The Best Face Washes for Acne
Acne is one of the most common (and troubling!) skin conditions that many people face during puberty and, with adult-onset acne, it seems we are not off the hook once we get older and wiser either. Whether you experience regular breakouts or suffer from ongoing cystic acne, you’re certainly not alone! Most of us have, at some point, experienced the frustration that goes into treating acne. From trialing creams, spot treatments, and face masks, there are so many products on the market to help us with the treatment of acne.
Cleansers are a vital foundation to any good skincare routine and can be so easily overlooked. Finding a good cleanser is essential to clear away grime, unclog pores, and reduce the risk of bacterial infections. Many factors play key roles in selecting a face wash for acne-prone skin and we understand how overwhelming it can be when on the hunt for your perfect match. So, we’ve gone ahead and found the best face cleansers on the market to help make your search just a little bit easier.
1. Blu Atlas Volcanic Ash Face Cleanser
Blu Atlas’s Volcanic Ash Face Cleanser is designed to meticulously exfoliate our skin, removing daily grime and build-up for a deep and refreshing clean.
Formulated free from synthetic dyes and preservatives, Blu Atlas has formulated their Volcanic Ash Face Cleanser without the need for harmful parabens, phthalates, or sulfates. It is made from naturally sourced ingredients including plants, fruit, and minerals, making it certified vegan and cruelty-free.
The star ingredient, volcanic ash (also known as bentonite), has been gaining traction as an ingredient for its highly absorbent nature. This makes it great to mop up extra oil as well as helping to detoxify the skin and reducing the appearance of pores. Lactobacillus ferment filtrate has been included to soothe irritation and strengthen our skin’s natural defense mechanisms. Some recent research has also shown promise in its contribution to healthy skin flora. Pomegranate seed oil– rich in vitamins A, C, and K, protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids– is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This supports inflamed acne-prone skin and helps to keep skin plump and youthful.
Blu Atlas’s Volcanic Ash Face Cleanser is suitable for all skin types, from dry to oily. This means it is a great option for those of us that have the occasional pesky pimple, as well as those that suffer from more regular or insistent acne. For squeaky clean skin that doesn’t feel stripped of moisture, apply this cleanser in a circular motion over the face and neck to gently scrub and exfoliate skin before rinsing off.
2. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Deep-Cleansing Foaming Facial Cleanser
The La Roche-Posay Effaclar Foaming Cleanser has been designed specifically for oily and acne-prone skin. It works hard to deeply cleanse the skin of oil whilst leaving pores unclogged and visibly tighter.
The La Roche-Posay Effaclar Foaming Cleanser has been formulated with salicylic acid as its key ingredient. This functions to thoroughly exfoliate away dead skin cells, control oiliness and increase cell turnover. Increased cell renewal reveals brighter skin and aids in the healing of cystic acne. The cleanser has added glycerin to counteract the potential drying effect of exfoliating acids.
Free from parabens, added oils, and drying alcohols, La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar cleanser has been formulated with sensitive skin in mind. Honoring our skin’s natural pH, it has been dermatologically tested to have a low chance of flaring up allergies or causing reactions.
3. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
This tried and true drugstore cleanser has been on the market for quite some time. However, when it comes to acne washes, it stands its ground and comes recommended by dermatologists. This sees it very much deserving of its place near the top of our list of the best face washes for acne. The Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash features salicylic acid to break down dead skin cells, remove excess oil, and unclog pores. Designed for oily skin and aiming to help fight acne, including whiteheads and blackheads, the face wash is formulated free of added oils to prevent buildup and future breakouts.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash is designed to be used twice daily to leave skin visibly clearer within one week.
4. EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser
The EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser is tailored for dry sensitive skin, making it a great option for acne-prone skin types that don’t tolerate stronger treatments well. Formulated free of oil the cleanser is gentle for daily use, morning and evening, leaving skin clean and fresh.
The EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser has steered away from more harsh active ingredients, such as peroxide and salicylic acid, which can strip our natural oils and leave skin dry and irritated. Instead, the cleanser uses bromelain, an enzyme naturally found in pineapples. Bromelain works as an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling, redness, and the appearance of acne. The enzyme works well into a lather to leave skin smooth and gently exfoliated. Apple amino acids have also been included in the EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser for their hydrating effect on sensitive skin.
EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser is pH balanced to ensure skin is functioning at its best. It is formulated vegan and free of parabens to ensure we’re only absorbing the good stuff!
