Dealing with breakouts? The best spot treatments, retinol, and a non-comedogenic moisturizer are all important to have on hand, but your journey to clearer skin *really* starts when you use one of the best face washes for acne-prone skin. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Adeline Kikam, aka @brownskinderm on TikTok, explains that a detoxifying cleanser lays a clean, de-gunked foundation for all of the acne-fighting products to follow. “It should help lift dirt like sweat, dead skin cells, and excess oil or sebum that often clogs pores and leads to acne breakouts,” she explains. “It also preps the skin to better absorb anti-acne ingredients in other skincare products that are a part of your regimen.”
That all begs the question: How do you find the best face wash for acne? While you could spend countless hours scanning INCI lists for the right ingredients and testing products galore, we’ve done the hard work for you. Here, we’ve rounded up the best faces washes for acne that will target your breakouts—without stripping your skin.
What to Look For
You’re going to want to keep an eye out for a few buzzy ingredients including, but not limited to, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur. While some cleansers will only highlight one of these ingredients, others will use a combination—each has a slightly different approach to targeting the root of acne.
Dr. Kikam explains that benzoyl peroxide, for instance, is a mild anti-inflammatory ingredient that’s useful for whiteheads, blackheads, and irritation. “It penetrates deep into pores to unclog, control excess sebum, kill acne-causing bacteria, and treat and prevent acne lesions,” she says. Salicylic acid on the other hand is a type of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that focuses on exfoliation and getting rid of dead skin cells and excess oil that lead to blocked pores. Last, but certainly not least, is sulfur. “It has mild anti-bacterial and keratolytic properties, meaning it targets acne-causing bacteria and breaks down dead skin to unclog pores, treat, and prevent acne breakouts.”
The Best Face Wash for Acne
- The Best Acne Face Wash for Sensitive Skin: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
- The Best Acne Face Wash for Brightening Dark Spots: Vichy Normaderm Phytoaction Daily Deep Cleansing Gel with 2% Salicylic Acid
- The Best Acne Face Wash for Inflammatory Acne: iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
- The Best Acne Face Wash for Oily Skin: Tata Harper Clarifying Blemish & Oil Control Cleanser
- The Best Acne Face Wash for Blackheads: The INKEY List Supersolutions Acne Solution 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser
The Best Acne Face Wash for Brightening
If you’re looking for a do-it-all cleanser, add this little guy to your cart. It’s going to brighten, exfoliate, fight acne, and combat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. “It has hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and Vichy 15 Mineral-Rich Volcanic Water, and is clinically tested and shown to clear acne blemishes and blackheads,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand. “This line also has a moisturizer and spot treatment which makes it easy for clearing acne and improving tone and texture.”
Pros: Derm-approved; Affordable
Cons: Contains fragrance; Drying
The Best Acne Face Wash for Sensitive Skin
When you have acne-prone and sensitive skin, finding the right face wash is doubly important. According to Dr. Kikam, this drugstore option is ideal for getting rid of breakouts without disturbing the skin barrier. “This is great if you have oily, acne-prone skin that is sensitive or just sensitive skin in general and have concerns about using exfoliants that may irritate it. It combines salicylic acid along with moisture barrier-replenishing ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid.”
Pros: Derm-approved; Affordable; Safe for sensitive skin
Cons: Has a strong scent
The Best Acne Face Wash for Dry Skin
“This non-foaming acne cleanser is formulated with 5% glycerin for improved moisture and 0.05% hyaluronic acid with two different molecular weights for hydration post rinse off,” says Dr. Kikam. “This assures that skin is cleansed while maintaining a moisture barrier and counteracts the drying effect that is common with other benzoyl peroxide cleansers.” That said, this cleanser remains a powerful acne fighter. Five percent benzoyl peroxide, which has been proved to be just as effective as higher concentrations, targets inflammatory acne like cysts and pustules.
Pros: Derm-approved; Affordable; Hydrating
Cons: Better suited for inflammatory acne than blackheads
The Best Acne Face Wash for Dry Skin
“Treatment is formulated with three percent sulfur and is a gentle cleanser that combines aloe vera and antioxidants,” explains Dr. Kikam. This balance between an acne-fighting agent and calming, soothing, and hydrating ingredients makes this baby key for those that fall on the drier side. “A face wash that is moisture-stripping or overly drying to skin is not good because it destroys the skin’s barrier and may even worsen acne breakouts. An effective cleanser for acne is one that efficiently lifts oil and dirt while hydrating skin and minimizing moisture loss as much as possible.”
Pros: Derm-approved; Hydrating
Cons: Strong smell
The Best Anti-Inflammatory Face Wash for Acne
If you have a type of acne that is filled with inflammation (think: pustules and cysts), this cleanser should 100 percent be on your shelf. It's clarifying and promotes cell turnover—yes. But it also has loads of calming ingredients, including chamomile and centella asiatica, as well as antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E. Its multi-tasking formula has made it somewhat of a cult-favorite across all different skin types. Want further proof? Just look to the 900+ five star reviews.
Pros: Anti-inflammatory; Soothing
The Best Mattifying Face Wash for Acne
A host of naturally derived ingredients power the skin-clearing efforts of this Tata Harper classic: Prickly pear flower enzymes aid in clearing buildup from pores, juniper fruit balances sebum production, and chlorella soothes irritation—and gives the product its green color. Just pump a bit into your hand and work it up into a nice foam until your face feels squeaky clean. With consistent use of this cleanser, you'll begin to notice smoother texture and a more glowy, less shiny finish overall.
