Acne can be a stubborn foe and extraordinarily difficult to get rid of. If you’re currently waging war against your acne, a face wash may be just the thing to help you out. Face washes can help you treat your acne by cleansing pores, removing surface bacteria, and distributing various acne medications over the skin.
Finding a face wash that’s perfect for treating your acne can be a challenge and may involve an unhappy amount of trial and error. However, we’re here to help you make an informed decision about which face wash to pick so you can get the right product on your first try!
We’ve created a list of the top 10 face washes you should know about when it comes to treating acne. This product review list, in addition to our complete guide below, will aid you in selecting the best product to finally eradicate your acne.
- What You Should Know About Acne Face Washes
- Top 10 Best Face Washes for Acne 2021
- 1. Best Overall Face Wash for Acne CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
- 2. Best Premium Face Wash for Acne: Dr Song Medical Acne Wash
- 3. Best Budget Face Wash for Acne: Acne Free Oil-Free Acne Cleanser
- 4. Best Exfoliating Face Wash: Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser
- 5. Best for Stubborn Acne: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne
- 6. Best Daily Face Wash Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Face Wash
- 7. Best for Combination Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser
- 8. Best Oil Control Face Wash: Bioderma Sébium Foaming Gel
- 9. Best Organic Face Wash: Christina Moss Naturals Original Face Wash
- 10. Best Lightweight Face Wash: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit
- Full Guide to Using Face Washes for Acne
- Your Journey to Clear Skin
What You Should Know About Acne Face Washes
Before we head into our list, we first need to discuss the several important factors that make up a great acne-fighting face wash. But first, why should you use one.
Why Use a Face Wash for Acne?
A face wash can bring multiple benefits to your acne-prone skin. It will cleanse pores, fight bacteria, fade existing breakouts, and prevent future ones. Some face washes can even brighten your skin or make it smoother, like Botanic Tree’s Exfoliating Cleanser. You can read more about these benefits below in our full guide.
Ingredients to Look Out For
Many face washes for treating acne involve some type of medication or acid. You need to understand the purpose of these active ingredients in order to determine which would be a good fit for your skin.
Derived mainly from willow bark, salicylic acid is oil-soluble and penetrates into pores. There, it dissolves dirt and debris, deep cleans pores, and works to fade breakouts. It can often be used as a spot treatment to dry out a blossoming breakout overnight. It works best for treating blackheads and whiteheads.
Slightly more potent than salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide is great for treating inflammatory acne such as cysts and papules. It works to eliminate bacteria and dead skin cells and may even be effective at fading acne scars.
On the downside, its strength makes it slightly more irritating to the skin than other acne medications, and it can bleach any fabric it comes in contact with. Always be sure to wash benzoyl peroxide off your face thoroughly before towel drying
Glycolic acid is classified as an alpha-hydroxy acid – a group of acids that are derived from foods. It is a fantastic exfoliator and can be used to remove dead skin cells and bacteria, speeding up the healing process of acne and acne scars.
Plant extracts such as tea tree oil, witch hazel, or aloe vera can all help to improve the appearance of acne. You may find one of these ingredients or a combination of them in your face wash. Our organic pick Christina Moss Naturals is full of pore purifying plant extracts.
Choosing a Face Wash Formula
Face washes are available in several different formulas. Each one gives you a different cleaning experience, so be sure to pay attention to the formula type when selecting a product. We highlight the formula type for every product that made our list.
This is the most popular type of face wash formula. Gels are typically clear and provide a light lather. They leave your skin feeling fresh and clean but can sometimes be slightly drying. It is a good idea to apply a moisturizer after using a gel face wash.
Cream-based face washes are richer in texture. They often look milky in appearance and can provide a little more hydration to the skin.
Face washes that are foaming tend to start out as a gel or cream first. Once you apply them to your skin, they lather up into a tingling foam. They are great at deep cleaning skin and a good choice for someone with combination skin.
Now that you know the most important things to look for in an acne face wash, let’s get to our list!
1. Best Overall Face Wash for Acne CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
- Active Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide, Hyaluronic Acid
- Formula Type: Cream to Foam
- Best For: All Skin Types
Blended with 4 percent benzoyl peroxide, CeraVe’s Foaming Cream Cleanser features hyaluronic acid and ceramides. As the benzoyl peroxide strips dirt and excess oil off of the skin, the hyaluronic acid promotes moisture retention, while ceramides work to repair skin that has been affected by acne. This product is a good choice for someone who wants a potent acne face wash that won’t leave skin too dry.
