15 Best Face Washes for Acne, According to Dermatologists

If you’re prone to acne, you may have tried a few different remedies and methods to cleanse your skin, including face washes.

“A face wash is important for managing acne as it rids the skin (and pores) of oil, dirt, makeup, and sweat, which cause breakouts,” explains board certified dermatologist Dr. Joyce Park.

The pH level of your skin care products can also negatively impact your skin, so look for products that help you maintain your skin’s pH.

Not every skin type is the same, so it’s important to shop for a facial cleanser with your unique skin type in mind. If you’re confused about what your skin type is or what your skin’s pH level is, it may be helpful to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.

As key as a face wash is to any skin care regimen, it’s a given that there are tons of different acne face washes available to buy.

To help you do just that, we tapped Park and other board certified pros to break down 15 of the best face washes, based on your skin type, type of acne, and more. They also share helpful tips that can make all the difference for acne-prone skin.

Read their expert advice below.

To find the best acne face wash that suits your needs, board certified dermatologist Dr. Kemunto Mokaya suggests choosing a product based on the ingredients used in the formula.

Here are some ingredients commonly found in acne face washes to keep on your radar.

Salicylic acid

Good for: exfoliation

“Salicylic acid helps exfoliate and get rid of dead skin cells that clog pores,” Mokaya explains. “It is one of the most common ingredients used in acne washes and is excellent for skin prone to blackheads and whiteheads.”

Benzoyl peroxide

Good for: exfoliation, reducing oil, and promoting skin cell turnover

Mokaya says benzoyl peroxide is another skin care ingredient to look for as it has antimicrobial properties and works to eliminate acne-causing bacteria that’s lingering beneath the skin’s pores.

She adds that benzoyl peroxide helps get rid of dead skin cells that clog pores, keeping future breakouts at bay.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and sulfur

Good for: exfoliation, collagen promotion, excess oil

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and sulfur are two ingredients that remove dead skin cells that clog pores, Mokaya says. These ingredients can also promote collagen production and remove sebum from the skin, which can be beneficial to aging and oily skin types.

“AHAs are primarily used to exfoliate and remove dead skin that clogs pores. However, they can also help to correct discoloration and promote collagen production,” she says.

Similarly, sulfur helps remove excess sebum from the skin and also works to remove excessive dead skin cells that clog pores. It’s also antifungal and antibacterial, which can inhibit the growth of Cutibacterium acnes bacteria, formerly called Propionibacterium acnes, that contribute to acne. It’s tolerated by most skin types, including people with rosacea.

To find the best face washes on the market, we looked through online reviews and only selected products that were rated highly and have active ingredients clinically proven to treat the skin conditions they claim to address.

These products also span different price points, skin types, and skin care requirements.

Lastly, Healthline performs in-house vetting for anything that is topical or ingestible with potential for interaction, allergies, and other harmful reactions. Every product we recommend has been vetted for medical accuracy and business standards.

Best drugstore face wash

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 2 percent salicylic acid
  • Product highlights: oil-free
  • Skin type: oily, acne-prone
  • Pros: dermatologist recommended, budget-friendly, doesn’t overdry skin
  • Cons: contains dyes, fragrance can be irritating, some user reviews report side effects like burning and peeling

You don’t have to spend a fortune on acne-fighting products that actually work. Board certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, FAAD, says your local drugstore is filled with budget-friendly options that stand tall against breakouts, blackheads, and whiteheads.

This salicylic acid cleanser from Neutrogena is a good example of a drugstore product to consider, as it helps keep excess oil and dead skin cells under control with each wash.

“This face wash dissolves dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and improves different types of breakouts including whiteheads and blackheads,” she explains. “Additionally, it also helps to reduce excess oil from the skin, making it a great option for those living with oily skin.”

