- The best acne face wash should be low-pH, sulfate-free, with active ingredients, such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide.
- Consider your skin type when choosing a cleanser for acne-prone skin.
- Gentle cleansing is key for your acne-prone skin.
Face wash alone might not cure your acne, but it can have a respectable part in controlling it, along with a full anti-acne skincare routine and sometimes some medical attention. What is certain is that the wrong facial cleanser can absolutely make things worse, so it is key that you use the best acne face wash for your skin type.
We’ve selected the 25 best cleansers for acne-prone skin. Since we know acne can affect anyone, we’ve made it easy to choose by categorizing the cleansers by skin type. We’ll help you learn which features and ingredients to look for in a face wash for acne, with both general tips and ones curated for the different skin types. To finish things off, it’s important you use your acne face wash properly, so we’ve included a comprehensive guide to cleansing.
In this article:
- Best Acne Face Washes for Oily Skin
- Best Acne Face Washes for Dry Skin
- Best Acne Face Washes for Combination Skin
- Best Acne Face Washes for Normal Skin
- Best Acne Face Washes for Sensitive Skin
- Features to Look for
- How to Wash Acne-Prone Skin?
5 Best Acne Face Washes for Oily Skin
If you are dealing with both oiliness and breakouts, the best acne face wash will be gentle and balancing for your skin, like any one of the following.
1. SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel
This gel-based acne face wash gives the skin a thorough cleanse while also helping to decongest it thoroughly. It is made with a combination of chemical exfoliants, including the well-known glycolic and salicylic acids, as well as the gentle salicylic acid-derivative LHA (lipohydroxy acid).
While it does contain SLES, which we normally suggest avoiding, it’s combined here with gentler surfactants so they can form large, non-skin-penetrating clusters that totally mitigate its potential to irritate the skin. If your oily skin is hearty and thick, and your main type of acne is clogged pores near the surface of the skin as well as texture or post-acne scarring, this is the best acne face wash for you to try. Get it from Dermstore!
2. iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
If your skin is oily but also a touch more sensitive, this will be the best cleanser for acne for you. It is a sulfate-free, gel cleanser formula that is rich in skin-soothing and balancing extracts. It features one of our favorite anti-inflammatories, white willow barkextract, along with other soothing agents like centella asiatica components and chamomile.
It also features a touch of vitamins A and C to give antioxidant effects and to help renew your acne-prone skin to speed up the turnover to newer, smoother skin. This acne face wash is available on Dermstore and Amazon.
3. Obagi CLENZIderm M.D. Daily Care Foaming Cleanser
This light and cooling cleanser is a phenomenal face wash for acne-prone skin, helping to both treat and prevent active breakouts. It features 2% salicylic acid, which is great for cutting through oils and exfoliating within the pores and might also help control the acne bacteria.
There is also menthol in the blend, which has a mild anesthetic effect, which can feel great when your acne is a little more painful, though it might be an issue if you have general sensitivities. Order it from Dermstore or Amazon!
4. Dermalogica Active Clearing Skin Wash
This foaming face gel from Dermalogica is another winning acne face wash, with a blend of both soothing and decongesting ingredients. There is salicylic acid in here, at 0.5%, along with a whole range of skin-soothing ingredients to minimize active inflammation like oat extract, licorice root extract, and camphor. It does feature some essential oils like tea tree and eucalyptus, which are known for their antimicrobial effects but may also cause a touch of irritation for some. It’s sold online through Dermstore and Amazon.
5. Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Cleanser Acne Treatment
If the typical acne treatments haven’t helped your skin, it might be time to try a sulfur-based face wash for acne-prone skin. This cleanser comes out of the tube creamy, but it lathers into a nice foam that removes excess oils and impurities from the skin easily. It fights acne with sulfur, but also includes natural soothing agents like honey, rice bran, and oats to reduce redness and swelling. Since it is medicated, it’s important to avoid using it around the eyes. Find it at Sephora!
5 Best Acne Face Washes for Dry Skin
Even those with dry skin can experience acne, so we’ve selected the best cleansers for acne that will also keep your skin hydrated and soft.
1. Jan Marini Bioglycolic Face Cleanser
When it comes to dry yet acne-prone skin, AHA is the best exfoliant since it thoroughly resurfaces and eliminates damage while also pulling moisture into the skin. This acne face wash includes a whopping 10% of glycolic acid, which is enough for a thorough exfoliation – if your skin is thinner, it might be better as a weekly cleanser instead of a daily cleanser, to avoid over-exfoliation.
