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Let’s face it — acne is annoying AF. Finding the right treatment can be overwhelming. Should you go straight to acne creams and serious treatments? Or could a cleanser do the trick? Should you even moisturize acne-prone skin? So. Many. Questions.

But don’t worry. We have you and your beautiful skin covered. We chatted with Dr. Lucy Chen, a board certified dermatologist based in Florida, and Dr. Heidi B. Prather, a board certified dermatologist in Austin, Texas, to talk about the best ingredients and tips for using face washes for acne.

We rounded up the 10 best acne face washes that’ll zap your zits.

10 of the best face washes for acne

  1. Best for acne-prone skin: Tula Keep It Clear Acne Foam Cleanser
  2. Best for acne and oily skin: Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser
  3. Best for redness-prone skin: Paula’s Choice Pore Normalizing Cleanser
  4. Best for dry and sensitive skin: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser
  5. Best with sulfur: Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser
  6. Best men’s face wash for acne: Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser
  7. Best for acne scars and dark spots: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser
  8. Best for hormonal acne: PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
  9. Best drugstore find: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
  10. Best for teenage acne: Humane Maximum-Strength 10% Acne Wash

Cystic, hormonal, teen, adult — oh my! Everyone’s skin is different, so you need to use products formulated for your needs.

Consider your skin and acne type

Chen reminds us that the best acne product for you isn’t necessarily what will be best for the next person.

Acne treatments vary from face to face, and the effect of treatment depends on several factors, including your skin type, the type and level of severity of your acne, and your skin care preferences.”

And PSA: Having acne does NOT necessarily mean you have acne-prone skin. If you’re not sure what your skin type is, a skin care professional (e.g., a dermatologist) can help you figure out what type of skin you’re rocking.

Acne type

Acne typeWhat it consists of and looks like
comedonal acne (mild noninflammatory)whiteheads, blackheads
mild inflammatory acnewhiteheads, blackheads, papules (raised, inflamed, sometimes pink or red), pustules (contains pus, sometimes yellow-ish)
moderate inflammatory acnewhiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, plus nodules (large, firm, inflamed, painful, deep in the skin)
severe inflammatory acnewhiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nodules plus cysts (pus-filled lesions that resemble boils), acne conglobata (very inflamed, linked to steroids and testosterone)

Look for these acne-fighting ingredients

Your washes may include a slew of pimple-fighting ingredients, but these guys are the main fighters you should get to know. Chen explains to us what they are and how they work.

Benzoyl peroxide

Chen tells us this proven ingredient kills the bacteria that causes acne, helps remove excess oil from the skin, and removes dead skin cells that clog pores.

“If you’re new to developing an acne routine and need somewhere to start, I suggest picking up a product that contains benzoyl peroxide. As an over-the-counter topical medication, benzoyl peroxide is well-tolerated and effective on most skin types,” she says.

That said, benzoyl peroxide is NOT very effective at getting rid of blackheads — so skip it if that’s your biggest concern.

Chen says OTC benzoyl peroxide is available in strengths ranging from 2.5 to 10 percent — and that 2.5 percent is a good place to start to avoid potential irritation.

“Remember, it doesn’t necessarily have to be super strong to work. Usually, the smaller concentrations give you the same results, with fewer side effects,” she says. “Possible side effects include dry skin, redness, burning, scaling, and stinging, especially for sensitive skin.”

Best for
Skin typeall skin types
Acne typemild inflammatory acne, moderate inflammatory acne

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that deeply penetrates pores and removes dead skin cells. It’s another proven anti-acne ingredient that can also help with post-acne hyperpigmentation.

“This ingredient helps prevent pores from becoming clogged. By unplugging your pores, salicylic acid reduces the number and size of blackheads. It can also help rid of any excess oil, preventing further breakouts,” Chen says. “Over-the-counter salicylic acid products vary in strengths from 0.5 to 5 percent. Possible side effects may include mild stinging and skin irritation.”

Best for
Skin typenormal, oily, combination, acne-prone
Acne typecomedonal acne, mild inflammatory acne, moderate inflammatory acne

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

AHAs are chemical exfoliants that remove dead skin cells, preventing the collection of sebum (oil) and bacterial overgrowth. “Alpha hydroxy acids are synthetic versions of acids that are derived from sugar-containing fruits. They treat acne by helping to reduce inflammation and remove dead skin cells,” Chen says.

By removing dead skin cells and getting rid of excess oil, AHAs can help unclog pores, ultimately reducing breakouts. AHAs, according to Chen, also stimulate the growth of new, softer, and smoother skin, which helps improve the appearance of pores and acne scars.

There are different types of AHAs: lactic acid, glycolic acid, malic acid, and mandelic acid. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the two of the most common AHAs used in nonprescription acne products, Chen says.