The formula of this product starts as a cream and quickly turns into a foam lather as you apply it to your skin. It is effective against acne and not too harsh or drying, which makes it suitable for all skin types.
On the downside, this product does take a little longer to start working than its competitors. It may take between 2 and 4 weeks before you start seeing significant results on your skin. If you are looking for a slightly faster-acting face wash, we suggest Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne.
- Hyaluronic acid promotes moisture retention
- Suitable for all skin types
- Ceramides repair skin
- Rich cream to foam formula
- Slow to start working
- Active Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide
- Formula Type: Cream
- Best For: All Over Body Acne
This face wash doubles as a body wash and can be used to treat acne all over the body. The product bottle comes with an easy to use pump handle, making the product effortless to dispense and apply. It is a good choice if you want one product that can treat all of your acne.
Medical grade benzoyl peroxide 10 percent is the main active ingredient of this product. This makes it especially potent and quick-acting. When purchasing this product, you will have a 100-day money-back guarantee, which means you can receive a refund for the face wash with no questions asked if you don’t like it. If you need extra peace of mind when purchasing, this product is a great option.
Because the benzoyl peroxide is so potent in this product, it can be excessively drying to the skin. If you have naturally dry or sensitive skin, you should only be using this product a couple of times per week to avoid any skin irritation.
- Doubles as a body wash
- Easy to use pump bottle
- 100-day money-back guarantee
- Can be drying to the skin
3. Best Budget Face Wash for Acne: Acne Free Oil-Free Acne Cleanser
- Active Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide, Glycolic Acid
- Formula Type: Foam
- Best For: Dry Skin
Similar to CeraVe’s Foaming Cleanser, this product features ceramides. Additionally, Acne Free also uses 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid. All of these things combined create a mild acne foaming face wash that is gentle enough to be used on dry skin types.
The formula is fragrance and oil-free. This makes it work better for sensitive skin or anyone who likes to avoid strong fragrances. The product is affordable at under $10 and makes a great budget buy for those of us looking to treat acne without breaking the bank.
The Acne Free Cleanser does have easily breakable packaging. It does not take a lot for the cap to break and the product is susceptible to leaking during shipment. If the cap does break on you, you can always transfer the product to a different container in order to keep using it without issue.
- Works well on dry skin
- Oil-free foam formula
- Poor packaging
4. Best Exfoliating Face Wash: Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser
- Active Ingredients: Glycolic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Plant Extracts
- Formula Type: Gel
- Best For: Textured Skin
For anyone with textured skin and acne, Botanic Tree’s Exfoliating Cleanser is a good choice. The product uses glycolic and salicylic acids in addition to plant extracts to create an exfoliating scrub that improves overall skin texture while eliminating blemishes.
In addition to exfoliating, this product will reduce the appearance of acne scars and hyperpigmentation. It is a good choice for someone with cystic acne, as it will treat all the elements of acne cysts and repair the skin with each use.
If you have sensitive skin, the exfoliating properties of this face wash may be a little too harsh for you. Always do a patch test before applying anything to your face if you think it might cause a reaction. This product also has somewhat of an unpleasant perfume smell that you may want to avoid. For a better-scented product, we recommend Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash.
- Exfoliating formula
- Improves skin texture
- Reduces appearance of acne scars
- Works well for cystic acne
- Not good for sensitive skin
- Unpleasant fragrance
5. Best for Stubborn Acne: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne
- Active Ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide
- Formula Type: Gel
- Best For: Stubborn Acne
Neutrogena’s Rapid Clear is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog your pores with continued use. Maximum strength benzoyl peroxide is a part of this formula and works to deep clean your face. This product works quickly, and results can be seen within the first few uses. It is a great choice for someone looking to intercept a breakout as soon as it happens.
If you have particularly stubborn acne that has been otherwise resistant to treatment, this product may be able to help you out. The strong formula combined with zinc and menthol clear up even the most persistent breakouts. This face wash can also reduce any redness that occurs around acne spots.
This product is not the best for treating blackheads. It mainly targets larger inflammatory acne areas. Additionally, it has a strong scent that lingers throughout the day and could be off-putting for those who don’t enjoy a perfumed smell staying on their face.
