Acne is a common skin problem. In the United States alone, it affects over 80% of the population between the ages of 12 and 24. The solution for acne-prone skin usually starts with a good facial cleanser, but how do you find the best acne face wash for your skin?
How Do I Find The Best Acne Wash For My Skin?
Washing 🧽 will clear anything that might be clogging your pores, and it also prepares your skin for other acne products. However, a harsh and irritating acne face wash can exacerbate acne and affect how other acne products work. The same applies if the face wash doesn’t effectively clean your skin, so how do you choose the best cleanser?
What Is The Best Acne Face Wash?
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to find the right acne face wash, as it largely depends on knowing what type of skin you have according to dermatologists 👩⚕️, the four skin types are oily, dry, combination, and sensitive. Although you might think you know what kind of skin you have, we encourage you to read our brief guide.
How to Determine Your Skin Type
An irritated skin tries to protect itself by producing excess oil. Naturally-oily skin is not easily irritated as it already produces a lot of oil, but not so dry or sensitive skin. In these skin types, regular irritation with one of the harsh face washes for acne will produce excess oil, which will worsen the acne 👎.
We suggest you use the following checklist to determine your skin type. Two or more characteristics in a category will identify your skin type.
- Rarely red or splotchy except around acne
- Oily early in the morning 🌅, before any skin routine
- Has many blackheads and whiteheads
- Acne primarily on the forehead, nose, and chin (the T-zone)
- Large, prominent pores.
- A rough texture, like the skin of an orange
- Often red or splotchy, even in acne-prone skin
- Skin feels tight or itchy
- Skin appears rough, scaly or flaky
- Skin isn’t dry immediately after showering 🚿 or a skin routine but it becomes so later
- Acne may appear on the entire face, but mostly on the cheeks or jawline (the U-zone)
- Often red or splotchy, even if no acne is present
- Different parts of the skin on your face may meet criteria for oily or dry skin, but your skin type doesn’t fit into either category. Only the central area may seem oily.
- Skin may feel both itchy and oily upon waking up ⏰
- Acne-appearance is widespread
- Skin tone is relatively even after first waking up, but often becomes red or splotchy throughout the day, even if no acne is present
- Skin often feels tight, itchy and burning 🔥
- Skin isn’t sensitive immediately after showering or a beauty routine but it becomes so later
- Gently scratching the skin leaves a red mark for more than a minute
Now that you know your skin type, take a look at our review of the best face washes for acne-prone skin.
Best Acne Face Washes: Oily Skin
An excess of oil clogs pores and creates blackheads and whiteheads, and also feeds acne-causing bacteria. We can recommend the following washes with acne-fighting ingredients 💪.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
Overall Rating: 8/10
This hugely popular wash contains salicylic acid, an effective remedy for oily skin. Salicylic acid is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, and also removes dead skin cells. Ideal primarily to remedy blackheads and whiteheads, this wash helps reduce the oil that acne-causing bacteria 🦠 feed on.
In high concentrations (5%+), the exfoliating effect of salicylic acid can be too strong even for very oily skin, and it will likely cause irritation, redness, and more acne.
The Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, however, contains only 2% salicylic acid plus other soothing, moisturizing extracts. It also contains non-irritating grapefruit extract for a pleasant scent
PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
Overall Rating: 5/10
Although PanOxyl is another popular option, it is only ideal for acne-prone skin that’s non-sensitive and excessively oily. This is because of its high concentration of benzoyl peroxide (10%).
Benzoyl peroxide is a classic acne-fighting ingredient and especially effective against acne-causing bacteria, which are anaerobic, meaning they can’t survive for long in the presence of oxygen.Benzoyl peroxide works by allowing oxygen to penetrate below the surface of the skin. Unfortunately, it can also irritate the skin in high concentrations, such as 10%.
Studies show that after 5%, there is no increase in the effectiveness of benzoyl peroxide, only in side effects like irritation, inflammation, redness, and peeling – all of which can increase acne 👎. Therefore, the wash is only good for very oily skin, and even then we recommend only using it once a day. PanOxyl recently released a 4% benzoyl peroxide wash and it’s still early days, but we predict that it will eventually prove effective for more skin types.
Asepxia Soap for Acne: Good for Both Oily and Sensitive Skin
Overall Rating for Oily Skin: 8/10
Overall Rating for Sensitive Skin: 7/10
It’s not every day that you find an acne treatment that can help both oily and sensitive skin. Certain products of Asepxia contain sulfur which is known for reducing oil without irritating the skin. Sulfur gently peels off the top layer of skin and is popularly used together with agents such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. It is said to be bactericidal and to work well against acne, but scientific evidence is scarce.
We are rating Asepxia higher for oily skin because some products also contain glycolic and salicylic acid, which might be a little too harsh for sensitive skin. Most products also contain foaming agents and fragrances that may cause sensitive skin to react.
Acne-Fighting Washes For Dry Skin
Acne-prone dry skin definitely doesn’t need drying agents and caution needs to be exercised when exfoliating . Also, using a superior moisturizing agent is highly advisable.
Cetaphil Acne Products
Overall Rating: 7/10
Cetaphil has a wide variety of acne products marketed for all skin types, but the dry skin range, in particular, is very popular. Most Cetaphil acne products are water rather than alcohol-based and have only a few other ingredients. These are mostly skin-softening agents, like propylene glycol or cetyl alcohol.