Pros: Oil regulating; Helps with texture
Cons: Drying for some
The Best Drugstore Face Wash for Acne
We can't talk acne-clearing face washes without mentioning this "drugstore favorite." This oil-free wash, which has Dr. Kikam's stamp of approval and is highly recommended by dermatologists across the board. It contains salicylic acid to effectively unclog pores and prevent new blemishes from forming. It also has a little something called Microclear technology, which is essentially able to deliver that salicylic acid deep into the pores, where it can then break up all the gunk and bust blackheads.
Pros: Derm-approved; Affordable
Cons: Might be drying to some
The Best Calming Face Wash for Acne
If you have sensitive skin, this fragrance- and oil-free gel cleanser is a must-have. Not only is this face wash cost-friendly, it does wonders to dissolve acne-causing bacteria from pores, while whisking away dead skin cells. How, you ask? It takes a two-prong approach. Salicylic acid, aka *the* acne-fighting ingredient, get to work clearing up blackheads and whiteheads. Then, lipo-hydroxy acid, which is a derivative of salicylic acid, swoops in to control oil production and gently exfoliate dead skin cells.
Pros: Affordable; Improves skin texture; Oil control
Cons: Some report dryness and irritation
The Best Face Wash for Acne and Large Pores
This gel-based cleanser is super gentle but still manages to clear breakouts and smooth rough texture without drying out your skin or causing irritation. Salicylic acid and tea tree extract take care of acne oil, while a blend of soothing botanicals (think: eucalyptus and balm mint) along with methol work to calm any irritation or redness. (Pro tip: This is also great for tackling body acne, so use it as your body wash a few times a week.)
Pros: Smooths texture; Hydrating
The Best Luxe Face Wash for Acne
The price tag may be steep, but hear us out: This cleansing foam draws out impurities without stripping the skin of its beneficial oils. It's even been tested and approved for "delicate, sensitive skin." Just a dime size amount of the lightweight mousse goes the distance to effectively clear away dirt and debris from congested pores. Plus, you'll be exposed to the added benefit of La Mer's proprietary Miracle Broth, a nutrient-rich complex famed for its skin-enhancing, restorative, and anti-aging properties.
Pros: Cleanses without stripping; Good for mature skin
The Most Refreshing Face Wash for Acne
If you have oily skin, you’ll relate: There’s nothing quite like the feel of deeply cleansed, de-greasified skin. And this purifying cleanser delivers one of the most refreshing cleanses I’ve ever experienced. With spearmint as a star ingredient, it gives a tingling, invigorating sensation as it foams up on the skin. If you want to boost the sensation even more, pop the cleanser in the fridge before use. When all is said and done, your face will feel smoother, softer, and fresher.
Pros: Refreshing; Oil control
Cons: Strong scent
The Best Gel Face Wash for Acne
Face and body acne? Solve both with one product: The Avéne Cleanance Cleansing Gel. Designed to treat breakouts all over, this foaming cleanser gets rid of excess oil and debris by leveraging powerful ingredients—but they’re not what you might think. Unlike other products on this list that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, this cleanser leverages a derivative of milk thistle to provide a gentle, albeit deep clean. The gel consistency is loved by reviewers, however the strong scent might not be ideal for sensitive skin.
Pros: Great texture
Cons: Strong scent
Meet the Experts
Dr. Adeline Kikam was inspired to become a dermatologist because of the struggles she faced with her own skin while growing up coupled with inaccessibility to dermatologic care. Combined, these experiences fueled her interest in decoding the vast and information-rich field that is dermatology as well as the desire to spread this wealth of knowledge. As part of this mission, Dr. Kikam launched Brown Skin Derm™ via social media at the beginning of her dermatology residency to fill the void of evidence-based information and candid, informative conversations. She’s leveraged social media to create a trusted space for expert-led skin care knowledge as well as highlight common dermatologic conditions and issues, providing greater access to care for melanin-rich skin and creating more equity in the skin care and beauty industries. She also lends her expertise and passion to advocating for improved representation of people of color in the larger discussion on skin care, ranging from information accuracy and accessibility to medical therapy and product formulation to consumer/patient engagement. In addition to discussing medical conditions, Dr. Kikam is experienced in the rapidly evolving world of aesthetic procedures, and she provides reviews on skin care products and features fellow dermatologists and organizations who offer resources for skin of color. Today, her followers are a diverse group of individuals hailing from all corners of the world, including Asians, Latinos, Africans, African-Americans, Middle Eastern, etc. Slowly but surely, the landscape of dermatology is changing and people of color everywhere are demanding to see themselves reflected in the way skin care is discussed. She recently contributed to a newly released comprehensive dermatology atlas that features common skin conditions presented across all Fitzpatrick skin types, a resource she never had during her medical training that is now available to all health care professionals. In 2022, she is launching SkinClusive Dermatology, an in-person and teledermatology clinic with a focus on medical, cosmetic, and hair restoration treatments as well as specialization in skin of color.
Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand is a double board certified dermatologist specializing in cutaneous laser surgery and the dermatologic care of patients with a special interest in Cosmetic Dermatology, Laser Medicine , Acne, Hair Loss, and Melasma. Dr. Houshmand’s completed her undergraduate degree as a Presidential Honors scholar from New York University and graduated medical school with prestigious clinical distinction honors. She completed an Internal Medicine Residency at Georgetown University Hospital and is Board Certified in both Internal Medicine and Dermatology. She completed her Dermatology Residency at Wright State University and served as chief resident. Dr. Houshmand received several prestigious scholarships through the WDS and ASDS has trained with pioneers in the field of cosmetic skin treatments and dermatologic surgery. She was selected by the AAD as one of three dermatology resident recipients of the prestigious AAD International Grant. She is an international speaker, trainer, author, and medical news correspondent and an internationally recognized leader in cosmetic dermatology. This varied educational background and training brings Dr. Houshmand’s wealth of knowledge on the newest and latest treatments in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology to her patients.