- Works quickly
- Clears even stubborn acne
- Reduces redness
- Does not work well on blackheads
- Lingering scent
6. Best Daily Face Wash Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Face Wash
- Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid
- Formula Type: Gel
- Best For: Oily Skin
This acne face wash is perfect for anyone with oily skin looking for a daily cleanser. It features salicylic acid in order to remove dirt from pores and charcoal, which helps to absorb dirt and excess oil on the skin. Even with daily use, the formula is not too harsh and will not dry out your skin.
This product works well on blackheads thanks to the salicylic acid that dissolves stubborn dirt from the inside out. It can also help reduce the size of your pores, preventing the occurrence of future blackheads.
The formula of this product may have an unpleasant consistency to some. It is quite thick and can be a little hard to spread over your face. Make sure your skin is thoroughly wet before using it to make the application process a little easier. Alternatively, you could opt for a smoother foaming cleanser like Acne Free’s Oil-Free Acne Cleanser.
- Can be used daily
- Great for oily skin
- Charcoal draws out impurities
- Works well on blackheads
- Unpleasant consistency
7. Best for Combination Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser
- Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid
- Formula Type: Gel to Foam
- Best For: Combination Skin
La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar is a medicated gel to foam cleanser that has been developed by dermatologists. The product uses 2 percent salicylic acid to clear skin and lipo-hydroxy acid to repair skin on a cellular level. Consistent use of this product can leave you with clear skin that shows improved elasticity and texture.
This formula is fragrance-free and tested for use on sensitive skin. It is a good choice if you have combination skin because it works on a cellular level to fight oily areas and remove bacteria, but it doesn’t overly irritate or dry out other areas of the skin.
This product may cause skin reactions when first used. The formula uses menthol as a cooling and scenting agent; menthol can cause some users’ skin to breakout more or develop a rash. It could also create a burning or tingling sensation that you may want to avoid.
- Works well on combination skin
- Lipo-hydroxy acid repairs skin
- Designed by dermatologists
- May cause skin reactions
- Can cause a burning sensation
8. Best Oil Control Face Wash: Bioderma Sébium Foaming Gel
- Active Ingredients: Zinc Sulfate, Plant Extracts
- Formula Type: Gel to Foam
- Best For: Hormonal Acne, Oily Skin
Bioderma’s Sébium Foaming Gel uses zinc sulfate and plant extracts to remove excess oil from the skin. The product treats acne by limiting sebum secretion – sebum is the main source of acne. By limiting it, your skin will be less oily and less prone to breakouts.
Because this product works to balance out the skin, it is a good choice for anyone who experiences routine hormonal acne. Limiting oil production and balancing the skin will stop any excess oil that gets produced by hormones. The formula also leaves skin feeling soft and hydrated due to this balance.
The foam of this product does not lather up well. It takes a lot of gel to reach a rich lather, which can use up a lot of product. The pump nozzle on the product is often ineffective, which leads to difficulty dispensing any amount of the wash. If you would instead like a product that is a little easier to use, check out Dr Song’s Medical Acne Wash.
- Balances skin
- Limits sebum secretion
- Leaves skin feeling soft
- Works well on hormonal acne
- Does not lather well
- Pump nozzle is ineffective
9. Best Organic Face Wash: Christina Moss Naturals Original Face Wash
- Active Ingredients: Plant Extracts
- Formula Type: Gel
- Best For: Sensitive Skin
If you are a fan of natural and organic products, the Christina Moss Naturals Original Face Wash may be a great option for you. The product is formulated with certified organic ingredients and is free from parabens, sulfates, and dyes. This makes it gentle enough to be used on sensitive or dry skin.
Plant extracts are the key to fighting acne in this product. Rosemary essential oil prevents breakouts while aloe vera and shea butter work to repair and condition the skin. If you are trying to avoid artificial chemicals in your acne treatment, this product is a good choice.
Due to the presence of so many plant extracts and essential oils, this product may cause allergic reactions on your skin. Make sure to carefully read the ingredients to avoid coming into contact with something that could potentially cause irritation.
This is also not the best product for oily skin as it is rather gentle and non-absorbent. A better acne face wash for oily skin is found in Bioré’s Charcoal Acne Clearing Face Wash.