5. Derma-E Vitamin C Daily Brightening Cleanser
The Derma-E Vitamin C Daily Brightening Cleanser is designed to be gentle on all skin types whilst targeting pigmented or uneven skin tones, making it a great option for combating acne scarring. Once those pesky pimples have settled, we are often left with discoloration or deeper scarring. This Derma-E cleanser is designed to brighten skin and reduce the appearance of this redness or discoloration.
The sulfate-free cleanser works naturally to remove dirt, oil, makeup, and buildup; without the need for stripping chemicals. The Derma-E cleanser is focused on Vitamin C for its ability to enhance a glowing complexion while reducing the appearance of uneven skin tone, fine lines, and wrinkles – all of which contribute to signs of aging. The Derma-E Vitamin C Daily Brightening Cleanser has been shown to boost radiance and brighten skin by up to 82%.
Derma-E has added licorice extract and green tea to the ingredients list of this cleanser which are both potent sources of antioxidants. These provide protection against damaging free radicals, further targeting dull and inflamed skin. Glycolic acid and provitamin B5 have been added to hydrate and nourish skin whilst aiding in evening out skin tone.
The Derma-E Vitamin C Daily Brightening Cleanser has combined powerful vegan ingredients to create a powerhouse for lackluster, hyperpigmented, or uneven skin tones. When incorporated into our skincare regime it leaves skin plump and renewed, ready to battle against scarring or whatever the day has to bring.
6. PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash is a high-strength acne wash, designed to tackle even the worst of breakouts. Formulated with 10% Benzoyl Peroxide, the highest concentration available without a prescription, the powerful cleanser works fast and effectively. Benzoyl Peroxide works to kill acne-causing germs on the surface of the skin, whilst exfoliating the top layer of skin, reducing inflammation, and unclogging pores. PanOxyl’s high-strength formula has been designed to kill over 99% of acne-causing bacteria within 15 seconds of use to effectively break the acne cycle, clearing existing breakouts and preventing future spots.
The heavy-duty formula has included moisturizers to prevent excessive drying of the skin. The cleanser can also be used on your body, making it a great multi-purpose product for those struggling with more generalized acne flare-ups. To really hit acne where it hurts, PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash acts hard and fast to clear your skin and keep it that way.
7. CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
The CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream cleanser has been developed alongside dermatologists to target active acne spots and prevent future breakouts. Formulated with 4% Benzoyl Peroxide, the cleanser provides antimicrobial and acne-clearing benefits, without being as drying or irritating to the skin as products containing higher concentrations of the active ingredient.
The CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser formula has included three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide. These work in harmony to calm and hydrate our skin, maintaining a healthy skin defense barrier against environmental pollutants whilst leaving skin soft and comfortable.
The CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser is a great choice for those of us with more sensitive skin that want to utilize the power of Benzoyl Peroxide. Starting with a once-daily application can be helpful to allow our skin to adjust and prevent excessive drying. Frequency of use can then be increased to twice daily if desired, and if well tolerated by your skin.
8. Cetaphil Gentle Clear Clarifying Acne Cream Cleanser
The Cetaphil Gentle Clear Clarifying Acne Cream Cleanser has been designed to gently but thoroughly cleanse our skin, making it a great option for sensitive acne-prone skin. The cream-to-lather product goes on smoothly and foams well for a satisfying clean. Formulated with action-packed salicylic acid, this Cetaphil Gentle Clear Cleanser exfoliates our skin and immediately targets problem spots– including acne blemishes, blackheads, and whiteheads. The cleanser is well balanced with aloe vera and white tea extract to soothe and hydrate skin, preventing irritation or overdrying.
The Cetaphil Gentle Clear Clarifying Acne Cream Cleanser is fragrance-free to avoid irritation or blocking of pores. It has been dermatologically tested and certified hypoallergenic which endorses its gentle nature and protects against the five signs of skin sensitivity (including dryness, irritation, roughness, tightness, and a weakened skin barrier).
9. InstaNatural Glycolic Cleanser
The InstaNatural Glycolic Cleanser is a clean glycolic acid cleanser, designed to exfoliate skin and maintain healthy cellular turnover. Produced free of parabens, sulfates, synthetic dyes, and other nasties, InstaNatural Glycolic Cleanser is great for more sensitive skin. It is packed with naturally derived ingredients, making it non-irritating and low in allergens.
Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and has become widely recognized for its anti-acne and anti-aging effects. InstaNatural has utilized botanicals such as Willow Bark, Cucumber Extract, Chamomile Extract, and Green Tea Extract to calm inflamed skin, protect against free radical damage, and enhance the effects of glycolic acid. These natural ingredients have been balanced to effectively minimize fine lines and smooth out discoloration, leaving skin with a bright and refined complexion.
