From the moment we hit puberty, acne becomes a big part of most of our lives. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting about 50 million Americans every year. But acne doesn't disappear after your teenage years. Instead, it can carry on into adulthood, or develop then for the very first time.
That’s why the skincare products we use every day are so important—starting with our face wash. “People who are acne-prone know that sometimes the stress over the proper routine can be too much, but the proper cleanser can help manage it all in a way that is sustainable to your skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stacy Chimento, of Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, FL. Lucky for you, we searched high and low to find the best cleansers on the market to heal breakouts and keep them from forming in the first place.
Read on for the best acne face washes you can buy now.
Best Overall: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
This acne face wash is not only budget-friendly, but it also works hard to get rid of blemishes and keep skin calm and clear. The formula is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog up pores, and it's non-drying and non-irritating—perfect for anyone with sensitive skin. Chimento says it’s a real winner. “You have salicylic acid for exfoliation, ceramides to prevent dryness and protect the epidermis, hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin, and niacinamide, which reduces redness,” she explains.
Best Drugstore: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
This classic, dermatologist-recommended cleanser is a best-seller for a reason. It’s formulated with salicylic acid, which is often the best ingredient to try if you find yourself dealing with acne. It’s a beta hydroxy acid, which means it works to exfoliate and clear dead skin cells that are clogging up your pores. That translates to less frequent breakouts and overall clearer-looking skin.
Best for Blackheads: Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Cleanser
Key Ingredients Activated charcoal is created from carbon-rich materials burned at high temperatures, like coal, coconut shells, and wood. In skin care, there are claims that it binds to and removes impurities from the skin, but more research is needed. By now you probably know the whole schpeel about how charcoal benefits the skin, so we won't get into it here, but just know that this charcoal-infused cleanser is the stuff, particularly if you're dealing with blackheads. The hard-hitting combo of charcoal and salicylic acid removes impurities from the skin so pores are purified (no more of those black dots pebbling your nose) and breakouts are left at bay.
Best Oil-Free: AcneFree Oil-Free Acne Cleanser
Key Ingredients Benzoyl peroxide is an organic acid in the peroxide family that has been used to treat acne because of its keratolytic, moderate comedolytic, and antibacterial properties, which include the reduction of P. acnes and Staph. aureus on the skin. If you tend to go for oil-free formulas to counteract skin that already produces too much oil, this formula is a great option. It’s formulated with benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria and glycolic acid to exfoliate the skin and get rid of clogged pores without drying them out.
Best for Oily Skin: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser
When it comes to clearing up acne, benzoyl peroxide is a total powerhouse ingredient. It kills the bacteria on your face that causes acne to form, so not only will it banish your pimples, but it’ll stop them from forming in the first place. It’s important to use benzoyl peroxide carefully though since it can be drying to sensitive and dry skin types. But for oily skin, it’s a great option and can even slow the overproduction of oil.
Best for Whiteheads: Mario Badescu Skin Care Acne Facial Cleanser
From the brand that created the ultimate acne spot treatment (if you know, you know) comes this equally-great acne face wash. It's a clarifying formula with salicylic acid, aloe vera, and thyme extract to help remove pore-clogging dead skin cells while preventing the skin from drying out.
Best for Redness: Neutrogena Oil-Free Cleanser
Acne can, of course, cause unattractive zits to pop up, and with that can come redness as well. This cleanser is formulated to get rid of blemishes and the redness that makes skin look even more irritated. The salicylic acid clears up acne while naturally derived aloe and chamomile extracts work to calm the skin and soothe it.
Best for Combination Skin: Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control 3-In-1 Foaming Face Wash
Dealing with combination skin can be tricky since parts of the face are oily — usually around the T-zone (the forehead, nose, and chin)—and the other areas tend to be dry. So, picking the right cleanser is important in keeping your skin balanced and happy. This formula has acne-fighting salicylic acid, but it’s also gentle enough to use daily.
Best With Sulfur: Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser
When it comes to acne, you hear a lot about the wonders of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Nothing against them (they're acne-fighting great ingredients for certain) but let's also give some due praise to sulfur, which makes a big 3% cameo in this cleanser. When used over time, you can expect to see visibly clearer skin and minimized pores.
Best With Glycolic Acid: Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser
According to dermatologist Dr. Nava Greenfield of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York, this formula is a great pick packed with potent glycolic acid to exfoliate. Use this cleanser to help remove surface dead skin cells which can pile up on the surface, clog pores, and lead to acne. Your skin will look glowy as a result, too, which is never a bad thing.
Best Powerful: DermaDoctor Ain't Misbehavin' Medicated AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser
This cleanser is formulated with both AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHA (salicylic acid) so you know it's not messing around—or should we say, misbehaving. It's got sal acid, but also glycolic acid, witch hazel, and allantoin. Dr. Greenfeld recommends reaching for this one when you're dealing with comedones, those small, flesh-colored bumps that usually appear on the forehead and chin.
We searched high and low to find the best cleansers on the market to banish zits and keep them from forming in the first place. We found that the best acne face wash is CeraVe's Renewing SA Face Cleaner. Not only is it budget-friendly, but it also includes blemish-busting salicylic acid to address existing acne and keep pores clear. If you're steering clear of sal acid and prefer a benzoyl peroxide-based cleanse, we recommend Differin's Daily Deep Cleaner. The BP (benzoyl peroxide) helps kill acne-causing bacteria before it has a chance to wreak havoc.
What to Look For In an Acne Face Wash
According to Chimento, this popular acne-fighter is worth seeking out. It’s a beta-hydroxy acid or BHA, that’s ideal for helping to unblock clogged pores, a key component of acne, she explains. It’s a perfect choice if blackheads and/or whiteheads characterize your acne.
On the flip side, this common ingredient is great for those who are battling bacterial acne, says Chimento. (This type of acne is generally characterized by red, inflamed pimples.)
By nature, many anti-acne ingredients can be fairly intense and harsh for the skin. Chimento says it’s a good idea to seek out washes that also contain some calming or soothing ingredients, think aloe vera or chamomile, to ward off the potential for irritation.