- Certified organic ingredients
- Plant-based acne treatment
- Good for sensitive skin
- Free of sulfates and dyes
- Plant extracts may irritate skin
- Not the best for oily skin
10. Best Lightweight Face Wash: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit
- Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid
- Formula Type: Gel to Foam
- Best For: Occasional Breakouts
If you are looking for a more preventative product that can help you get a hold on your occasional breakouts, Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash is a great choice. It cleans your skin without being too harsh and removes any excess oil. Vitamin C is added to the formula to help brighten and protect skin against damage.
The formula of this product is lightweight. After using it, you will not find any greasy or sticky residue on your skin that could potentially cause more acne. It has one of the best scents out of the products on our list – a light, refreshing grapefruit. It is not too overpowering for those who dislike strong fragrances.
While this product is great for preventing and treating small breakouts, it is not quite strong enough if you need an intense acne treatment. For stubborn or very inflamed acne, a potent product like Neutrogena’s Rapid Clear is a better choice.
- Great for acne prevention
- Pleasant scent
- Vitamin C protects skin
- Does not work well on stubborn acne
Full Guide to Using Face Washes for Acne
The Benefits of Using an Acne Face Wash
A designated face wash for acne can come with a multitude of skin-clearing benefits that do more than just treat and prevent acne.
As your face wash removes dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria, it will leave your skin looking brighter – clearer pores lead to clean, glowing skin.
Improve Skin Texture
Many acne face washes have ingredients such as glycolic acid or other exfoliants. These exfoliants treat your acne and will also help to fade any bumps or rough skin texture caused by blemishes. If you’re interested in a face wash that is perfect for exfoliating, check out Botanic Tree Exfoliating Cleanser.
Reduce Fine Lines
The alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) that are found in so many acne face washes not only treat acne, they can also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Over time, AHAs promote collagen growth, leaving you with youthful-looking, acne-free skin.
How to Use a Face Wash for Acne
The way you apply your face wash can change how effective it is. You can follow our step-by-step guide for how to use your acne face wash for an idea of what to do. As always, make sure to read the specific instructions on your face wash before applying.
- Wet your face with lukewarm water. Make sure it is not too hot as this will dry out the skin.
- Apply the cleanser to your fingertips and begin massaging it into your face.
- Rub the wash in a circular motion, starting with your jawline and working your way up. Pay extra attention to any patches of acne.
- Let the cleanser sit on your face for a minute or two, as tolerated. This allows your skin to fully absorb the active ingredients.
- Rinse your face gently with lukewarm water and pat dry. You can now apply toner or follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
The Reasons You Develop Acne
Unfortunately, there are many possible reasons behind your acne, and it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what is causing your skin problems. Sometimes, it is a combination of things. Take a look at our list of potential acne causes and apply them to your life in order to find a culprit.
One of the biggest reasons behind acne, especially for women, is the fluctuating cycles of hormones. Hormones can cause skin inflammation, excess oil production, and encourage the growth of acne-causing bacteria Propionibacterium Acnes.
With all of these things happening on your skin at once, it is easy to see why breakouts happen. Hormonal acne in adults typically forms around your lower cheeks and chin.
Not only is it bad for our immune systems, but stress can also wreak havoc on your skin. Stress causes slower wound healing and inflammation, meaning your acne will stay on your skin longer and probably be more painful. Try one of our stress-relieving tips to fight this type of acne.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your genetics determine the fate of your skin. Often times, acne that doesn’t respond well to treatment is a result of your genes – your skin is more prone to developing blemishes and staying inflamed. A strong acne treatment like Neutrogena’s Rapid Clear is a good choice for this acne type.
If you have naturally oily skin, chances are you are more prone to acne. Oil clogs pores and traps dirt, creating more areas for bacteria to increase on your skin and cause breakouts. Consistent daily face washing with a product like Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Face Wash can be helpful for this.
Certain medications like corticosteroids or DHEA can cause full breakouts or small spots of acne on the skin. A face wash may help with this, but you may want to speak with your doctor if the acne becomes too unmanageable as a side-effect.
A poor diet consisting of mostly processed or junk foods has the potential to cause breakouts. Foods that have a high-glycemic index, such as sugar or white bread, can also lead to spikes in your blood sugar and affect your hormones, causing breakouts. A low-glycemic diet may be helpful in getting your acne under control.
Types of Acne
It’s important to understand the different types of acne that can form on your skin so you can be better prepared to treat whatever comes your way.