It has a light, lotion texture that is great for melting down makeup and impurities without drying out the skin and even includes humectant sorbitol. As a bonus, we love that it’s fragrance-free. Order it online from Dermstore!
2. Skinfix Barrier+ Foaming Oil Cleanser
An oil cleanser might be exactly the best acne face wash for dry and flakey skin. It removes all of those pore-clogging debris while also loosening dead skin build-up, but without drying the skin out even a touch. Despite being an oil cleanser, this formula is still made with some surfactants, so it foams up and rinses away clean. It’s pH balanced in order to make the skin inhospitable to the acne bacteria, and it plays nicely even with a more aggressive anti-acne routine. You can buy it at Sephora.
3. Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Cream Cleanser
This is a powerful acne face wash with a very creamy formula, and while it might be too intense for some, for others, it can be miraculous. It’s a medicated cream cleanser made with 10% benzoyl peroxide, which is one of the most effective over-the-counter acne treatments, helping to target bacteria, inflammation, and dead skin build-up in the pores. The reason we like it for dry skin is that otherwise, the formula is super emollient with occlusive petrolatum and hydrating glycerin. Pick it up from Ulta!
4. Differin Daily Deep Cleanser Sensitive Skin Formula
This dermatologist-developed acne face wash has a formula reinforced by 5% benzoyl peroxide to cleanse the skin and target acne without stripping the skin of moisture. Even though it is a gel cleanser, it is quite light and hydrating thanks to a high content of glycerin and a very gentle blend of cleansing surfactants. Use it to melt everything, from sunscreen to makeup to daily debris, but avoid using it around the eyes. It is sold on Amazon.
5. Truly CBD Jelly Anti Acne Facial Cleanser
This cleanser is an oil-gel hybrid that acts as one of the best acne face washes for those with dry skin that is also inflamed or irritated, whether because of acne or sensitivity. The star ingredient here is CBD, which can help reduce breakouts topically by soothing the skin. It also includes pore-unclogging salicylic acid and microbe-fighting tea tree oil to help with breakouts in a comprehensive manner. The botanical oil blend in here keeps the skin soft and supple and never dries it out. You can find it at Ulta.
5 Best Acne Face Washes for Combination Skin
The best acne face wash for those with combination skin needs to maintain balance and harmony while targeting both dry and oily parts of the skin. These are our favorite balancing facial cleansers.
1. PCA Skin BPO 5 Percent Cleanser
If you have combination skin and were curious about introducing benzoyl peroxide into your routine, this 5% BP acne face wash is one potentially great way to go about it. Despite the strong and potentially drying active, this formula is still quite nourishing. It will quench the dry parts of your skin with ingredients like gluconolactone, glycerin, and aloe, while jojoba oil and gentle surfactants prevent dehydration. Get it from Dermstore!
2. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Deep Cleansing Foaming Cream
Creamy yet refining, this is the perfect cleanser for maintaining the balance and clarity of combination yet acne-prone skin. The rich formula slips and slides over the skin to thoroughly break down all impurities in the gentlest manner possible. It helps to smooth and clear the pores with salicylic acid, and in the end, it rinses away completely with water. Salicylic acid isn’t necessarily bad for the eye area but do practice caution. It’s available through Dermstore.
3. Image Skincare Clear Cell Salicylic Gel Cleanser
If you prefer a gel cleanser, this 2% salicylic acid-based one is definitely worth trying. It penetrates through sebum build-up to clear out pores and speed up the healing of blemishes, while also relying on gentle detergents to eliminate excess oils to get combination skin to feel balanced. Glycerin keeps dry parts of the skin hydrated, while tea tree oil suppresses the acne bacteria. Shop it on Amazon!
4. Glo Skin Beauty Purifying Gel Cleanser
This is another great salicylic acid-based acne face wash to try, with a purifying gel formula reinforced by the moisturizing touch of shea butter, which prevents dryness. There is also niacinamide in here, which is knowns for its ability to simultaneously prevent water loss while also reducing oil production and breakouts in the skin. It’s perfectly balanced, so grab it from Dermstore.
