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Best Face Washes for Acne Prone Skin, According to Experts

Best Face Washes for Acne
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Updated January 23, 2024

We like to think of acne as an unfortunate side effect of going through puberty, but for many people, this skin condition extends well into adulthood. The good news: There are plenty of skin care products available at a variety of price points that can help you fight every type of acne with minimal effort. Read on to discover the best face washes for acne, according to dermatologists and estheticians.

What to consider when buying face wash for acne

Before you choose an acne face wash, consider these factors.

Skin type

“I would definitely take into consideration the skin type when it comes to choosing a face wash in general, but especially a face wash for acne,” says dermatologist Mamina Turegano, MD, FAAD. “Oily skin is usually the most common skin type that we see with acne, however, we still can see people with dry or combination skin. Cleanser types usually cater to different skin types.” Turegano adds that for oily skin, she recommends a gel or foam-based cleanser or a cleanser with active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. “For dry or sensitive skin, I recommend using a more hydrating or cream-based cleanser,” she adds.

Type of acne

There are different types of acne, from whiteheads to cystic acne. “Using ingredients that do not address the kind of acne you are currently experiencing can lead to the worsening of acne breakouts,” explains board-certified NYC cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD. The most common acne-fighting ingredients in face washes are glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide. “Glycolic is an alpha hydroxy acid, and salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid. Both ingredients are oil-soluble and gently exfoliate the skin by breaking up clogged sebum and debris within pores,” explains Dr. Green. “These hydroxy acids work best for comedonal acne, commonly known as whiteheads and blackheads. Alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, are typically gentler on the skin compared to beta hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid.” Benzoyl peroxide, meanwhile, is better for more intense breakouts. “Benzoyl peroxide is best for treating inflamed acne types such as papules and pustules,” says Green. “Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria on the skin and dries up excess sebum in the pores.”

Skincare motivation

Are you someone who has an extended regimen and enjoys using the latest skin care tools and multiple products, such as LED masks and eye creams or would you rather use one and then be done? Your preference when it comes to your regimen and how motivated you are to work on your skin may play a role in your product choice. “If they’re willing to wash their face, but not really willing to use other skincare products [I see this more in male teenagers], for example, then I will recommend a face wash that has more anti-acne active ingredients,” Turegano explains. But for someone who is using other serums or creams or getting a beauty subscription box every month, a gentle cleanser may be all that’s needed.

Our top picks for best face wash for acne

Best acne face wash for oily skin: Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser

“Someone with oily skin would benefit from an acne face wash containing glycolic or salicylic acid,” says Green. “These hydroxy acids break apart excess oil and debris from the skin's surface to clear clogged pores and reduce oil production. The Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser from Paula's Choice is an excellent acne face wash containing salicylic acid to cleanse the skin of pore-clogging impurities.” Shopping tip: Paula’s Choice made our lists for the best night creams and best creams for eczema.

Specifications:

  • Size: 1 fl. oz. or 6 fl. oz.
  • Skin Type: oily, normal, dry, combination
  • Cleanser Type: gel
  • Key Ingredients: salicylic acid, glycerin, panthenol
  • Price at Publish: $5 for 1 fl. oz., $15 for 6 fl. oz.

What we like:

  • Gel-based cleanser also removes makeup and debris while fighting acne
  • Very inexpensive

What we don’t like:

  • Some reviewers found it too drying

The bottom line:

A gentle and effective face wash for people with oily skin and active acne.

Best acne face wash for oily skin
Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser

Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser

Best acne face wash for dry skin: Differin Daily Oil-Free Hydrating Cleanser

“Someone with dry skin should look for hydrating ingredients such as niacinamide and ceramides that work to restore and retain moisture in the skin,” says Green. “The Daily Oil-Free Hydrating Cleanser from Differin is excellent for those with dry skin, containing niacinamide and glycerin to repair and maintain the skin's natural moisture barrier. Its formulation also contains glycolic acid and mandelic acid, a polyhydroxy acid, to gently exfoliate the skin and dissolve pore-clogging impurities.” That said, for some people with dry skin, acne face wash is too drying. If this is the case, Turegano recommends using a gentle, cream-based cleanser without any active acne-fighting ingredients and using other products for that.

Specifications:

  • Size: 6 fl. oz.
  • Skin Type: dry, combination, oily
  • Cleanser Type: gel
  • Key Ingredients: glycerin, niacinamide, glycolic acid
  • Price at Publish: $18

What we like:

  • Polyhydroxy acids and amino acids cleanse without drying out skin
  • Reviewers like the light, soft texture

What we don’t like:

  • The scent isn’t anything to write home about

The bottom line:

An acne-fighting face wash that’s gentle enough for dry skin without making dryness worse.