Best for
Skin typenormal, oily, combination, acne-prone
Acne typecomedonal acne, mild inflammatory acne, moderate inflammatory acne

Sulfur

This one removes excess oil and the dead skin cells that clog pores. Chen says it’s often combined with ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or resorcinol (another anti-acne ingredient).

She points out that products containing sulfur may cause dry skin — and some products have an unpleasant odor. But, she adds, sulfur reduces the frequency of whiteheads and blackheads and can decrease the size and redness of pimples.

Best for
Skin typeoily
Acne typecomedonal acne, mild inflammatory acne, moderate inflammatory acne

Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a little powerhouse ingredient with anti-inflammatory properties that can help kick acne to the curb. It also regulates oil production, which can help get rid of comedonal acne and prevent inflammatory breakouts. It can also help reduce the appearance of pores and redness.

Best for
Skin typeall skin types, especially sensitive
Acne typecomedonal acne, mild inflammatory acne, moderate inflammatory acne

Azelaic acid

This ingredient isn’t as popular as others, but it def deserves some cred. Research has shown that azelaic acid is as good at treating noninflammatory and inflammatory acne as retinoids (and is comparable to benzoyl peroxide), but with fewer side effects (like skin irritation).

Best for
Skin typeall skin types
Acne typeall acne types, including severe inflammatory acne

What to avoid

There are billions of options out there and let’s be honest, they can’t all be winners.

Here are some ingredients that Chen warned us against when it comes to acne face washes by different skin types.

All skin types

  • fragrance (can be irritating)
  • alcohol (drying!)
  • cocoa butter
  • sodium lauryl sulfate (learn more about this kind of ish here)
  • coconut oil (it may be good in your cake batter and DIY hair mask, Chen says, but coconut oil is a comedogenic ingredient that you should if you have acne-prone skin)

Sensitive skin peeps

Chen says steer clear of essential oils which can bring on an allergic reaction. Some of these include tea tree, mint, citrus, and lavender oils.

Acne-prone peeps

Avoid oils in cleansers. Chen says to check the ingredient list, making sure the product has none of the following:

  • propylene glycol
  • paraffin
  • mineral oil

Instead, Chen suggests looking for natural plant oils that will provide plenty of nourishment without clogging your pores.

Dry skin peeps

Chen says obvs you should avoid alcohol in a face wash since it’s very drying and can be irritating. “Alcohol strips the skin’s natural barrier, causing it to crack further,” she says. “To keep your face healthy and hydrated, avoid products with isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol 40, and ethyl alcohol.”

Wondering how we whipped up this list? Good question.

  • Ingredients. This one is a no-brainer. We scoped options with the main acne-fighting agents that we highlighted. We chatted with derms about how these ingredients work and made sure we found ’em in our picks. We also threw in some vegan options too.
  • What’s your type? We thought about different users and found options for a range of different skin and acne types.
  • Customer reviews. If the user ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. We looked carefully at reviews to make sure our list isn’t all smoke and mirrors.
  • Price. Whether you have some serious dough to blow or you’d rather pinch your pennies right now, we rounded up options that cover a spectrum of pricing.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $15
  • $$ = $15–35
  • $$$ = over $35

Best face wash for acne-prone skin

Tula Keep It Clear Acne Foam Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredient(s): salicylic acid, azelaic acid, lactic acid, tea tree oil, glycerin, probiotics
  • Skin type: normal, oily, combination, acne-prone
  • Acne type: comedonal acne, all types (mild, moderate, and severe) inflammatory acne

This Tula foam cleanser comes in a pretty little blue bottle that is absolutely loaded with acne-fighting ingredients.

In addition to three of our faves — salicylic, azelaic, and lactic acids — it also contains tea tree oil, which is a natural ingredient with legit anti-inflammatory properties that can help you say goodbye to pimples.

Like most products from Tula, it also has probiotic extracts. Probiotics do all kinds of good when you ingest them (hello, gut health) and Tula says they help keep your skin nice and smooth, too.

To top things off, this cleanser has moisture-boosting glycerin to help keep your skin from drying out.

People who use this cleanser say they saw results almost immediately, noticing fewer pimples and less severe breakouts. But some peeps with dry skin avoid steering clear, though — leave this one for oily, acne-prone skin.

Best face wash for acne and oily skin

Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredient(s): glycolic acid, glycerin
  • Skin type: oily
  • Acne type: comedonal acne, mild and moderate inflammatory acne

Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser contains one of our acne-fighting faves: glycolic acid. Reminder: This superstar acid exfoliates, unclogs pores, and prevents excess oil buildup. It can also increase your skin’s cell turnover rate. This cleanser also has glycerin to soothe your newly exfoliated skin.

People who try it say it works well for their acne-prone skin but recommend adding a good moisturizer after using it to help soothe your skin after exfoliating TF out of it. We tried this one too and agree that it really works for managing acne, but it is def drying.

