Swap in This Derm-Approved Cleanser, and You'll Be One Step Closer to Clear Skin

Take it from someone who knows: Struggling with acne can be a chore, a journey, a battle, and everything in between. If you have (or have had) it, you know. Sure, serums, toners, light therapy, and other treatments can be effective in clearing your skin, but it can also be a rough road trying to figure out what kind of ingredients work best for your kind of acne. This is especially true when selecting a face wash. Don't worry, though. Derms have some tips.

Snehal Amin, MD, co-founder and surgical director of MDCS Dermatology, says there's a key difference you should look for in the formulation of your cleanser. "The main ingredient in [some cleansers] is sodium lauryl sulfate. This is a detergent that breaks apart oily substances. Many other cleansers do not contain sodium lauryl sulfate but instead contain glycerin. This can be less drying. The mechanical action of rubbing the face with a cleanser can remove excess sebum and dead skin cells. Since there's no detergent [in a glycerin-based formula] and usually some extra added moisturizing agents, this kind of cleanser is more gentle to the skin," he says.

Now, that's not to say that some can't tolerate a cleanser with higher-strength actives, especially if you have severe acne and would like something a little stronger. Either way, this is a great thing to keep in mind if you have sensitive skin.  At the end of the day though, the only way to nail down a routine that's just right for your skin is to see a dermatologist. But as a jumping-off point, I asked several other derms to weigh in and give their recommendations for the best face washes for acne. Keep reading for all their picks.

1. CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

"This is suitable for most types of acne but best for pustular acne, the type that's a whitehead on a red base. It has 4% benzoyl peroxide, a perfect strength for the face, as higher percentages can be too drying. It reduces acne-causing bacteria while exfoliating dead skin cells. Then there are ceramides to strengthen the skin barrier and prevent dryness. And the creamy formulation with hyaluronic acid also makes it hydrating."

2. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

"This is a classic, budget-friendly, and easily accessible option, particularly for oily skin. It has 2% salicylic acid, an oil-soluble acid that goes deep beneath the skin's surface to clean out excess oil from the pores and regulate oil production. It's very effective at treating comedonal acne, such as blackheads, which have hard, clogged debris in pores that can be difficult to loosen up. It's a gel formula that works best for oily or combination skin."

3. Murad Acne Control Clarifying Cream Cleanser

"This product has encapsulated salicylic acid at 1.5% in a rich, creamy cleanser.  It's more gentle than other salicylic acid cleansers, so it's better for sensitive skin."

4. Alpha-H Balancing Cleanser With Aloe Vera

"This is a great option for red, inflamed acne; sensitive skin; or if you are using acne medicated leave-on topicals like retinoids or exfoliating acids. The texture is creamy and nourishing. It's also formulated with aloe vera to help calm and soothe the skin."

Best face washes for acne



5. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Gel Facial Wash for Oily Skin

"Excess oil can contribute to blocked pores and the formation of acne. This cleanser helps remove oil gently while maintaining the skin's natural pH level."

6. Kiehl's Centella Sensitive Facial Cleanser

"This cleanser is ideal for people with more sensitive skin who want an effective cleanser without active ingredients that might otherwise contribute to dryness or skin irritation. It includes centella asiatica as its hero ingredient, a medicinal plant known for its calming and soothing qualities."

7. Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser

"This product contains salicylic acid to gently remove oil and treat acne. It also contains grape water and grape-seed polyphenols for an antioxidant boost to combat the appearance of blackheads."

8. Cetaphil Acne Relief Body Wash

If you do happen to struggle with body acne, this is the pick for you. "This cleanser is great for treating acne on the chest and back. It includes salicylic acid, which is a beta hydroxy acid that helps to remove oil deep within pores."

9. Vichy Laboratoires Normaderm PhytoAction Daily Deep Cleansing Gel

"This gentle but effective cleansing option is great for those with acne-prone or oily skin, as it contains a combination of salicylic acid, copper, and zinc minerals as well as Vichy volcanic water. Together, these ingredients help to reduce blemishes and clogged pores, improving the overall tone and texture of the skin. It transitions from a gel to a foam to eliminate excess oil but won't leave the skin feeling dry or irritated."

10. Replenix Gly-Sal 5-2 Deep Pore Cleanser

"Combining glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid with salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid, this cleanser helps to eliminate dead skin cells while also helping to unclog pores and reduce breakouts. This combination also helps to brighten and smooth the skin. It even contains proprietary Green Tea Polyphenol Technology, which provides antioxidant benefits and helps to calm the skin."

11. St. Ives Tea Tree Acne Control Daily Cleanser

"This cleanser contains salicylic acid, a key ingredient in treating acne, as well as tea tree extract to help eliminate excess oil, buildup, and dirt to both prevent and treat breakouts. This oil-free cleanser helps unclog pores and can be especially helpful for those dealing with blackheads and whiteheads."

12. Cetaphil Gentle Clear Cleanser

"Designed for acne-prone skin, this cleanser is a great option, as it contains 2% salicylic acid, which helps to unclog the pores and eliminate excess oil. It also contains aloe and white tea extract, so it also hydrates and soothes the skin without causing irritation. It is fragrance-free and can be used by those with sensitive skin too."

13. PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash

"The main ingredient here is benzoyl peroxide, which helps to reduce the bacterial component of acne and reduce inflammation. I also like this for chest and back acne to use in the shower. I warn parents that any product with benzoyl peroxide can bleach clothing, towels, and pillowcases, so I advise to use white."

14. CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

"This is another over-the-counter cleanser that is great for those with acne and sensitive skin. It contains hyaluronic acid, which is hydrating and makes it moisturizing."

Snehal Amin, MD

15. La Roch-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser

"For normal to oily, acne-prone skin, look for face washes with 2% salicylic acid. In addition to its other acne-fighting benefits, it also reduces redness and inflammation.This particular face wash is great because it includes glycerin, which helps balance the tendency of salicylic acid to dry out the skin."

16. Every Man Jack Activated Charcoal Skin Clearing Face Wash

"A regimen that includes one or two acne-fighting ingredients—such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and activated charcoal—can really enhance your results. This particular face wash combines impurity- and oil-absorbing charcoal with salicylic acid. It's best for oily skin."

17. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment

Although this is not strictly a face wash, Amin still recommends this as a fantastic supplement to any acne-clearing routine.