10. Ren ClearCalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser
The Ren ClearCalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser has been inspired by clay masks to draw impurities from the skin and fight blemishes. It is a great product for pimple-prone skin as it’s designed to rebalance oil levels as well as detoxify from environmental pollution, dirt, and dead skin cells to leave us with a fresh face.
The non-foaming vegan formula starts with a base of kaolin clay to absorb excess oil and draw out toxins from the skin. Willow bark extract has been added to exfoliate the skin’s surface, as well as reduce inflammation and the appearance of pores for an anti-aging effect. Willow bark extract has become known as a natural and more gentle alternative to salicylic acid, making it a suitable ingredient for sensitive skin.
The Ren ClearCalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser has recently been reintroduced to the market using Post-Consumer Recycled packaging– a part of the brand’s ‘Zero Waste by 2021’ Pledge. The cruelty-free product has been designed to be non-drying on our skin, making it a suitable option for all skin types.
11. Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
Designed with maximizing exfoliation in mind, the Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser optimizes both chemical and physical exfoliation methods to leave skin smooth and fresh. The creamy cleanser works to revitalize dull and lackluster skin and increase cell replenishment, making it great for healing acne scars or pigmentation. It really packs a punch when it comes to giving skin the freshen-up that it needs.
The Murad Cleanser combines three key exfoliation methods in order to remove dead skin cells and grime which may clog pores. The exfoliants also work to leave hydration channels open for a full and plump look to the skin. AHA acids including salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids provide chemical exfoliation while biodegradable jojoba beads gently scrub the skin. Sodium PCA is included to enhance our skin’s ability to attract and retain moisture. The combined effects of these active ingredients leave skin ready to absorb and maximize any complementary moisturizers, serums, and toners.
It is recommended to incorporate the Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser into your routine two to three times per week to start seeing clearer, softer, and more glowing skin!
12. Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam
This cleansing foam has been developed by Clinique as part of their Acne Solutions range. The cleanser is medicated with 2% salicylic acid to unclog pores and wash away active breakouts for clearer and healthier-looking skin. Designed to calm inflammation and redness, Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam also acts to stop further unwanted zits from rearing their heads.
The addition of laminaria saccharina extract helps to reduce excessive oil buildup which often precedes breakouts. The Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam has also been infused with caffeine, sucrose, sea whip extract, and kola nut extract to keep skin happy. Clinique has stayed away from irritating parabens, phthalates, and fragrances. It foams well from the pump packaging, without the need for drying sulfates, making it appropriate for the full range of dry to oily skin types struggling with pesky breakouts.
13. Alpyn Beauty Creamy Bubbling Cleanser with Fruit Extract & AHAs
This creamy cleanser glides over skin like a dream to effectively remove the day’s buildup, without leaving skin tight or uncomfortable. The Alpyn Beauty Creamy Bubbling Cleanser penetrates well into pores to leave skin clean, bright, and with weightless hydration.
Papaya and pomegranate enzymes have been utilized in the Alpyn Beauty formula to naturally exfoliate and decongest clogged pores. AHAs (including glycolic and lactic acids) have been included to leave skin smooth and bright whilst added vitamin C gives the skin a boost of antioxidants for a bright complexion. Hyaluronic acid balances our skin’s delicate moisture barrier to keep hydration locked in and environmental pollution out.
The Alpyn Beauty Creamy Bubbling Cleanser has been formulated vegan and free of harmful parabens, phthalates, sulfates, fragrances, and other synthetic nasties.
14. Biore Charcoal Acne Cleanser
Kick acne to the curb with the Biore Charcoal Acne Cleanser. Designed for daily use, the product deeply penetrates into pores to absorb excess oil and leave skin clear and confident.
The oil-free formula combines the cleansing power of charcoal with salicylic acid to zap zits and purify skin, giving you a break from future breakouts. Designed for oily skin, the Biore Charcoal Acne Cleanser is dermatologically tested and helps to reduce acne and see visibly clearer skin in as little as 2 days!
Frequently asked questions
Why is it important to find a good face cleanser?
Face cleansers are essential in any skincare routine, however, they are even more vital for acne-prone skin. They act to clean off excess oils, debris, makeup, and dead skin cells which can clog pores and lead to breakouts. They also help to support optimal skin pH and cleanse our skin of bacteria and other germs.
We recommend looking for non-comedogenic formulas which are designed to not settle into pores, making skin less likely to become irritated. Hypoallergenic formulas are also great as they are designed to be low in allergies and least likely to cause skin reactions.
What are the issues when finding a face wash for acne-prone skin?
