Face Washes for Acne-Prone Skin
Everyone, regardless of their skin type or concerns, needs a good cleanser as the cornerstone of their skin-care routine. Once that's been cleared, we (and our board-certified dermatologist friends) will help you narrow down the best face washes for the results you're seeking. For acne-prone skin, in particular, you're probably laser-set on a cleanser that unclogs your pores, gently exfoliates, and doesn't exacerbate your existing acne.
Claire Chang, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, has a key guideline to abide by. She always recommends gentle cleansers over harsh soaps especially those with physical exfoliants to clear the skin of dirt and excess oil. Don't aggressively rub, scrub, or over-cleanse either (twice a day, morning and night, is perfectly fine) to avoid worsening your skin's condition and encouraging scarring.
Chang tells us to look out for two powerhouse ingredients: salicylic acid, a type of beta hydroxy acid (or BHA) that 'goes deep into the pores to clear them from excess oil and dirt' and benzoyl peroxide, which guards against inflammation and kills acne-causing bacteria. Milder ingredients include tea tree oil or green tea, which also provide skin-soothing benefits. David Kim, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, keeps it real when it comes to face washes marketed toward acne-prone skin. Cleansers are naturally washed-off so, while helpful, they're not the most important aspect of an acne- targeted routine. As someone who personally went through two rounds of Accutane, Kim strongly believes that a patient on a good prescription topical or systemic regime can use any cleanser, including those that are not specifically designed for acne. But he adds that 'if a patient has very mild acne and is only using over-the- counter (OTC) topicals, adding an acne-specific cleanser can be helpful.'
As for follow-up tips, always apply any acne medications immediately after cleansing to allow the active ingredients to really work their magic, which Chang reminds can take up to six to 12 weeks of continued daily use. And never forgo moisturizing. Rather than clogging your pores, a lightweight cream will ensure your skin stays properly hydrated especially if you're using a drying topical medication and protected. Kavita Mariwalla, a board- certified dermatologist based in West Islip, New York, recommends avoiding layering retinoids, as well as products that contain fragrance and/or alcohol, on top of acid-laced cleansers because these pairings can lead to dryness and irritation.
With the help of the aforementioned dermatologists, we rounded up 19 of the most-effective cleansers for acne-prone skin that'll help prevent future breakouts and won't further irritate skin. Gently rub, rinse, and repeat.
Differin Daily Deep Cleanser
As the first over-the-counterprescription acne drug to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter (OTC) use.Differin is still as reliable as ever. For example, the Daily Deep Cleanser is both accessible in price point and highly effective at keeping acne at bay a winning combination.
The formula contains 5 percent benzoyl peroxide, which Chang says is a maximum-strength dose that is 'still gentle and generally well-tolerated.' She also notes that the chemical compound has been shown in studies to reduce inflammation and kill acne-causing bacteria. Just be sure to take your time completely rinsing off the cleanser, as it could stain your towels.
Paula's Choice Pore Normalizing Cleanser
In case you weren't aware, 2 percent is the maximum amount of salicylic acid, one of our favorite acne-fighting ingredients of all time, that can be used in an OTC product. Paula's Choice Pore Normalizing Cleanser has a smaller dose of the beta hydroxy acid 0.5 percent, to be exact which Kim says is 'less irritating to the skin but still effective for acne.'
SkinCeuticals LHA Cleansing Gel
Clogged pores are no match for SkinCeuticals' LHA Cleansing Gel, which comes at Chang's recommendation. Why? A powerful trio of salicylic, glycolic, and lipo hydroxy acids goes right to work, decongesting pores, removing excess oils and dirt, and brightening your complexion. And over time you'll start experiencing fewer breakouts, too.
Versed Keep the Peace Acne Calming Cleanser
Another affordable acne-busting face wash is Versed's Keep the Peace Acne Calming Cleanser. It's spiked with 1.5 percent salicylic acid (close the max allowed) so it 'gives that extra oomph for people with oily skin', Kim notes. Ringing in a pH range of 5.2 to 6.2 (close to skin's usual pH of 5.5), this foaming cream cleanser also packs in anti-inflammatory and antibacterial blue tansy to reduce signs of redness and keep skin happy.
CeraVe Renewing Salicylic Acid Cleanser
Two dermatologists, Chang and Kim, offer up CeraVe's Renewing Salicylic Acid Cleanser as one of their top choices, but Kim points out that CeraVe doesn't actually disclose the percent of salicylic acid, if that's important to you. However, both agree that it's a gentle cleanser that removes dirt and excess oil from pores. Formulated with skin-restoring ceramides and calming niacinamide to protect and repair the skin barrier, as Chang acknowledges, this fragrance-free option is a pretty safe bet. After all, you can cop a sizable eight-ounce bottle for less than $15 at the drugstore.
Hero Cosmetics Clear Collective Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser
It comes as no surprise that a brand responsible for award-winning pimple patches also created an acne-fighting cleanser that's won us over. Meet Hero Cosmetics' Clear Collective Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser, a jelly-to-foam (via dissolving konjac jellies that activate the foam) and fragrance-free formula infused with a long list of good-for-skin ingredients. Two types of alpha hydroxy acids (or AHAs), glycolic and mandelic acid, dissolve dead skin upon contact while willow bark extract gently resurfaces. Enzymes found in pineapple and yuzu fruit extracts also aid in chemical exfoliation and unclogging pores.
