Last Updated: October 10, 2017
This guide was first published in 2015. We recently gave it a much needed update with most up-to-date buying tips and recommendations.
So, you’ve tried almost every acne face wash but you still can’t seem to find the one that can work for you.
Frustrating, I know.
That’s exactly how we felt after spending more than 45 hours studying research papers and studies and analyzing reviews from actual acne sufferers on Amazon, Reddit and other online retailers.
But, here’s the good news:
You won’t have to go through the same long hours of research and days of trying out products. We’ve created this really comprehensive guide to picking the best face wash for acne-prone skin to help you out.
Ready? Let’s begin.
A Quick Glance At Our Top Picks
Excited to get all the juicy details?
Hold on for a minute.
First, let me show you a quick rundown of our top picks for the best acne face wash.
#2 - Murad
#3 - Burt's Bees
#4 - Clinique
#5 - Clean & Clear
What Makes A Good Face Wash For Acne Prone Skin?
Not all face cleansers that claim to be effective against acne can work for you.
Deep down, you know it’s true.
Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here, right?
But, don’t worry. I’ll walk you through the process of finding the best product for you.
For a face wash to be effective for your skin type, it needs to be able to:
- Clear out your pores
- Fight acne-causing bacteria
- Soothe irritation and inflammation
- Keep your skin sufficiently moisturized
- Retain your skin’s balance
Now, you might be wondering: How can a face wash do all that?
Simple. You use the criteria below.
By now, you’re probably aware that facial cleansers come in different formulas. Each formula caters to a specific type of acne-prone skin.
Cream cleansers, for example, are best for those with highly sensitive acne-prone skin. Cleansers with gel formulation, on the other hand, best fit oily skin and those that have a rapid skin cell production.
You can go with foaming cleansers.
Cleansers have several categories, but let’s focus on just two for this section: medicated and non-medicated cleansers.
Medicated face washes are those that contain acne-fighting ingredients. They are formulated to help clear your skin from acne as you’re cleansing it.
Two of the most common ingredients you’ll find today are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.
Here’s how they are different:
Salicylic acid can help in exfoliating the skin from the surface as well as inside your pores. It has anti-inflammatory properties, too, to calm down your large, angry zits.
Benzoyl peroxide, meanwhile, has antibacterial properties to kill microbes that can cause acne and inflammation in your pores.
Cleansers with these two ingredients work really well for mild to moderate acne. But, if your case is severe, they may not be enough.
Avoid using products with both ingredients as they can be too harsh for the skin.
If you use products containing any of them, make sure you don’t apply any other acne medication on your skin. Of course, that’s unless your dermatologist says so.
Non-medicated face washes, meanwhile, are products you can use when you’re prescribed with another type of acne treatment. They are meant to prevent you from overtreating your pimples or to make sure your oily skin doesn’t become acne-prone
They are limited to cleansing your face and making sure that there are no impurities and residues that can get stuck on your pores. Usually, these cleansers are noncomedogenic, hypoallergenic and unscented.
In addition to these cleansers, there are also face washes that utilize natural acne-fighting ingredients. The most popular ones are green tea, witch hazel and tea tree oil.
Here’s another important thing:
Apart from acne-fighting ingredients, you also need to be aware of what other ingredients go in your cleansers. Your cleanser shouldn’t contain synthetic dyes, fragrances and parabens.
It also shouldn’t have alcohol as that can really dry out your skin which can cause more problems.
Now that you know what to look for in a face wash, let’s move on to the next issue:
Reviews of the Best Acne Face Wash
Why We Love It: Doesn’t irritate the skin
Honestly, this is the best acne face wash.
Well, to start, the product comes with 0.5% salicylic acid. This hits the right mark as research 0.5% to 2% solutions with that ingredient are considered safe and effective for acne vulgaris.
And you know what else?
In addition to that ingredient, this product is also loaded with natural acne-fighting ingredients.
It has sage extracts to detoxify your skin and pro-vitamin B5 which helps regulate oil production. There’s olive leaf extract, too.
It has a rich consistency. But, despite that, it won’t irritate or dry out your skin.
In fact, it leaves a decent amount of moisture behind.
No more feeling taut and tight after cleansing your face. No itching and definitely no dry patches.
Sounds good, right?
The product has a soap-free formulation so it doesn’t lather too much. It is non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic so you won’t have to worry about harming your skin.
This is the first step in the Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment Program. You can get just this one but I highly suggest you try the other products from the line, too.
Well, that is if you want to experience everything the brand promises- like getting clearer skin in just 30 days or get your money back.
Want to see how it works right now?
You can check out its Expanded Acne Treatment Kit to know more about what I’m talking about.
If that sounds too much for your budget, just get this one. For its affordable price and benefits, you can consider it a good deal.
But seriously, though, you’ll save more from the kit (Hint, hint!).
Why We Love It: Continuously fights acne blemishes
What if you can stop your skin from continuously breaking out?
Well, you can stop imagining now as this cleanser can do just that. It’s formulated to keep working for hours even after you’ve rinsed your face.
Yes, that’s right.