So, toss a good moisturizer in your cart, bb! We’ve got recs for amazing moisturizers for oily skin here.

Best acne face wash for redness-prone skin

Paula’s Choice Pore Normalizing Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredient(s): salicylic acid, glycerin, panthenol (vitamin B5)
  • Skin type: Normal, oily, combination
  • Acne type: comedonal acne, mild and moderate inflammatory acne

Paula’s Choice “Clear” line is full of products that people love. This cleanser is one of them.

It’s a super cheap option (under $15, what?!) formulated to clear acne without drying you out or causing redness in the process. Salicylic acid does its thang for breakouts, while glycerin and panthenol (a hella soothing ingredient that can reduce irritation and redness) keep your skin soothed and calm.

Reviewers love this product, saying it helps reduce breakouts without irritating skin (though many recommend using it sparingly if you have sensitive skin). We’ve tried this one too and can attest to its ability to clear up skin without drying us out.

Best acne face wash for dry and sensitive skin

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredient(s): niacinamide, glycerin, ceramides
  • Skin type: sensitive, dry skin
  • Acne type: comedonal acne, mild and moderate inflammatory acne

The main character in this cleanser from La Roche-Posay is niacinamide. This multitasking ingredient helps clear acne and stops excess oil in its tracks — but it also helps clear up post-acne hyperpigmentation, hydrate your skin, and reduce signs of premature aging. Like seriously, she’s the MVP.

Glycerin also makes an appearance in this one, along with ceramides — a hydrating ingredient that helps prevent water loss.

Reviewers are in total awe of how a cleanser this gentle can help clear up acne and prevent future breakouts. People with rosacea say it’s a great pick, too. But a few complain that it doesn’t quite do the trick when it comes to removing makeup, so you might need to double cleanse.

Best face wash for acne with sulfur

Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser

  • Price: $$$
  • Key ingredient(s): sulfur, glycerin natural oat extract, honey, rice bran extracts
  • Skin type: oily
  • Acne type: comedonal acne, mild and moderate inflammatory acne

It’s sulfur’s time to shine!

This medicated wash contains 3-percent sulfur, which absorbs excess oil that contributes to breakouts. It also unclogs pores by drying out dead skin cells. This formula is supposed to be calming too — thanks to an addition of glycerin, soothing oat extract, and hydrating honey.

Reviewers are totally in love — with many saying it works for adult acne *and* teen acne. But some don’t dig the smell. (Spoiler: Sulfur isn’t known for its sweet fragrance, y’all!) It also may irritate more sensitive skin.

One unhappy reviewer says it tarnished a necklace (yikes). This means keep this cleanser away from your gems, people!

Best men’s face wash for acne

Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredient(s): glycolic acid, kaolin clay
  • Skin type: normal, oily, combination, and acne-prone
  • Acne type: comedonal acne, mild and moderate inflammatory acne

If you’re looking for someone with oily skin who loves dude-like products, this one’s your guy (get it?). (Full disclosure, using a face wash “for men” doesn’t really mean anything, but if you or someone in your life likes “men’s products,” this is a good pick.)

This is a cruelty-free, clay-based (kaolin clay) cleanser. The formula has glycolic acid too — for getting rid of those dead skin cells (and is also helpful for preventing ingrown hairs!).

The cool thing about it is that it’s a two-for-one product. If you let it dry on your skin, it’s also a purifying mask.

Another thing to love? It’s vegan and free of:

  • alcohol
  • fragrances
  • sulfates
  • parabens
  • colorants

Best face wash for acne scars and dark spots

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredient(s): salicylic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid, glycerin
  • Skin type: oily, acne-prone
  • Acne type: comedonal acne, mild and moderate inflammatory acne

PSA: Salicylic acid is a bad b*tch at reducing acne scars and dark spots. So if you’re tryin’ to clear up acne and post-acne marks, you can do both with this medicated cleanser that contains 2-percent salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid (a derivative of salicylic acid).

This cleanser has one of the higher SA concentrations on our list (a lot of them are 0.5 percent), so it’s pretty powerful. That means it’ll go hard on your acne and post-acne woes, but it might also cause irritation if you don’t have oily or acne-prone skin.

Thankfully, this formula also has glycerin to offer you hydration as well.

Guess what else? This cleanser is also:

  • paraben-free
  • fragrance-free
  • oil free
  • noncomedogenic

Best face wash for hormonal acne

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredient(s): benzoyl peroxide
  • Skin type: acne-prone
  • Acne type: mild, moderate, and severe inflammatory acne

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash makes the list because it contains the highest strength of benzoyl peroxide that you can snag without a prescription.

Those with cystic or severe acne can especially benefit from the 10-percent benzoyl peroxide formula. It attacks acne-causing bacteria and helps control oil.

