and ylang ylang to soothe. And if it wasn't clear: This will not clog your pores.
4. Best For Clogged Pores: Pholk Daily Detox Face Wash
Though it may sound counterintuitive, it's actually an oil in this cleanser watermelon seed oilthat helps clear away sebum (your skin's natural oil) that can clog pores and lead to acne. It also uses frankincense to help keep skin balanced and calm.
5. Best Wipe: Lauren Napier La Rose Cleansing Wipe
While washing your face with a cleanser and water at the sink is best for acne- prone skin, this wipe comes in handy when there's not a sink nearby. It's infused with rosewater and cucumber extracts that help balance oily skin and calm redness and inflammation.
6. Best Overall Acne-Fighter: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser
The pink grapefruit cleanser is a cult-favorite for a reason. Its salicylic acid-based to treat everything from blackheads to breakouts, plus adds vitamin C to balance out T-zone oil. The light citrusy scent also provides a mood boost in the AM.
'A mix of hydroxy acids (AHA and BHA) keeps pores clear and minimize their appearance', says Dr. Zeichner. Your pores can't actually change in size but when they're filled with gunk, it can make them look larger than they are so keeping them clean makes them look less visible. This one, in particular, uses a blend of salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids to get the job done.
8. Best For Inflammation: St. Ives Acne Control Daily Face Cleanser
This cleanser has salicylic acid, which is great for targeting dead skin cells. It also has additional anti-inflammatory benefits thanks to tea tree extract, which is a more natural acne-fighting hero.
9. Best For Blackheads: Bior Charcoal Acne Cleanser
Salicylic acid combined with purifying charcoal wiggles its way into pores to clean out all that oil and skin cell gunk. It creates a cool tingle that leaves your face feeling extra clean. If you have any dryness afterwards, follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
10. Best For Cystic Acne: CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
A 4 percent benzoyl peroxide formula, this cleanser attacks pimple-causing bacteria for your most stubborn blemishes. Because BP can be drying, start by using this wash once a week and build up as tolerated.
11. Best For All-Over Breakouts: PanOxyl Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Creamy Wash
Here's another BP cleanser with a moderate 4 percent strength. It's wrapped up in a creamy formulation, which provides additional moisture so you're left with soft skinnot that super-tight feeling. You can even use this on your bod to treat bacne.
12. Best For Dry Skin: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser
This cleanser has 5 percent BP, which is as effective at fighting acne as stronger percentages without causing the same dryness or irritationa major plus for those of you with sensitive skin. It also contains moisturizing glycerin to hydrate your skin while removing oil, gunk, and bacteria.
13. Best For Oily Skin: Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser
If your skin is oily, salicylic acid is a good option because it helps remove excess oil from the skin when traditional cleansers may not be enough. Dr. Zeichner recommends this cleanser because it contains a low level of salicylic acid that won't irritate.
14. Best For Redness: Peter Thomas Roth Acne Clearing Wash
The 2 percent salicylic acid cleanser is tough enough to tackle breakouts and remove a day's worth of makeup (although we still suggest doing this before washing). It's still gentle on your skin thanks to allantoin, an ingredient that eases potential sensitivity, and pro vitamin B5, which helps skin stay supple and redness-free.
15. Best Exfoliating Scrub: Garnier SkinActive Deep Pore Exfoliating Scrub
If a clean face means getting gritty and scrubby with it...you need this one from Garnier. The salicylic acid clears out excess oil, says Dr. Zeichner, while manual exfoliators remove pore-clogging dead skin cells.
16. Best Natural Alternative: Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser
If you're into green beauty (and you're willing to spend a bit more on an acne face wash) try this option from Tata Harper. It uses exfoliating lactic and citric acids to slough away pore-clogging skin cells, while balancing oil and redness with botanical extracts.
17. Best Anti-Aging: Boscia Clear Complexion Cleanser
On top of willow bark extractthe natural form of salicylic acidthis cleanser also uses geranium to help balance out sebum (what you refer to as oil) production which is what can clog pores and typically leads to breakouts. The gel formula also uses rosemary extract for some added firming benefits.
18. Best Deep Clean: REN ClearCalm 3 Clarifying Clay Cleanser
Cleansing in itself is purifying for the skin but this cleanser takes it one step further thanks to kaolin clay that works like a sponge to absorb impurities and excess oil then remove them. On top of that, zinc helps calm redness while flavonoids (a plant-based antioxidant) work to tone and repair skin.
19. Best Soothing: Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Cleansing Gel
Yes, this cleanser has tea tree oil to help clear up your acne, but it's also packed with lots of calming ingredients like aloe, lavender oil, and glycerin key for inflamed skin or pimples. The plant-based squalane (a moisturizer similar to a substance your skin naturally produces) keeps skin hydrated, which can be difficult when you're using drying acne ingredients.
20. Best Scent: Indie Lee Purifying Face Wash
This foaming face wash is loaded with essential oils like orange peel, lemon peel, and jasmine that not only make for a nice sensorial experience when you're cleansing, but also help to soothe skin and keep your oil production in check.