5. Paula’s Choice Resist Perfectly Balanced Foaming Cleanser
If your combination skin is a little bit irritated or is a little dehydration-prone, this is the best acne face wash for you. It has a simple, gentle foaming formula that was reinforced with some skin-repairing ceramides, non-comedogenic oils, and humectants. It’s the perfect, balanced cleanser, and if your routine already involves a lot of leave-on anti-acne treatments, it’d be a fantastic complement. Find it at Nordstrom!
5 Best Acne Face Washes for Normal Skin
Those with normal skin are often blessed not to have to deal with much more than the occasional hormonal breakout, but no matter how persistent your acne is, these are the best cleansers to try.
1. CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser For Normal To Dry Skin
We have a quick secret to tell: even though this cleanser is recommended for normal to dry skin, it’s actually great for everyone, including those who get a little oily sometimes as well. It has a hydrating, skin-restoring formula with ceramides and hyaluronic acid that cleanses thoroughly to remove face makeup and impurities, but keeps the skin balanced to prevent breakouts. Order it from Ulta!
2. Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser
Sometimes you want to keep things simple, and Cetaphil definitely fits that category. While this acne face wash doesn’t inspire a ton of excitement, it has weathered the test of time, remaining a favorite of healthcare professionals year after year thanks to its relative mildness. It works well to remove sunscreen, excess oil, and other impurities, although it’s better to rely on an oil cleanser first to remove makeup. It interacts well with all manner of anti-acne actives, so you won’t have to worry about contraindications. You can buy it from Ulta.
3. Philosophy Clear Days Ahead Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Cleanser
If your acne is a bit more persistent or you would like an easy way to introduce an exfoliant, this is the best acne face wash to try. It’s made with 1% salicylic acid in a light gel formula that is sulfate-free to refresh the skin. Its light citrus scent is absolutely lovely, and it also includes a touch of niacinamide, which can act as an antioxidant while also controlling oil production. It’s available at Ulta and Amazon.
4. Acne.Org Cleanser
Acne.org didn’t spend too much time coming up with a name for this cleanser, likely because they instead focused their energy on formulating it. This non-irritating acne face wash is intended to help balance and optimize the skin to prevent breakouts, ideally along with a more thorough acne-busting routine. It is low-pH and non-stripping, but it is reinforced with soothing cucumber and pore-tightening oat bark extract. It can be used on the face as well as for body acne. Pick it up on Amazon!
5. First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser
This thorough cleanser and makeup remover is another favorite for normal skin that breaks out occasionally. It’s not medicated or resurfacing – just a great, simple acne face wash that clears impurities from the skin while keeping its pH balanced to prevent breakouts and support any type of skincare routine. We love that it includes a bit of licorice root extract, which can help brighten the skin and fade dark marks left behind by acne. Get it at Nordstrom!
5 Best Acne Face Washes for Sensitive Skin
Those with sensitive skin often find it the most difficult to find cleansers for their acne, so we’ve selected the best face washes for acne-prone skin that is also sensitive, which will help keep acne at bay without aggravating redness or inflammation.
1. EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser
When your skin is feeling its most inflamed, this mild acne face wash is a very safe bet. It is extra gentle and free of potential irritants, but it still foams and removes excess oils for those with acne-prone skin who want to feel thoroughly cleansed. It contains apple amino acids to fortify the skin and bromelain for a refreshing touch. The skin is left simply clean, and neither dry nor oily. Shop for it online on Dermstore!
2. Bliss Makeup Melt Jelly Cleanser
If your sensitive, acne-prone skin is a little on the dry side, this jelly cleanser is an awesome option – especially if you’re a makeup lover. You can use it alone or as a first cleanse to remove every last speck of makeup since it rinses clean, and the blend of chamomile, lavender, and oats will help to soothe redness and irritation in your skin. It’s sold at Ulta.
3. Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser
Sometimes, when you have sensitive skin, you want your actives to come from your cleanser rather than a stronger leave-on formula. That’s when this AHA-infused acne face wash can help. It contains glycolic and lactic acids at a small percentage to renew the skin and speed up the healing process for breakouts, along with antioxidant blueberry extract to protect the skin from damage. It has a bouncy gel texture that foams up just a bit to clarify oils while keeping the skin moist. Find it at Sephora!
4. Drunk Elephant Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser
This acne face wash from Drunk Elephant offers the perfect balance between hydrating and oil-removing, and it is totally fragrance-free. That’s why we love it for those with sensitive, acne-prone skin, no matter how oily or dry it is. It includes antioxidant cantaloupe extract and hydrating glycerin, but in a gel formula that busts through excess facial oils and gets the skin ready for acne treatments. Pick it up at Sephora!