Word of caution: Despite the fanfare, this product contains sodium lauryl sulfate and potassium lauryl sulfate. These can cause irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Best drugstore face wash for acne

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredient(s): salicylic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides
  • Skin type: normal, oily, combination, dry
  • Acne type: comedonal acne, mild and moderate inflammatory acne

Ahhh, CeraVe. You can find this guy at your local Walgreens, which is a big plus. But its ingredients make it more than just your average drugstore face wash.

Salicylic acid and niacinamide are your acne-slaying sidekicks here. Throw in some glycerin, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid (a super lightweight, but still super hydrating ingredient) and you’ve got yourself a skin-clearing, balancing cleanser.

CeraVe doesn’t disclose the amount of salicylic acid in this one, but reviewers with all skin types are big fans of this product. Some recommend using an ultra-hydrating moisturizer after cleansing if you have dry or sensitive skin, though. But overall, people are devoted to this stuff.

Best face wash for teenage acne

Humane Maximum-Strength Acne Wash

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredient(s): benzoyl peroxide
  • Skin type: oily, acne-prone
  • Acne type: mild and moderate inflammatory acne

Blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and cysts: the teenage dream (NOT). This face wash means business and busts its a$$ to help teens fight ’em — with a whopping 10-percent benzoyl peroxide.

This pick doesn’t have any irritating or animal-based ingredients like fragrances, parabens, sulfates, or dyes. We also love that it’s cruelty-free and vegan. Another cool thing is that this one isn’t just for your face! So, feel free to slather it on any backne or assne you might be dealing with, too.

Reviewers are overall happy, with many noting that they gave it to their teens and it really worked. A small number say it just didn’t work for their acne.

OK, you’ve got your new face wash and you’re ready to rumble. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of it.

Cleanse twice a day

“The best time to cleanse the skin, especially if [you have acne-prone skin], is first thing in the morning to remove oils that build up overnight,” Prather says.

It’s also a good idea to cleanse again at night if you tend to break out. “If you wear makeup or sunscreen, you should consider a nighttime cleanse to remove these layers that can cause buildup and result in breakouts or clogged pores,” she says.

Plus, cleansing again at night means you have a fresh face for applying your nighttime products — like retinol.

How to cleanse

Here are some tips for cleansing properly, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association:

  1. Wet your face with lukewarm water.
  2. Use your fingertips to apply your cleanser (and do NOT scrub!).
  3. Rinse with lukewarm water.

Easy enough, right? When you’re all cleansed, that’s when you can dive into the rest of your routine:

  1. toner
  2. serums, acne treatments, or retinol (nighttime)
  3. moisturizer
  4. SPF (daytime)

Take a peep at the rest of your skin care routine

When it comes to treating acne, it’s best to hold your horses and not go overboard with acne-fighting products. If you strip too much of your natural oils from your face, you could make the whole problem worse.

Comedonal acne

If you’re dealin’ with comedonal acne (like whiteheads and blackheads) a face wash that has acne-fighting ingredients will do the trick. Just be sure the rest of your routine isn’t too heavy with actives (exfoliants, acids, etc.) as this could dry out your skin and undo all the work your cleanser did.

Inflammatory acne

If your breakouts are deeper and without an opening, like cystic or nodules, it’s unlikely your face wash’s active ingredients will penetrate your skin to address your acne. You might be better off looking at spot treatments, like benzoyl peroxide or retinoids.

Check out our fave acne spot treatments here.

When to stop using a product

Stop using a product if it causes redness, irritation, or discomfort. If you’re prone to skin conditions — like eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis — check with your doctor before trying a new product.

No one knows the exact cause of acne. Some peeps think it has to do with your diet. But don’t kick your chocolate habit just yet! The link between breakouts and food hasn’t been proven. For now, topical treatments, like face wash or exfoliants, are your best bet.

But before you pick a face cleanser with 5 billion 5-star reviews, narrow down the list based on your skin and acne type. Look for ingredients specially formulated to suit your needs.

Picking the right one for you might take some trial and error. If you want a little extra support, hit up a healthcare pro. They can help you pick the perfect product or provide a prescription for particularly painful pimples.

Our process and why you should trust us

We consulted with two dermatologists to get tips for choosing the best acne face washes for different skin types and concerns. We used those tips to pick the products above.

Before writing about those products, we put them all through a thorough vetting process that checks for unsupported health claims (like “This face wash gets rid of pimples in one use!”), shady business practices, and lawsuits concerning a company’s products. We also checked that the main ingredients in each product are evidence-based and actually do what the company says they do.

After wrapping up our recommendations and tips, we sent this entire article to a third medical professional specializing in dermatology (in this case, Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, FAANP) for review.

So basically, you can feel good knowing that we put in WORK to get you these recommendations.