Best for cystic acne

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash, 10% Benzoyl Peroxide

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 10 percent benzoyl peroxide
  • Product highlights: foam texture, maximum strength
  • Skin type: acne-prone
  • Pros: reduces redness and inflammation, kills bacteria, unclogs pores
  • Cons: concentration may be too strong for some, which can lead to irritation and dryness; benzoyl peroxide can bleach fabrics

Cystic acne is a type of acne that’s usually characterized by pus-filled, deep, and painful pimples, making it important to find a cleanser that can successfully remove acne-causing bacteria and calm down any irritation caused by cystic pimples.

However, you won’t have to worry about disturbing painful cysts or breaking the bank when using this deep cleaning cleanser.

Board certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, FAAD, explains that it unclogs pores and redness with each wash.

“This cleanser helps kill acne-causing bacteria and is comedolytic, meaning it unclogs pores,” Shainhouse says. “Similarly, it also has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps reduce redness.”

Some may find that the ingredient dries out their skin too much, so monitor how your skin reacts.

Best for hormonal acne

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredients: 2 percent salicylic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid
  • Product highlights: paraben-free, noncomedogenic
  • Skin type: oily, acne-prone
  • Pros: suitable for sensitive skin, tested for allergens, glycerin offsets the drying effects of salicylic acid
  • Cons: pricey and some user reviews report side effects like peeling and dryness

Hormonal acne is usually characterized as a combination of comedonal (blackheads and whiteheads) and cystic acne.

This, in turn, causes the skin to become oily, explains board certified dermatologist Dr. Rina Allawh, making it crucial to select a cleanser that keeps excessive oiliness under control.

To do just that, she advises investing in this hormonal acne-friendly cleanser, as it uses salicylic acid as an active ingredient to keep greasiness to a minimum. Because adult acne often goes hand-in-hand with hormonal acne (considered one and the same), this cleanser may also benefit people with adult acne.

“This gel face wash contains salicylic acid and helps to target excessive oil production in the skin,” she adds.

Best for acne scars

DERMA-E Vitamin C Daily Brightening Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredients: vitamin C, niacinamide, green tea
  • Product highlights: pH balanced, cruelty-free
  • Skin type: all skin types but ideal for skin showing signs of pigmentation and discoloration
  • Pros: brightens dull skin, clean ingredients, removes dirt, oil, and makeup
  • Cons: pricey, may not help clear up active breakouts

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne scars are caused by a variety of different factors, including inflammatory acne (cystic acne), genetics, and by simply picking, squeezing, or popping zits.

While severe scars from cystic acne are hard to treat, people often mistake post-inflammatory redness and hyperpigmentation as scarring, which can be treated easier.

While there are several dermatological treatments available for treating lingering acne marks, Shainhouse says using topical products enriched with antioxidants, like vitamin C, can also help brighten and fade these marks away.

This makes this brightening cleanser more than helpful to reduce the appearance of acne scars, as it contains vitamin C and licorice extract, which reduce redness, inflammation, and hyperpigmentation.

“With regular use, these ingredients may help skin appear brighter, more even, and minimize the appearance of acne scars,” she adds.

Best for sensitive skin

Trader Joe’s All-in-One Facial Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: vitamin A, vitamin B5
  • Product highlights: all-in-one formula
  • Skin type: sensitive
  • Pros: affordable, gentle formula, large quantity
  • Cons: not accessible to people who don’t live near a Trader Joe’s location, doesn’t target specific skin concerns, lacks active ingredients

Since sensitive skin is prone to irritation and inflammation, Shainhouse says you’ll want to use a face wash that doesn’t dry out the skin.

Drying out the skin actually causes more redness, she adds, especially when your face wash uses abrasive ingredients that strip the skin of its natural oils.

“This cleanser is very gentle and works well with prescription topical acne meds, which can be very drying and irritating already,” she says.

Best for dry, acne-prone skin

EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser

  • Price: $$$
  • Key ingredients: enzymes
  • Product highlights: self-foaming formula, oil-free
  • Skin type: sensitive
  • Pros: removes pollutants and impurities, infuses oxygen into skin
  • Cons: contains fragrance, pricey

Dry skin types aren’t necessarily more prone to acne. But the management of acne with this skin type can be tricky, as the skin is unable to tolerate many effective acne treatments, including benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, Mokaya explains.