It is important to remember everyone’s skin is different and has its own wants and needs. A lot of acne stems from oily skin types and blocked pores. Because of this, many formulas have been designed to remove oil and deeply cleanse the pores of our skin. This is great for very oily skin, or skin prone to more cystic acne. However, dry or more sensitive skin will likely suffer from these stronger treatments and often cope better with more gentle cleansers. It is also a good idea to look for added hydrating ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, to help replenish drier skin.
How do you get the most out of your face wash?
Whenever you are trialing a new cleanser for acne concerns it is recommended to wait at least four weeks before jumping to any conclusions on its efficacy. This allows enough consistent time for your skin to adjust to the product and for you to recognize visible effects.
It is best to use facial cleansers no more than twice daily to keep oil and build-up at bay. Over-cleansing can strip the skin of its natural oil barrier, leaving it dry and at higher risk of environmental damage. If you’ve exercised or become sweaty over the day, use fresh water (or a very light cleanser) as soon as possible before sweat dries to avoid acne flare-ups.
What do you need to consider when looking for a face wash?
There are four main skin types. Understanding your own skin type is essential when finding the right skin cleanser for you!
- Oily skin is a result of overactive oil glands within the skin. Excess oil production often causes pores to look enlarged and our faces to look greasy (especially across the forehead, down the nose, and over the chin). Oily skin types are more prone to acne, including whiteheads and blackheads.
- Dry skin often feels tight and lacks the elasticity of other skin types. Skin may flake, chap, or wrinkle; making it more prone to itchiness and irritation.
- Normal skin is considered well-balanced, neither feeling oil nor dry to the touch. Normal skin types are less likely to experience skin issues, such as acne.
- Combination skin occurs when skin differs between oil and dry over different areas of the face. Skin is typically greasier in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) – making breakouts in these areas more common. Skin around the mouth, eyes, and cheeks is usually either normal or dry.
The easiest way to determine your skin type at home is to wash your face with a gentle cleanser, wait 30 minutes, then assess for areas that appear shiny/greasy, dry/flakey, or if skin is hydrated and comfortable. Alternatively, a blotting sheet (designed to pick up excess oil from your skin) can be used 30 minutes after cleansing to assess oil build-up.
Generally, only one main active ingredient is found in each product and can help select which products to try based on what active ingredient agrees best with your skin. Bear in mind however that for sensitive skin a cleanser not including one of these stronger active ingredients may be best. Here are some of the most common you will see on product labels.
- Salicylic acid: great for the exfoliation of dead skin and debris, salicylic acid is one of the most common ingredients found in face washes for acne. Solutions are generally available over-the-counter in up to 2% concentrations.
- Benzoyl peroxide: added to formulas for its ability to exfoliate skin, whilst reducing oil build-up, fighting acne-causing bacteria, and encouraging the renewal of fresh skin cells. Products containing benzoyl peroxide are available in up to 10% concentrations over-the-counter.
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): such as glycolic acid, this group of acids may sound scary but have become well known for their ability to brighten our skin whilst helping to even out skin texture and pigmentation. They do not tend to be as strong or drying to the skin as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
What ingredients should I avoid when looking for an acne-safe product?
Sulfates are common in many skin care products. They act to help products foam and form a nice lather. However, sulfates can be very aggressive on the skin and wash away the skin’s natural protective oils, leaving skin stripped and more prone to blocked pores. Heavy fragrances can also clog pores, leaving them enlarged and contributing to breakouts.
What are the different types of facial cleansers?
- Gel cleansers are often quite transparent and have a jelly-like feel. They generally have a lightweight feel on the skin and are great at cleansing deep into pores and lathering up to thoroughly remove makeup and built-up grime at the end of the day. Gels often leave the skin feeling fresh and clean and are great for all skin types.
- Foam cleansers often come in packaging incorporating a pump and lather well on skin to cleanse effectively. The foaming feel is often desirable as it feels luxurious to use and gives the feel of a deep clean. Many contain sulfates to provide the foaming effect, which may be too drying for more sensitive skin types.
- Cream cleansers are deeply moisturizing and heavier on the skin, making them most suited for drier skin types. They work well for removing waterproof or full-coverage makeup and may even require wiping off with a damp cloth. Cream face cleansers have the potential to clog pores or exacerbate oily skin types.
- Cleansing oils are a great option for removing makeup, or double cleansing (where used to remove the bulk of build-up before being followed with another cleanser). They work well to adhere to facial oils and remove them whilst protecting your skin and leaving it nourished. Cleansing oils work well when incorporated with other cleansers, however, can be too heavy for some skin types.