Face Washes for Acne

By Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

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. 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.

How to choose

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 Mokaya suggests that 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 (AHA) 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 excessive sebum from the skin and also works to remove excessive dead skin cells that clog pores.” We indicate price range using the following scale:

Best drugstore face wash for acne

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

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

This salicylic acid-containing 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.” Shop for Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash online.

Best face wash for cystic acne

PanOxyl Foaming Wash, 10% Benzoyl Peroxide

According to John Hopkins Medicine, 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 Dr. 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.” Shop for the PanOxyl Foaming Wash, 10% Benzoyl Peroxide online.

Best face wash for hormonal acne

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash

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. “This gel face wash contains salicylic acid and helps to target excessive oil production in the skin,” she adds. Shop for the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash online.

Best face wash for acne scars

DERMA-E Brightening Facial Cleanser

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne scars are typically caused by a variety of different factors, including inflammatory acne (cystic acne), genetics, and by simply picking, squeezing, or popping zits. While there are several dermatological treatments available for treating acne scars, Shainhouse says using topical products enriched with antioxidants like vitamin C can also help brighten and fade away scarring. 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. Shop for the DERMA-E Brightening Facial Cleanser online.

Best acne face washes for sensitive skin

Luckily, there are a number of options on our list that are suitable for sensitive skin. We spoke with Shainhouse and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sara Perkins for their thoughts and product recommendations.

Trader Joe’s All-in-One Facial Cleanser

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. Doing so 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. Shop for Trader Joe’s All-in-One Facial Cleanser at brick-and-mortar stores near you. A: The answer depends on what other products you’re using. Two options are:

  1. EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser: Extremely gentle cleanser without any active ingredients, so it will not cause any irritation. This is ideal for someone using topical anti-acne medications. (More on this product below.)
  2. Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser: Uses salicylic acid to combat acne but has glycerin and soy to promote hydration and minimize irritation.

Best face wash for dry acne-prone skin

EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser

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.” Shop for EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser online.

Best face wash for eczema and acne

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

If you’re living with 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. Shop for CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser online.

Best face wash for oily acne skin

St. Ives Acne Control Daily Face Cleanser

Aside from using exfoliating salicylic acid as the main ingredient, board certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman explains that this face wash also contains tea tree oil, which is a natural ingredient that decreases inflammation and minimizes extra oil on the skin. Shop for the St. Ives Acne Control Daily Face Cleanser online.

Best face wash for acne and blackheads

Biore Charcoal Acne Daily Cleanser

To combat acne and blackheads effectively, Mokaya suggests looking for cleansers that pair salicylic and glycolic acids together, as these ingredients can get deep into the pores and promote essential exfoliation. Similarly, charcoal is another deep-cleaning ingredient to keep in mind, as this ingredient has antiseptic properties and can remove dirt and toxins from the skin. “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 investing in this cleanser, as it combines all ingredients in order to exfoliate your pores. Shop for Biore Charcoal Acne Daily Cleanser online.

Best acne face wash for combination skin

Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser

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 Cetaphil’s, as it successfully minimizes 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.” Shop for Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser online.

Best wash for teenage acne

Humane Acne Face Wash, Benzoyl Peroxide 10%

Jaliman says this cleanser is a must-have for acne-prone skin, as it contains no 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.” Shop for Humane Acne Face Wash, Benzoyl Peroxide 10% online.

Best face wash for adult acne

Simple Micellar Cleansing Water

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. Given that micellar water is both oil-free and gentle on the skin, she advises using this cleansing water if you plan on wearing a full face of makeup, as it 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.” Shop for Simple Micellar Cleansing Water online.

Best face wash for pregnancy acne

Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser

While many key anti-acne ingredients need to be avoided during pregnancy, glycolic acid in low concentration is generally considered safe, Garshick says. “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.” Shop for Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser online.

Best natural face wash for acne

InstaNatural Glycolic Facial Cleanser

Mokaya recommends adding this glycolic face wash to your shopping cart if you tend to opt for natural beauty buys, as 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.” Shop for InstaNatural Glycolic Facial Cleanser online.

Best antibacterial face wash for acne

Differin Daily Deep Cleanser

Garshick says that this face wash works overtime to rid the pores of acne- causing bacteria, as it contains benzoyl peroxide to treat existing breakouts and prevent new ones from forming. Additionally, she explains that this cleanser also helps to absorb excess oil while also providing moisture, preventing the skin from becoming irritated or unbearably dry. Shop for Differin Daily Deep Cleanser online.

How to use

To use your face wash correctly, board certified dermatologist Dr. Peterson Pierre explains that you’ll only want to cleanse your face twice a day (in the morning and evening), as over-washing can dry out the skin. With this in mind, he suggests applying a quarter-sized amount of cleanser onto damp skin, rubbing your face wash in circular motions until you proceed to wash it off. And while it’s easy to assume that your cleanser will start working immediately, Pierre says that cleansers do require a good amount of time to work, as it usually takes up to 2 weeks to a month in order to see visible results. “In acne-prone skin, you should allow at least a month of consistent use before making any changes,” he explains. “Skin care products don’t typically work overnight, but you should notice a change within a month.”

The takeaway

It’s best to choose your face wash based on your skin type and acne concerns, in order to successfully address your needs. At the same time, Pierre notes that while an acne face wash is useful in your fight against acne, it shouldn’t be the only tool you use.

“You have to remember that a face wash is only designed to cleanse your face, as it’s not designed to be a treatment in and of itself,” he says. “It is certainly helpful as an adjunct to any other acne treatment that you may be using, but don’t expect too much from a cleanser alone. That being said, you can expect to notice some changes within 2 weeks.”