Cetaphil products contain potentially irritating fragrances⚠️ and foaming agents, but their acne-busting properties seem to outweigh this risk for most users with sensitive skin.
We think this is probably the best face wash if you have dry acne-prone skin and can recommend all Cetaphil products with “gentle” in the name.
Exposed Skin Care Facial Cleanser
Overall Rating: 9/10
This facial cleanser works well for any skin type, but we like recommending it especially for people with dry skin. Its combination of ingredients can fight acne without irritating the skin. How, you might ask? Very simple – a lowered concentration of salicylic acid.
The Exposed Facial Cleanser contains only a 0.5% concentration of salicylic acid which, at this low level, can help clear pores without further drying or irritating dry skin. We’ve also added sage extract, vitamins, and other natural ingredients 🍃for their soothing properties, which also reduce redness.
Acne-Fighting Wash: Combination Skin
Combination skin, by definition, both oily and dry, so there’s no one soap that we know of that does the job. Instead, we recommend using Cetaphil or Exposed as the best washes that won’t dry out your skin 👍. Use acne creams too but moisturize the drier parts – usually the cheeks and forehead- first. To remove dead skin cells, exfoliate the dry areas very gently or not at all.
Acne-Fighting Wash: Sensitive Skin
Sensitive skin is easily irritated, but it isn’t always dry.
The best acne face washes for this type of skin contain the minimum abrasive lab-made chemicals and mainly natural ingredients. Removing dead skin cells should also be done with caution.
African Black Soap Acne Cure
Overall Rating: 9/10
Generally, we are wary of anything touting itself as a “cure” for acne. But African Black Soap Acne Cure has a lot going for it.
The soap 🧼 is made from the ashes of plants found in West Africa. The plants are burned and the ashes filtered, after which natural binding agents are added to create African black soap.
There’s no one recipe for the soap – some include plantains and cocoa pods while others contain aloe vera plants and grains🌱 – but shea tree bark is the main ingredient of most. Although medical data is limited, some research suggests the soap has potent antimicrobial qualities that could fight pimples with bacterial infection as the underlying cause.
We think it might be ideal for sensitive skin. The moisturizing, tissue reparative, and anti-inflammatory effects of especially shea tree bark and aloe vera extracts are well documented.
It’s important to note is that African black soap has to be used correctly. Pieces of unburnt plant matter sometimes remain in the finished soap, which leaves it with a rough surface. Don’t mistake this for a good surface to remove dead skin cells with – it’s way too abrasive for that. Instead, use only the acne-fighting lather of the soap on your skin.
Castile Soap for Acne in Sensitive Skin
Overall Rating: 4/10
Castile soap 🇪🇸 originated in Castile, Spain, and used to contain olive oil almost exclusively. Now, it contains a variety of essential oils and other plant oils like walnut or 🥑 avocado oil. These should make castile soap ideal for sensitive skin, but we have a few concerns.
First, many of the oils in castile soap are comedogenic, meaning they can clog pores. This would rather defeat the purpose of using it.
Additionally, castile soap 🧼 has a relatively alkaline pH level that is inconsistent with our skin’s more acidic pH level. Using alkaline soap on slightly-acidic skin can damage the skin’s protective barrier, cause irritation and exacerbate acne, which is why we have some reservations about recommending castile soap as a foaming cleanser, especially for sensitive acne-prone skin.
Finding the Best Face Wash for Acne: Special Cases
Sometimes, only treating acne based on your skin type isn’t enough to find the best face wash for you.
The Dual Function of Nizoral Dandruff Shampoo
Overall Rating: 6/10
Fungal acne can benefit from Nizoral, as was discovered accidentally by Nizoral users 🛀 who started applying the shampoo foam to their bodies too.
Technically, fungal acne isn’t real acne. It’s a form of folliculitis, a condition where the hair follicles become inflamed and form small red or skin-colored bumps. These are caused by an overgrowth of the Malassezia fungus.
Sometimes, this occurs due to factors such as immunosuppression or antibiotic use, which, in turn, can cause dandruff and various skin diseases. Nizoral may help reduce acne in this case but is unlikely to solve the problem entirely.
Exposed Skin Care’s Face Wash – Also A Dual Function?
Overall Rating: 9/10
Generally, acne on the body is the same as acne on the face. It often forms the same way, but this doesn’t mean that the same acne cleanser will work well in both areas. So, in short, no – Exposed Skin Care’s Face Wash is uniquely formulated for facial acne and we don’t recommend using this foaming facial cleanser elsewhere on the body.
The skin on your face is very thin compared to the skin on the parts of the body where acne is most likely to occur (e.g. the chest, back, and shoulders). Therefore, these areas will respond to a stronger wash that penetrates the epidermis better.
For this, we recommend our Body Wash, which contains only 0.5% salicylic acid. To augment salicylic acid’s function, our product also includes witch hazel, peppermint oil, and tea tree oil in small concentrations. Combined, these ingredients are powerful enough to treat acne on tougher body skin but are gentle enough not to cause further irritation.
Our Facial Cleanser both moisturizes skin and fights acne, all without irritating dry skin 👍.