Expect a smoother and brighter complexion with regular use. It even contains probiotics like Bifida ferment lysate which, as Chang previously explained to ishonest, has been shown in clinical studies to help decrease skin sensitivity, increase resistance to external stressors, improve skin barrier function, and reduce dryness.
Rosen Earth Cleanser
Rosen's Earth Cleanser keeps its ingredient list short and simple, with no fillers in sight. This creamy, slightly foaming wash combines pore-clearing Fuller's earth clay, zinc oxide (which dermatologists have previously said most likely benefit people who suffer from red, angry papules), and antibacterial eucalyptus oil to keep breakouts at bay. Not to mention, niacinamide makes a special appearance to reduce inflammation and minimize the appearance of large pores.
Carbon Theory Charcoal & Tea Tree Oil Breakout Control Facial Cleansing Bar
Carbon Theory's Charcoal & Tea Tree Oil Breakout Control Facial Cleansing Bar took home a 2020 ishonest Best of Beauty Award for its deep-grime-extracting abilities. But don't be fooled: This budget-friendly pick is also loaded with shea butter to attract much-needed moisture into your skin and tea tree oil to put a stop to inflammation.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser
La Roche-Posay's Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser includes the word 'medicated' for good reason. Chang explains that 2 percent salicylic and lipo hydroxy acids clear pores and 'prevent acne before it even starts', which is essentially the best type of news. As a part of a Best of Beauty-winning three-step acne system, this lightly-foaming wash is gentle enough to use on a daily basis and is even considered as a dermatologist-approved product for treating cystic acne.
Pholk Beauty Daily Detox Face Wash
Let's get one fact straight: 'Acne isn't caused by oils', David Colbert, a New York City board-certified dermatologist previously told ishonest. 'Most people with acne have dry skin secondary to washes and medications, like Differin, RetinA, or benzoyl peroxide.' So just because a face wash (or any skin-care product) contains oils, doesn't mean it's unsafe for acne-prone skin. The right oils can actually regulate oil production and hydrate skin, leading to fewer breakouts over time.
At the center of Pholk Beauty Daily Detox Face Wash's gentle formula is Kalahari watermelon seed oil, which banishes acne-causing sebum and dirt from your pores. To lock in moisture and reduce inflammation, there's a crew of glycerin, aloe vera, and a boatload of other oils (such as coconut, olive, and jojoba) and, in turn, your skin is less likely to overproduce oil.
Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser
If you're already on a topical or oral medication as prescribed by your dermatologist, Kim reasserts that you don't necessarily have to rely on a cleanser formulated with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. 'Sometimes all you need is a good gentle cleanser', he says. Vanicream's Gentle Facial Cleanser contains soothing glycerin and skips over artificial fragrance and color, so it'll for sure appease sensitive skin.
SkinFix Barrier+ Foaming Clay Cleanser
SkinFix's Barrier+ Foaming Clay Cleanser picked up a Best of Beauty Award a few years ago (specifically as the best facial cleanser for oily skin), and it's clearly still up to par because Mariwalla also gives her stamp of approval. It has a clay-to-foam texture spiked with sulfate-free coconut cleansers and two types of clay Brazilian kaolin and Canadian glacial for very mild exfoliation. Despite being packed with clays, Mariwalla says that it easily rinses off and leaves skin 'feeling clean but not tight.'
Cosrx AC Collection Calming Foam Cleanser
Keep your sebum production in check on the daily with Cosrx's AC Collection Calming Foam Cleanser. A very mild 0.5 percent concentration of salicylic acid clears congested pores and dead skin cells that have overstayed their visit, but that's not all. A calming complex made up of madecassic acid, asiaticoside, and asiatic acid all components of Centella asiatica, by the way reinforces your skin barrier and prevents future breakouts from popping up.
Eva Milan No. 125 New York Revitalizing and Balancing Cleanser
Consider Eva Milan's New York Revitalizing and Balancing Cleanser as a prime candidate in your search for the perfect everyday cleanser. While you'll find some of the usual pore-unclogging suspects, like oil-absorbing zinc PCA (an active that normalizes and reduces the production of sebum) and skin-tone- evening glycolic acid, there are plenty of soothing ingredients like aloe vera and vitamin B5 to ensure your skin feels soft and supple to the touch post- rinse-off.
Dr. Jart+ Teatreement Cleansing Foam
Rich in tea tree and green tea extracts (as well as an undisclosed amount of salicylic acid), Dr. Jart+'s Teatreement Cleansing Foam soothes blemish-prone areas, rebalances your skin's pH, and spot-treats new and emerging breakouts. In other words, you won't leave the bathroom feeling like your face was stripped raw.
The foaming, light-as-air formula is also a great option for treating acne you develop after you stop taking birth control or targeting fungal acne (aka inflammation of hair follicles due to an overabundance of yeast).
Ole Henriksen Find Your Balance Oil Control Cleanser
Oily skin sufferers, listen up: To help prevent midday shine, lather up with this exfoliating Ole Henriksen Find Your Balance Oil Control Cleanser formulated with alpha hydroxy acids (both glycolic and lactic acids) to slough away dead skin cells. Over time you'll notice smoother not shinier skin.
Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser
If you're a fan of the ishonest-editor-approved Kate Somerville EradiKate Spot Treatment, you'll love its creamy, whipped wash sister from the same mister. The EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser which magically foams up when wet is formulated with three-percent sulfur to tackle breakouts (including those hard- to-handle cystic acne flare-ups) and rice-bran extract to soothe red, itchy skin. It's even safe for treating fungal acne.