Formulated with time-released medication, Murad Clarifying Cleanser is supposed to prevent breakouts throughout the day. Its encapsulated salicylic acid delivers medicated treatment that will continue to fight breakouts and heal acne all day long.
It can wash away the dirt, dead skin cells, oil and other irritants that can cause problems to your skin.
One of its key ingredients is silver citrate. The name can be quite intimidating but, trust me, it’s a very helpful ingredient when it comes to pimples.
Let me explain:
Silver citrate is a potent antibacterial agent that can break down the cell membranes of bacteria and denature the enzymes inside. These mechanisms kill those bacteria so they can no longer cause blemishes on your skin.
The cleanser also has green tea extract which contains potent antioxidant benefits. It can help protect your skin against free radical damage that can cause faster skin aging (read: wrinkles).
By now, you’ll be wondering: Is this effective?
Believe it or not, it has been tested and proven to be able to reduce hyperpigmentations in just 4 weeks. Murad claims that 90% of its users have experienced the said benefit.
This cleanser is free of harmful ingredients, like parabens, sulfates and phthalates. It’s not tested on animals and earned a thumbs up from dermatologists.
Why We Love It: Has natural acne-fighting ingredients
If you are looking for something natural, you can end your search here.
Formulated with 99.4% natural ingredients, this cleanser fights acne with naturally derived salicylic acid. It can calm and soothe irritated skin with its beetroot and primrose content.
The product also has willow bark extract which can make your acne spots less inflamed and angry.
And you know what else?
This cleanser is oil-free. And since it’s natural, it doesn’t foam as much as other cleansers do.
Despite that, it can still cleanse your skin like no other.
A word of caution:
The face wash can be quite irritating to the eyes so make sure to avoid that area when cleansing. It is also scented, but it’s not that overpowering.
Why We Love It: Doesn’t dry out the skin
Don’t you just hate it when your acne-prone skin gets more irritated after using a cleanser that’s supposed to make it calmer?
I know the feeling.
That is why Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam made it to this list. Using a mild, foamy formula, it can effectively fight pimples and prevent breakouts without irritating the skin.
It’s non-drying and will make your skin feel amazing after use.
The product lathers really well even with just one pump. Despite being a foamy product, it won’t make your skin feel uncomfortable, dry or tight.
Considering that you only have to use a small amount of product, one bottle can last you a long time. Well, that will still depend on how frequent you actually wash your face.
Although the company recommends using the product twice a day, I suggest you start with once daily.
This is to test your skin’s reaction.
If you notice that your skin feels fine with using the cleanser once a day, you can increase the frequency to two times. In case you feel tightness after that, decrease the number of use again.
Why We Love It: Effectively works against cystic acne
It’s probably one of the most traumatic types of acne you can ever get. And I’m not saying that just because of its size.
It’s because cystic acne is the hardest to treat.
In some cases, topical treatments don’t work. For more serious ones, help from specialists may be needed.
Now, stop right there. I know what you’re thinking.
Although I said that cystic acne is hard to treat, it doesn’t mean that they won’t always respond to medicated cleansers.
And that’s where Clean & Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser fits in.
You see, this product has a patented pore-penetrating technology that continuously works against acne. It relies on benzoyl peroxide, a wonderful acne-fighter for all skin types, to get the job done.
Surprisingly, even severe blemishes and cysts are no match for this cleanser.
The product is relatively cheap and for its benefits, I’d say this can give your more than your money’s worth. It lathers really well without leaving your skin completely dry.
There is a caveat, though.
Benzoyl peroxide can cause bleaching. It can stain clothes and even hair, too.
Why We Love It: Great for mature acne-prone skin
What if you can take care of your wrinkles as you fight acne?
Well, wonder no more. Boscia Clear Complexion Cleanser is formulated to fight breakouts while improving your skin’s elasticity.
Its willow bark extracts purify the pores and stop breakouts while its rosemary leaf extracts offer age-defying benefits by tightening the skin, reducing redness and soothing inflammation.
Sounds impressive, right?
But wait- there’s more.
This cleanser is also free from preservatives. It has no irritating ingredients like ethanol alcohol to compromise your skin.
It doesn’t have a strong scent either.
Now, get this:
Although this cleanser is effective in treating acne, it can potentially cause purging. It’s what happens when your skin cell cycle gets faster and your clogged pores turn to acne quicker.
After that, you can expect to see clearer and better-looking skin.
Take note that you only need to use a small amount of product each time. It can cause a tightening effect which can be uncomfortable to some.
Why We Love It: Effectively prevents acne
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash is a good choice if you are looking for a cleanser that can stop breakouts. One way it does that is by unclogging your pores.
Let me explain.
Formulated with Microclear technology, this face wash can deliver salicylic acid to your skin. This ingredient has the ability to dissolve the plugs clogging your pores, making it effective against whiteheads and blackheads.
Another thing you’ll love about this one is its oil-free formula. It won’t leave you feeling greasy or sticky like most cleansers do.
However, there are a couple of issues.
It’s a bit drying and strong for mild acne. Its scent isn’t that pleasing for most people, too.
Although it’s not really that intense or bothersome, it’s something you need to consider if your nose is extra sensitive.