A pH-balanced cleanser, like EltaMD’s foaming cleanser, can be helpful.

“This gentle cleanser is pH-balanced, contains bromelain (which reduces inflammation), and apple amino acids (which help hydrate the sensitive skin),” Mokaya adds. “It also is oil-free, sulfate-free (sulfates dry out the skin too much), and contains no parabens or phthalates.”

Best for eczema and acne

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredients: ceramides, hyaluronic acid
  • Product highlights: noncomedogenic, nonirritating
  • Skin type: dry, sensitive
  • Pros: softens skin, nongreasy feel
  • Cons: doesn’t lather (but see note below), contains parabens

If you have eczema, a skin condition that causes the skin to become dry and inflamed, Mokaya stresses the importance of finding a face wash that’s both hydrating and gentle.

“This cleanser is a suitable choice for eczema because it contains hydrating ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and ceramides, which help moisturize the skin,” she says. It may also work well for sensitive skin.

A note on lathering: This product doesn’t lather because it omits sulfate. While many people complain when a cleanser doesn’t foam and become sudsy, the sulfate that creates this effect is just that: an effect to make you feel like you’re cleansing. It serves no other purpose and can cause irritation for some people.

So, sulfate-free, nonlathering cleansers may be a good choice for anyone with sensitive skin.

Best for oily skin with acne

St. Ives Acne Control Daily Face Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: tea tree oil, 2 percent salicylic acid
  • Product highlights: oil-free, dermatologist-tested
  • Skin type: acne-prone
  • Pros: affordable, easy to find in stores, minimizes oil in the skin
  • Cons: contains dyes, some users experienced a tingling sensation

Aside from using exfoliating salicylic acid as the main ingredient, board certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman says this face wash also contains tea tree oil. This natural ingredient can decrease inflammation and minimize extra oil on the skin.

Tea tree oil can have additional benefits to the skin. A 2013 study suggests it can help with the wound healing process.

Best for acne and blackheads

Bioré Charcoal Acne Daily Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: charcoal, 1 percent salicylic acid
  • Product highlights: oil-free, lightweight
  • Skin type: oily, acne-prone, combination
  • Pros: HSA and FSA eligible, absorbs oil to keep pores clear
  • Cons: only 1 percent concentration of salicylic acid, contains fragrance

Toeffectively manage acne and blackheads, Mokaya suggests looking for cleansers that pair salicylic and glycolic acids together. These ingredients can get deep into the pores and promote essential exfoliation.

Similarly, charcoal is another deep-cleaning ingredient to keep in mind. It has antiseptic properties and can remove dirt and toxins from the skin. However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much evidence that supports any claims you may see about charcoal being an exfoliant or pro-aging.

“Charcoal can absorb dirt, chemicals, toxins, and some acne-causing bacteria from the skin,” Mokaya explains. “Charcoal also has anti-inflammatory properties and decreases the inflammation associated with acne.”

To add charcoal, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid to your skin care routine, she suggests this cleanser. It combines all ingredients for pore exfoliation.

Best for combination skin

Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: glycerin
  • Product highlights: noncomedogenic, nonirritating, paraben-free, sulfate-free
  • Skin type: normal, oily
  • Pros: large quantity, suitable for all skin types
  • Cons: contains fragrance

Finding the right cleanser for combination skin can be a bit tricky, as it’s characterized by areas that are both dry (cheeks) and oily (chin and forehead).

With this in mind, Garshick advises selecting a multitasking cleanser, like this one from Cetaphil. It can successfully minimize oiliness without drying out the skin.

“This is a great cleanser option for combination skin types, as it effectively removes excess oils and dirt, and prevents clogged pores and breakouts without drying the skin out,” Garshick says. “Additionally, it is noncomedogenic and oil-free, meaning it won’t clog the pores or lead to additional breakouts in the near future.”

The company also reformulated this cleanser in 2021 to be free of parabens, sulfates, and animal-origin ingredients.

