Zitty, Gritty Deets: 14 Face Washes for Acne - 2021

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Let’s face it — acne is annoying AF. Finding the right treatment can be overwhelming. But don’t worry. We have you and your beautiful skin covered. We rounded up the 14 best acne face washes that’ll zap your zits.

Pimple probs: Choosing the best acne face wash

Cystic, hormonal, teen, adult — oh my! No matter what kind of acne you’re dealing with, the best way to combat pesky pimples is strengthen and protect your skin barrier. And everyone’s skin is different so you need to use products formulated for your needs.

Here’s a breakdown of the best treatments for each skin type:
ishonest No.312 - Prevent Acne

No.312 - Prevent Acne

FYI: A skin care professional (e.g. dermatologist) can help you figure out what type of skin you’re rocking.

How did we pick these products?

Here are the top 14 face washes for acne for every skin type. The products were selected based on their ingredients, customer reviews, and dermatologist recommendations. We also looked out for vegan, all-natural, and sensitive-skin options that won’t hurt your wallet.

14 of the best face washes for acne

1. Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser Face Wash

Best face wash for oily acne skin

Price: $$Key ingredient(s): glycolic acid

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Glytone’s Mild Gel Cleanser contains glycolic acid. This superstar acid exfoliates, cleans pores, and reduces oil. It can also increase your skin’s cell turnover rate.

Buy Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser online.

2. Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser Face Wash

Price: $$$Key ingredient(s): sulfur, natural oat extract, honey, rice bran extracts

It’s sulfur’s time to shine! This medicated wash contains 3 percent sulfur. Sulfur absorbs excess oil that contributes to breakouts. It also unclogs pores by drying out dead skin cells.

ishonest No.313 - Prevent Acne

No.313 - Prevent Acne

Some loved the results but didn’t dig the smell. (Spoiler: Sulfur isn’t known for its sweet fragrance, y’all!) It also may irritate more sensitive skin.

Buy Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser online.

3. COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser Face Wash

Best face wash for dry, acne-prone skin

Price: $Key ingredient(s): BHA (betaine salicylate)

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Skin can get sensitive and dry if it’s too alkaline. This vegan K-beauty staple has a neutral pH (5.30 ± 1.00). This helps restore the skin to healthy levels.

Word of warning: Your acne may get worse before it gets better. BHA face washes often have a 7 to 10 day purge period.

Buy CORSX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser online.

4. Dermalogica Ultracalming Cleanser Face Wash

Price: $$$Key ingredient(s): bisabolol, ginger root extract, glycerin

ishonest No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

Dermalogica Ultracalming Cleanser is specifically formulated for dry, sensitive skin. Even though it’s gentle it’ll still give you a deep cleanse. In addition to helping with acne it can also reduce redness, discomfort, and itchiness. Plus, it’s pH-balanced!

Buy Dermalogica Ultracalming Cleanser online.

5. EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser

Best face wash for combination skin

Price: $$Key ingredient(s): bromelain, apple amino acids

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This sulfate- and oil-free cleanser is dermatologist recommended. It’s ideal for combo skin. It contains bromelain, a cleansing enzyme that can reduce acne inflammation. It also has apple amino acids for hydration.

Some reviewers loved its scent-free, foaming-action. But some peeps said its thick-ish formula clogged the pump nozzle.

Buy EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser online.

6. iS Clinical Cleansing Complex Face Wash

Price: $$$Key ingredient(s): glycolic acid, chamomile flower extract, centella asiatica, sugar cane extract, white willow bark extract

ishonest No.171 - Pre-Sun Exposure

No.171 - Pre-Sun Exposure

This gel-cleanser is a blogger fave. It has glycolic acid, sugarcane, and chamomile-flower extracts. The acids gently penetrate pores while the chamomile soothes sensitive or dry skin.

Though it’s specially-formulated to be non-drying, reviewers had varying experiences. Some found the formula perfect for their combo skin. Others said it was a bit too harsh for their dry skin or rosacea.

Buy iS CLINICAL Cleansing Complex online.

7. Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser

Best acne face wash for sensitive skin

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Price: $Key ingredient(s): salicylic acid, thyme, aloe vera, chamomile

Mario Badescu is a cult fave brand. They’re known for fancy-looking products at budget prices. This gel cleanser contains aloe vera and chamomile to soothe sensitive or inflamed skin. Salicylic acid gently fights acne.

Come peeps claim the formula’s mild properties make it a little too gentle on acne. If it’s not taking care of business solo you may want to pair it with another topical treatment.

Buy Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser online.

8. Neogen Dermalogy Real Fresh Cleansing Stick Face Wash
ishonest No.232 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

No.232 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

Price: $$Key ingredient(s): green tea leaves

If you love the convenience of glide-on face moisturizers, oils, and highlighters you should add this cleansing green tea stick to your arsenal.

This 99 percent naturally derived cleanser uses real green tea leaves, green tea seed oil, and a blend of several other natural oils. It will gently purify, exfoliate, and hydrate the skin.

Reviewers raved about its ease of application, fresh scent, and gentle acne- fighting properties. Heads up: It’s not formulated to remove makeup.

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Buy Neogen Dermalogy Real Fresh Cleansing Stick online.

9. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Cleanser Face Wash

Best face wash for cystic acne

Price: $$Key ingredient(s): salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids, zinc pidolate

La Roche-Posay Effaclar’s gel foaming cleanser contains alpha hydroxy acids and salicylic acid. These exfoliating agents are great for healing cystic and severe acne. It’s free of oil, soap, parabens, and alcohol.

ishonest No.111 - Purge Impurities

No.111 - Purge Impurities

Since the formula is acid-heavy, avoid using too many other acidic products in your skin care routine. This’ll help deter overdrying or irritation.

Buy La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Cleanser online.

10. PanOxyl Acne Foaming Face Wash

Price: $$Key ingredient(s): benzoyl peroxide

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash makes the list because it contains the highest strength of Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) that you can snag without a prescription.

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Those with cystic or severe acne can especially benefit from the 10 percent BPO formula. It attacks acne-causing bacteria and helps control oil.

Word of caution: Despite the fanfare, this product contains sodium lauryl sulfate and potassium lauryl sulfate. These can cause irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Buy PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash online.

11. Neutrogena Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne-Fighting Face Wash

Best drugstore face wash for acne

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Price: $Key ingredient(s): salicylic acid, BHA

This cleanser brings back some serious high school nostalgia. But it’s good for acne at any age! It works in two ways. Salicylic acid breaks down oil that clogs pores. Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliates and clears dead skin cells.

While some swear by it as a “holy grail” product, it might not be great on super sensitive skin. Some reviewers said it caused burning, redness, and irritation.

Buy Neutrogena Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne-Fighting Face Wash online.

12. CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
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No.401 - Dark Circles

Price: $Key ingredient(s): hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin

This no-frills face wash isn’t particularly tough on acne when it rolls solo. But it’s ideal if you’re also using harsher topical acne treatments. It’s non- drying and has a lotion-like consistency. It’s also fragrance- and paraben-free! Folks love that it has hyaluronic acid which helps hydrate.

It also has the seal of approval from the National Eczema Association.

Buy CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser online.

13. First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser
A newcomer in the LAB range

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Best natural face wash for acne

Price: $$Key ingredient(s): aloe, allantoin, glycerin, licorice root extract, feverfew extract, white tea extract

This cream cleanser is perf for all-natural enthusiasts or those with sensitive skin. It’s pH-balanced, vegan, and cruelty-free. It’s also free of fragrance, parabens, ethyl alcohol, and phthalates.

Lots of reviewers raved about its acne-fighting properties. But others said it’s just so-so as a makeup remover (which it’s supposed to double as).

ishonest No.501 - Frizzy Hair

No.501 - Frizzy Hair

Buy First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser online.

14. Dr. Alkaitis Organic Purifying Facial Cleanser

Price: $$$Key ingredient(s): aloe vera, extracts of chamomile, plantain, black elder, greater nettle, myrrh, bitter orange, natural Vitamin E complex

Dr. Alkaitis has a solid rep in the natural beauty community. This specific formula contains cold-pressed oils, medicinal herbs, chamomile, and seaweed. Just make sure you don’t get it in your eyes .

Buy Dr. Alkaitis Organic Purifying Facial Cleanser online.

Face wash is about prepping your skin

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When it comes to treating acne, it’s best to hold your horses and not go overboard with acne-fighting products.

The best way to treat acne is in fact finding the cause, whether it’s hormonal or external, like due to a mask. With face washing, the biggest benefit is how a face wash will clear your skin of excess oil (without overstripping), dirt, makeup, sweat, and pollution.

This means if your breakouts are more surface-level, like whiteheads and blackheads, a face wash that has acne-fighting ingredients will do the trick. Just be sure the rest of your routine isn’t too actives-heavy (exfoliants, acids, etc.) as this could dry out your skin and undo all the work your cleanser did.

But if your breakouts are deeper and without an opening, like cystic or nodules, it’s unlikely your face wash’s active ingredients will penetrate your skin to address your acne. You might be better off looking at spot treatments, like vitamin C or retinoids.

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Another approach you might want to try, especially for oily skin with a lot of blackheads, is skin gritting.

Should I double cleanse?

Double cleansing is quite the phenomenon in the skin care world. It’s when you first wash your face with an oil-based cleanser to really breakdown makeup and pollution and then follow up with a gel or cream cleanser to really get the gunk out. It’s highly recommended for folks who wear a “full face” of makeup as this will really make sure the foundation gets out of your pores.

If you do double cleanse, your first step doesn’t need to contain any acne- fighting ingredients. Keep those to your follow up steps (toner, spot treatments, etc.) to avoid drying out or irritating your skin with too many actives.

The bottom line

No one knows the exact cause of acne. Some peeps think it has to do with your diet. But don’t kick your chocolate habit just yet! The link between breakouts and food hasn’t been proven. For now, topical treatments, like face wash or exfoliants, are your best bet.

But before you pick a face cleanser with 5 billion 5-star reviews, narrow down the list based on your skin type. Look for ingredients specially formulated to suit your needs.

Picking the right one for you might take some trial and error. If you want a little extra support, hit up a healthcare pro. They can help you pick the perfect product or provide a prescription for particularly painful pimples.

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