Why We Love It: Prevents dryness related to acne
Have you ever found yourself getting irritated skin after using a product that claims to be hypoallergenic?
At some point, I know you have and I know how frustrating it is.
Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser isn’t anything like that. Instead of harsh ingredients, it has a soy-based formula that can give you a clearer complexion.
It’s supposed to help moisturize your skin and prevent dryness caused by acne. It can improve your skin tone and texture, too.
Now, you might be wondering: How does it treat acne?
The product actually has 0.5% salicylic acid. It’s a bit lower than other acne face washes but it doesn’t mean it’s less effective.
In fact, it’s a great choice for mild acne since it’s gentle even when used every day.
Why We Love It: Fits sensitive acne-prone skin
Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser is a product you’re probably already familiar with, particularly if you have sensitive acne-prone skin. It’s dermatologist-tested to be gentle and non-irritating.
And you know what?
Despite being gentle, this face wash can actually get the job done.
You see, with pimples, it can be difficult to obtain a fresh, clean feeling, regardless of cleansing time. But, with this product, your skin will feel thoroughly cleansed as well as soft and silky.
The cleanser is low-lathering so don’t feel surprised if it doesn’t produce as much bubbles or foam as other cleansers do. It doesn’t leave any residue on the skin, too.
Why We Love It: Formulated with benzoyl peroxide
This cleanser has 10% benzoyl peroxide, a potent ingredient that can kill acne-causing bacteria. And you know what else it can do?
It can actually exfoliate the skin.
Exfoliation is one good way to prevent breakouts since it can get rid of dirt and dead skin cells, from your pores, lowering the chances of them getting clogged.
Take note that the cleanser can mildly dry your skin out so I suggest you follow up with a good moisturizer after. Without moisturizer, this one can be a bit harsh on the skin.
It’s formulated to treat severe acne. This should give you an idea of how strong this cleanser is.
As with any product with benzoyl peroxide, this one can also cause staining. So, keep it away from dark colored clothes or towels to avoid damaging them.
How To Wash Your Face When You Have Acne
Have you ever wished you could just wash your acne away?
Imagine for a moment:
You wet your face, lather on your cleanser, rinse and there’s no more acne. Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, getting rid of acne isn’t that simple. But, don’t get me wrong.
Washing your face is still an essential step to having clear skin.
Now, the question is this:
How exactly should you wash your face when you have acne?
Check these steps out:
Wash Your Face Twice A Day
You need to wash your face in the morning to get rid of the dead skin cells and oil that accumulated overnight. You also need to wash at night, preferably before getting to bed, to make sure no dirt, makeup residues and oil can stay on your skin and pores.
A lot of people actually think that the more they wash their face, the better their skin will be.
And that’s just wrong.
You see, excessive washing can cause more harm. It can cause irritation and more breakouts.
Let me explain.
Washing your face can strip off the skin’s natural oil. As it gets dry and dehydrated, it starts to think that it doesn’t have enough oil to protect itself.
So, what it does is produce more oil.
When there’s excessive oil, your skin will look dull and your pores will be prone to clogging. These two make the perfect equation for acne.
Use Lukewarm Water
Washing your face with hot water can help open up your pores. Using cold water can help close your follicles.
It turns out that these two ideas are both bad for the skin.
Extreme temperatures won’t clean your skin any better. Instead, they can cause irritation, rupture your blood vessels and dry your skin out.
So, when washing and rinsing your face, stick with lukewarm water. Your skin will surely thank you for it.
Tip: When checking the water’s temperature, don’t rely on your hands as they can tolerate higher temperatures. Instead, dip your wrist or your elbow as they are more sensitive.
Apply Your Cleanser Using Circular Motions
This will help remove impurities better. It’ll help boost your blood circulation, too.
You can think of it as a massage for your face so take the time to really work the product on your face. Pay close attention to the areas around the nose, chin and your jawline as these are the areas that are easy to miss.
Oh, and one more thing.
As much as possible, don’t rinse off right away. Give your cleanser enough time to do its job.
Continue massaging your cleanser for about a minute or two before going to the next step.
Using lukewarm water, rinse everything off of your face. There should be no residues or foam on your skin.
If you let the residues of your cleanser sit on your skin for too long, you’re likely to end up with irritated skin.
Pat Your Skin Dry
Don’t scrub your skin when drying. Being too harsh on your skin can cause broken capillaries and trigger inflammation.
And you wouldn’t want that to happen, right?
Instead, be nice to your skin. Pat it dry using a clean towel
If these instructions overwhelm you, watch this video:
Shopping for the best face wash for acne isn’t easy but this list should narrow down your choices. After all, it’s a product of several days of research and testing.
But, consider this:
Facial cleansers, like most products for pimples, can’t get rid of your skin issues in just one wash. Although they are effective, they will still need time to work.
It can take a month before you can actually see results- and that’s if you use it consistently in your routine.
And if you still don’t see results after a month, try another product. In short, it can still take a bit of trial-and-error before you can find one that will work for you.
The good news is that you’re off to a great start with this list.
So, what are you waiting for?