Best acne face wash for dry skin
Differin Daily Oil-Free Hydrating Cleanser, 6 oz | CVS

Differin Daily Oil-Free Hydrating Cleanser, 6 oz | CVS

Best acne face wash for cystic acne: CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

“Cystic acne can be the most finicky type of breakout to treat. It requires somewhat of a delicate balance, as you want to tread lightly with stimulation while also utilizing effective actives,” explains Jordan Samuel Pacitti, an esteemed esthetician and founder and CEO of Jordan Samuel Skin. “One thing to note when it comes to cystic breakouts is that you should avoid anything in your routine that might add an element of mechanical friction, as it can irritate the skin and exacerbate the condition. This means that those suffering from cystic acne will want to choose a cleanser that can be rinsed off without the need of a washcloth.” Turegano’s pick is this foaming face wash from CeraVe featuring powerful benzoyl peroxide.

Specifications:

  • Size: 5 fl. oz.
  • Skin Type: all
  • Cleanser Type: cream
  • Key Ingredients: benzoyl peroxide, hyaluronic acid
  • Price at Publish: $19

What we like:

  • Clears acne and is suited for all skin types
  • Formulated without common irritants and fragrance- and paraben-free

What we don’t like:

  • Some reviewers were disappointed with how little it foams while washing

The bottom line:

An inexpensive, effective and easy-to-find solution for cystic acne.

Best acne face wash for cystic acne
Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser | Acne Treatment Face Wash with 4% Benzoyl Peroxide Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide | Cream to Foam Formula | 5 Oz

Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser | Acne Treatment Face Wash with 4% Benzoyl Peroxide Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide | Cream to Foam Formula | 5 Oz

Best acne face wash for sensitive skin: Versed Keep the Peace Acne-Calming Cream Cleanser

For people with sensitive skin, there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting an acne face wash. First is the direction your skin type trends. “Sensitive skin will have an element of oiliness or dryness to take into consideration, which can fluctuate according to seasonal, environmental, and other factors. It is important to know in which direction your skin’s current condition is leaning in order to choose the best cleanser,” says Pacitti. The second is to look for ingredients that will calm inflammation, such as antioxidants or colloidal oats. “This Versed cleanser contains salicylic acid to remove and reduce excess oil from the skin, along with blue tansy, a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredient that works to calm inflamed and irritated skin,” says Green.

Specifications:

  • Size: 4 fl. oz.
  • Skin Type: all
  • Cleanser Type: cream
  • Key Ingredients: salicylic acid, blue tansy
  • Price at Publish: $18

What we like:

  • The blue tansy gives the cleanser a fun blue hue
  • No parabens, silicones or sulfates

What we don’t like:

  • Some reviewers don’t love the scent
  • And here.

The bottom line:

Natural ingredients like blue tansy and apple extract calm inflammation and redness in people with sensitive skin.

Best acne face wash for sensitive skin
Keep The Peace

Best acne face wash for acne scars: Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser

“Someone with acne scars should look for alpha and beta hydroxy acids in an acne face wash,” suggests Green. “Not only do these ingredients exfoliate oil and debris from the skin's surface, but they also increase cell turnover rate, allowing for dead and pigmented skin cells to be sloughed off and replaced by new, healthy skin cells.” Both Green and Turegano recommend this gel cleanser from Glytone to do the job. And if you’re really struggling to get rid of scarring, Pacitti suggests adding a leave-on product, such as a night cream, to your routine. “I recommend looking for leave-on products with active ingredients, such as retinols, salicylic acid, alpha arbutin, and glycolic acid, to name a few,” he says.

Specifications:

  • Size: 6.7 fl. oz.
  • Skin Type: combination, normal, oily
  • Cleanser Type: gel
  • Key Ingredients: alpha-hydroxy acids, glycolic acids
  • Price at Publish: $36

What we like:

  • Gently exfoliates without drying out the skin
  • Free of parabens

What we don’t like:

  • Pricier than our other picks

The bottom line:

A gently exfoliating face wash that’s a great first step toward treating acne scarring.

Best acne face wash for acne scars
Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser - Exfoliating Face Wash for Normal to Combination Skin - With 4.7% Pure Glycolic Acid - Vegan & Fragrance-Free - 6.7 fl. oz.

Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser - Exfoliating Face Wash for Normal to Combination Skin - With 4.7% Pure Glycolic Acid - Vegan & Fragrance-Free - 6.7 fl. oz.

Best acne face wash for teens: Naturium Benzoyl Peroxide Cream Cleanser

The experts I spoke to agree that they wouldn’t recommend different acne face washes for teenagers than adults simply because of their age. “While adult acne may appear differently than teenage acne, the treatments are the same, as the underlying process of acne is the same,” explains Green. One inexpensive and effective cleanser for teens is this one from Naturium, one of Pacitti’s favorite brands, which features benzoyl peroxide for getting rid of breakouts.

Specifications:

  • Size: 5 fl. oz.
  • Skin Type: all
  • Cleanser Type: cream
  • Key Ingredients: benzoyl peroxide, N-acetyl glucosamine
  • Price at Publish: $18

What we like:

  • Unclogs pores, fights bacteria, and keeps new breakouts from forming
  • Cruelty-free, paraben-free and fragrance-free

What we don’t like:

  • Reviewers say the consistency is a little thin and runny

The bottom line:

A fragrance-free cleanser that works in multiple ways to fight acne.

Best acne face wash for teens
Naturium Benzoyl Peroxide Cream Cleanser 5%, Gentle Blemish Treatment for Face, 5 oz

Naturium Benzoyl Peroxide Cream Cleanser 5%, Gentle Blemish Treatment for Face, 5 oz

Best budget acne face wash: PanOxyl Creamy Wash 4% Benzoyl Peroxide Daily Control

PanOxyl is one of Turegano’s favorite budget skincare brands, and this cream-based face wash featuring acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide is no exception. It also comes in a 10% benzoyl peroxide formulation if you need something stronger. Tip: As with any product with benzoyl peroxide, be aware that it can potentially discolor towels.

Specifications:

  • Size: 6 fl. oz.
  • Skin Type: all
  • Cleanser Type: cream
  • Key Ingredients: benzoyl peroxide, glycerin
  • Price at Publish: $12

What we like:

  • Clears acne and prevents new breakouts from forming
  • Formulated without common allergens or irritants

What we don’t like:

  • Claims to be for all skin types, but folks with sensitive skin might want to steer clear

The bottom line:

A hard-working acne face wash that won’t break the bank.

Best budget acne face wash
PanOxyl Creamy Wash 4% Benzoyl Peroxide Daily Control Deep Cleaning Wash for Acne, 6 oz | CVS

PanOxyl Creamy Wash 4% Benzoyl Peroxide Daily Control Deep Cleaning Wash for Acne, 6 oz | CVS

How I selected the best face wash for acne

To select the best acne face washes, I consulted with top dermatologists and estheticians who have spent years working with people with all different types of acne to get their picks for the best products available. I also took into account price as well as whether people would be able to find the products at drugstores in addition to online.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How does acne face wash work?

The way an acne face wash works to fight acne is going to depend on the main acne-fighting ingredient in the product. Glycolic acid and salicylic acid both work to exfoliate the skin, remove dead skin cells, and dive under the pore lining to keep the pores clean, explains Pacitti. “As an anti-bacterial, benzoyl peroxide works to target the bacteria associated with acne and can also aid in treating active breakouts by helping to reduce inflammation,” he adds.

What’s the best way to use face wash for acne?

How often you can use your acne face wash will depend on your skin type and the active ingredients in the product, says Turegano. “It’s possible that an acne specific face wash can be used daily. Many people can tolerate a salicylic acid face wash daily if they have oily or acne-prone skin and are not using a whole bunch of other anti-acne products. Benzoyl peroxide washes come in different strengths. A low strength, benzoyl peroxide (under 5%) can potentially be used daily.” For people with dry or sensitive skin, Turegano recommends using acne face wash just a few times per week. “And then for people who wear makeup, I definitely recommend first cleansing with an oil-based cleanser,” to remove makeup, sunscreen, and tinted moisturizer, she adds. “Then follow that with your typical cleanser, which may be an anti-acne cleanser.”

What is the most dermatologist recommended face wash for acne?

While lots of acne face washes will come with a dermatologist’s stamp of approval, the only one who really matters is your own dermatologist. This person will know your skin best and what will work best for you. That said, both dermatologists I spoke to recommend PanOxyl and CeraVe, while in addition to the brands and products above, Turegano is also a fan of La Roche-Posay and Neutrogena.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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