Best for teenage acne

Humane Acne Face Wash, 10% Benzoyl Peroxide

  • Price: $$$
  • Key ingredients: 10 percent benzoyl peroxide
  • Product highlights: SLS-free, nonfoaming
  • Skin type: oily skin, skin affected by inflammatory rosacea
  • Pros: suitable for the face and body, delivers oxygen to the pores so bacteria can’t thrive
  • Cons: pricey, 10 percent benzoyl peroxide may be too strong for some

Jaliman says this cleanser is a must-have for acne-prone skin. It doesn’t contain animal-based ingredients or irritating ingredients, such as parabens, sulfates, fragrances, or dyes.

“This cleanser has 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, which decreases P. acnes bacteria, a type of bacteria that can cause acne,” Jaliman says. “Benzoyl peroxide also helps keep the pores clear, reducing your risk of breakouts going forward.”

Best for adult acne

Simple Micellar Cleansing Water

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: micellar water, vitamin C
  • Product highlights: dye-free, fragrance-free
  • Skin type: dry, sensitive
  • Pros: suitable for sensitive skin, removes makeup, no rinsing required
  • Cons: doesn’t have active ingredients that target acne, some users don’t like the new formula

Since many adults use makeup to cover up breakouts and scars, Mokaya says it’s wise to select a gentle face wash that removes makeup, dirt, and oil.

Micellar water is both oil-free and gentle on the skin, so she advises using this cleansing water if you plan on wearing a full face of makeup. The cleanser doesn’t contain irritating ingredients that could potentially aggravate sensitive skin.

“Try using this cleansing micellar water if you plan on wearing makeup during the day,” Mokaya adds. “It is gentle, and contains no artificial colors, fragrances, sulfates, or parabens.”

Best for pregnancy acne

Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser

  • Price: $$$
  • Key ingredients: glycolic acid
  • Product highlights: gel formula
  • Skin type: oily, normal, combination, acne-prone
  • Pros: may be suitable for use during pregnancy, gently exfoliates skin, has pro-aging benefits
  • Cons: pricey, sodium lauryl sulfate may be harsh for some

While many key anti-acne ingredients need to be avoided during pregnancy, glycolic acid in low concentration is generally considered safe, Garshick says.

There aren’t any human studies done (as there are ethical concerns with testing ingredients on pregnant people), but a 2011 research review notes glycolic acid is considered safe during pregnancy because only a small amount is absorbed systemically.

In animal studies, adverse reproductive effects were only observed in much larger amounts, much more than what’s used in topical skin care products, according to the review.

“This lightweight cleanser uses glycolic acid to help exfoliate dead skin cells and prevent clogged pores, making it a good option in pregnancy,” Garshick explains. “However, it is always recommended to check with your OB-GYN prior to using any new products in the setting of pregnancy.”

Best natural face wash for acne

InstaNatural Glycolic Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredients: glycolic acid, arginine
  • Product highlights: naturally derived ingredients
  • Skin type: all
  • Pros: contains many active ingredients, supports collagen, gently exfoliates the skin
  • Cons: natural fragrance may be irritating to some

Mokaya recommends trying this glycolic face wash if you tend to opt for natural beauty buys. It contains cucumber, chamomile, and green tea extracts to keep inflammation and future acne flare-ups under control.

“Cucumber has anti-inflammatory properties and helps calm down the inflammation associated with acne,” she says. “Similarly, chamomile and green tea extract have antiseptic properties and can kill some acne-causing bacteria.”

Best antibacterial face wash for acne

Differin Daily Deep Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 5 percent benzoyl peroxide
  • Product highlights: aluminum-free, sulfate free
  • Skin type: sensitive
  • Pros: lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide is less irritating; free of dyes, parabens, and phthalates
  • Cons: small quantity, can dry out the skin

Garshick says this face wash works overtime to rid the pores of acne-causing bacteria. It contains benzoyl peroxide to treat existing breakouts and prevent new ones from forming.

Additionally, she explains this cleanser helps absorb excess oil while also providing moisture, preventing the skin from becoming irritated or unbearably dry.

If you’ve tried 10 percent benzoyl peroxide products and they dried out your skin, this may be worth trying since it contains half the amount.


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