This type of acne does not involve swelling, and acne spots are not red or inflamed. A salicylic acid treatment is the best for this type of acne.
- Blackheads: Also known as open comedones, these occur when a pore is clogged with dirt and dead skin. The top stays open, exposed to air, and turns your pores the noticeable black color.
- Whiteheads: Often called closed comedones, whiteheads form the same way as blackheads, except the top stays closed, and the appearance of the acne remains white.
Inflammatory acne is accompanied by swelling, redness, inflammation, and spots that are painful to the touch. This type of acne responds better to a stronger treatment like the kind found in our best overall pick.
- Papules: Papules result from the surrounding cells of a clogged pore breaking down, forming a small, hard bump. They are usually pinkish in color and painful to touch.
- Pustules: A pustule is a papule that is formed with pus. They often push to the surface of the skin, forming a larger, redder bump. They may have a yellow or white top.
- Nodules: Nodules grow deep under the skin and are the result of swollen pores growing larger due to irritation. This type of acne often needs prescription medication.
- Cysts: Pores that are clogged by oil, dead skin, and bacteria form cysts. They are large, red or white, and painful to touch. Cysts are typically further below the surface than nodules.
Creating an Acne-Fighting Skincare Routine
When experiencing acne, especially if it is persistent, you should try and tailor your other skincare and makeup products to be as non-irritating as possible. Here are a few suggestions for daily changes you can make in your skincare routine.
Use Oil-Free Products
Reducing the amount of oil that goes on your skin will help to prevent future breakouts. Consider switching to oil-free foundations and moisturizers, and maybe invest in a product like Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash.
Don’t Forget Moisturizer
It may seem tempting to skip skin moisturizing, especially if your skin is already oily, but moisturizing is a great way to keep your skin from becoming too dry and creating excess oil– the main factors in acne formation. Moisturizing helps to balance out your skin (a product like Bioderma Sébium Foaming Gel can also help with this), preventing excess oil and keeping breakouts under control.
Use a Toner
Using a dedicated toner for treating acne or oily skin after your face wash will help remove any remaining oil and clarify pores. Toners can be somewhat drying, so make sure to follow up with a moisturizer, and if you have naturally dry skin, you should invest in a more hydrating toner like this one.
Home Remedies for Acne
If you’re looking for a way to start treating your acne but don’t have the time or budget to make a trip to the store, home remedies are there to save the day. Everything from apple cider vinegar to tea tree oil and aloe vera can be used to treat acne. Check out this guide to home acne treatment for more information.
Treating Acne Scars
Lingering acne scars that stay on your skin once you’ve eradicated your acne can be an even bigger nuisance than the acne itself. Acne scars are stubborn and may take a while to fade, but it can be done.
Topical treatments such as vitamin E or vitamin C serums can fade the appearance of these scars and improve your skin texture. You may also want to consult a doctor for a procedure such as laser resurfacing, if your scars are pronounced enough. You can read more about acne scar treatment in this article.
Acne Prevention Tips
Wondering what you can do to stop your acne from forming in the first place? Check out these pro tips for acne prevention.
Clean Your Skin Regularly
Maintaining a regular cleansing ritual is vital to preventing acne from forming. Wash your face at least once a day with your acne face wash, twice a day if you are prone to oily skin. You can also invest in an acne body wash to treat acne on other areas of your body.
Consider Oral Contraceptives
If you’re a female and really struggling with acne, especially hormonal acne, oral contraceptives may be a good solution for you. By altering your hormones, oral contraceptives can reduce the amount of oil on your face and stop acne from appearing. Consult your doctor for more information on this.
Excessive stress will do nothing for your skin except prolong an acne breakout or make it more painful. Consider setting aside time for yourself every day to meditate, practice yoga, or develop a self-care routine.
When to See a Doctor
If your acne is affecting your confidence to the point you don’t wish to go out anymore, or if it has become too painful to touch, you should probably book an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist.
At this appointment, your skin will be medically evaluated, and you can receive a prescription acne medication; it will either be a stronger topical medication or an oral treatment, such as antibiotics or isotretinoin.
Your Journey to Clear Skin
Fighting off acne is not one of life’s most enjoyable tasks, but it is necessary if you want to experience clear skin. With the help of a face wash, you can eliminate bacteria and dead skin cells, effectively treating and preventing breakouts. Adding a quality acne face wash into your skincare routine is the best way to start your journey towards acne-free skin.