5. Fresh Soy Face Cleanser
This has been one of our favorite all-around cleansers for many years now, and it’s absolutely one of the best acne face washes for sensitive or dry skin. It’s a light gel absolutely loaded with hydrating and soothing ingredients like soy amino acids, soybean oil, and glycerin. It removes makeup and other pore-clogging impurities in seconds. The oils in here are non-comedogenic, but instead, they help to keep dry skin balanced and to counter the dehydration that only exacerbates breakouts. Buy it at Nordstrom!
What Features to Look for in Your Acne Face Wash?
If you’re out there searching on your own, here are some things you should know about cleansers for acne-prone skin that will make the process easier for you.
Low pH Level
We always stress the importance of sticking to low-pH cleansing formulas. Low pH means that a cleanser is slightly acidic, and ideally, at an acidity similar to that which is optimal for the skin. The skin functions best when it’s at a pH of between 4.5-5.5 since, at that level, it doesn’t harbor bad bacteria, so it is less prone to infection.
It used to be that most facial cleansers were based on soap, which is very alkaline, so the skin would get dry, tight, and easily irritated, not to mention that the risk of breaking out was higher. Be sure to avoid soap-based cleansers, and stick to acidic, detergent-based formulas instead.
Some brands will disclose the pH of their acne face wash, while with others, you might have to search around on the Internet or to send an email to their customer service team to find out.
Sulfate-free cleansers are almost always a better choice for those with acne-prone skin. Sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (SLS and SLES) are excellent at breaking down facial oils – in fact, they’re too good at it, so they can end up stripping the skin leaving it feeling dry, tight, and dehydrated, especially when they’re the first ingredient in the cleanser after water.
When the skin feels tight, it’s usually a sign that it is starting to lose water, at which point it becomes a lot more sensitive to irritation, inflammation, and infection, making breakouts much likelier. This is why it’s best to choose an acne face wash that doesn’t include SLS and SLES (at least not near the beginning of the ingredient list) since it is less likely to compromise the skin.
Anti-Acne Active Ingredients
There are a ton of different ingredients that can help breakouts in different ways, but a few have proven themselves to be particularly effective, including salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur.
Normally, these actives are used in gels or creams that are left on the skin, but these actives can work even when they’re only in contact with the skin for a brief amount of time, like during the 30 seconds to a minute of cleansing. In some cases, they are actually best in an acne face wash because when used in leave-on products, they are more likely to irritate the skin.
If your skincare routine already includes one or more of these anti-acne actives in a leave-on formula, but you would like to add another, adding it in a cleanser might actually work well. However, it’s important to avoid using the same anti-acne treatment in both your cleanser and leave-on products. For instance, if your cleanser contains benzoyl peroxide, you shouldn’t use a cream with benzoyl peroxide afterward, but a toner with salicylic acid might be okay.
Acne Face Wash Features for Oily Skin
Those with oily skin are the likeliest to suffer from acne since acne is partially caused by the overproduction of oils (or, technically, sebum), which then clog the pores along with dead skin cells and bacteria. If your skin produces a lot of oil and you find that your pores are on the larger side, look for acne face washes with the following features:
- While you can definitely benefit from all kinds of cleanser textures, you might prefer a foaming cleanser that is more gel-based. Gel-based cleansers are made primarily with surfactant ingredients that can cut through and remove oils without leaving behind any residue. However, it’s important not to overdo it since while you do want your acne face wash to remove excess oils, you don’t want it to strip your skin completely.
- Since those with oily skin usually have larger pores, you might prefer a cleanser with pore-tightening, astringent ingredients like witch hazel or willow bark extract.
- You will also benefit from chemical exfoliants, which will help refine the skin, minimize pores, and reduce acne, like salicylic acid or glycolic acid.
Acne Face Wash Features for Dry Skin
Having dry skin doesn’t make you immune against breakouts, but it does make acne harder to treat since many acne-fighting products are made for oily skin. The secret is to find cleansers that keep the skin nourished and moisturized while also removing impurities.
- You will want to use an acne face wash with a creamy or oily formula that also includes fatty acids or non-comedogenic oils. However, this cleanser should still also include some surfactants, so once you’re done cleansing your skin, you can remove it easily with water.
- It’s also great to have humectants in your acne face wash, which will draw water into your skin even while you cleanse. These include glycerin, sorbitol, panthenol, and hyaluronic acid.
- AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid are primarily chemical exfoliants, but they also have humectant properties, so they might be great for your skin type.
Acne Face Wash Features for Normal and Combination Skin
When you have normal skin, with small to medium-sized pores and moderate oil production, or combination skin with some parts that are drier and others that are oilier, the key is to find a very balanced acne face wash that will hit the mark between targeting excess oils without drying you out at all.
- Jelly cleansers are a great option since they are usually a little more hydrating than pure gel cleansers, but they are still easy to rinse away.
- Medicated cream cleansers can also be a good choice since their creamy texture offsets the potentially drying effects of strong anti-acne ingredients like benzoyl peroxide.
Acne Face Wash Features for Sensitive Skin
Those with sensitive skin can be either oily, dry, or somewhere in between, and they can definitely also find themselves break out. In fact, acne is a type of sensitivity, in a way, since it often leads to irritated and inflamed pimples.
- It is usually better to stick to fragrance-free or low-fragrance formulas since fragrances are frequently irritating to the skin.
- Anti-inflammatory ingredients like oat extract and chamomile can help soothe the skin, which helps reduce the inflammation of active acne while also reducing sensitivity-induced redness in the skin.
- When it comes to cleansers with actives, your sensitivity level might mean that you should avoid them altogether, or it might mean that they are best in the form of a cleanser since they don’t stay on your skin for as long. This really varies from person to person, so you should experiment and see what works for you.
How to Wash Acne-Prone Skin Gently?
When you have acne-prone skin, you might be tempted to really scrub it when washing in order to get everything off. Unfortunately, this is exactly the wrong instinct, and it leads to irritated and inflamed skin with breakouts that look even redder and larger than before.
Instead, gentle cleansing is actually one of the best things you can do for your acne-prone skin, no matter whether your skin is oily, dry, or combination.
- If your skin is a little more on the dry side, we recommend only washing it once a day at night.
- If your skin is oilier, however, you can experiment: some people find that washing their skin both in the morning and at night helps to control oils throughout the day, while for others, the simple evening cleansing actually suffices, despite their oily skin.
- If you are somewhere in between, we still think cleansing once at night is best, but your mileage may vary.
- If your acne face wash is a little lighter or infused with actives like benzoyl peroxide that are not safe around the eyes, make sure to remove your eye makeup and optionally your face makeup as well with a makeup remover, oil-based cleanser, or micellar water.
- If you are using a gel or foam cleanser, you will need to dampen your face first so that the cleanser can lather up.
- Oil, cream, and balm cleansers are best massaged to dry skin, and then only lathered up with water after a few moments of massaging.
- When you massage the acne face wash into your skin, use gentle circular motions, and work your way from the bottom of the face up so that you can really get under the peach fuzz on the face.
- Make sure to use enough cleanser and enough water so that your hands can really slip and slide over the skin since any friction can irritate or rupture active acne and spread bacteria around.
- Once your entire face has been covered with cleanser, and all makeup and impurities have broken down, you can rinse the cleanser away with lukewarm water. Avoid hot water, which can irritate and dehydrate the skin.
- If your acne face wash is infused with actives that need a few minutes to work, like glycolic acid, salicylic acid, sulfur, or benzoyl peroxide, let it sit on your skin for 2-3 minutes, kind of like a skincare mask.
- Optionally, you can use a cotton pad or a clean, gentle face cloth to help you totally remove any cleanser residue.
- If your acne is very inflamed, with pustules that can easily break near the surface of the skin, then it is better to avoid cloths and pads altogether and to remove the cleanser only with a splash of water. This might also cause water to run down your arms and make a bit of a mess, but it’s a small price to pay to avoid aggravating your already irritated skin.
- Once your face is totally clean, and all cleanser residue is gone, it’s very important to infuse the skin with moisture, which will make it stronger and more resilient to inflammation and bacteria. Choose a light lotion or gel-based moisturizer and press it into the skin rather than massaging it in.
- You can also take the chance to apply any acne spot treatments or anti-acne products with ingredients that weren’t included in your cleanser. If you are cleansing in the daytime, make sure to finish off with a healthy layer of sunscreen, as well.
Photos via @nikki.cruz, Sephora, Dermstore, Nordstrom