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There are no ifs, ands, or buts (pun intended) about it—breakouts occur all over your body, not just on your face. Pimples can pop up on your back, chest, yes, even butt, and be just as difficult to treat as facial acne. As with your complexion, there are a variety of culprits behind the blemishes, but with body acne, lifestyle factors play a major role. Think things like sitting around in sweaty workout clothes for hours on end, pore-clogging detergents you wash your clothes in, even the shampoo you’re using can contribute to breakouts on your body.
To eliminate below-the-neck pimples (and stubborn blackheads) calls for a body care routine that minimizes excess dirt, oil, and the resultant skin inflammation. For this, you'll want to reach for anti-bacterial agents and oil-soluble exfoliators, along with natural oils that won't clog pores or leave your skin dry—and create a terrible cycle of oil overproduction. With this knowledge in hand, where's the best place to start? In the shower, of course.
Add any of these the best acne body washes to your line-up, and they'll help heal and prevent body breakouts.
Best Overall: Proactiv Deep Cleansing Body Wash
This derm-developed brand is well-known for its facial offerings, but don’t miss their body wash. It gets top points for working to both prevent and treat existing pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads. Credit a combo of 2% salicylic acid that breaks up excess oil, plus gently exfoliating beads to buff away pore-clogging gunk and grime.
Best Budget: Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Treatment Body Wash with Salicylic Acid
A staple in our shower for years, one we reach for this cleanser time and time again. Like many of its counterparts on this list, it too boasts sal acid and is a favorite of New York City dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner for that very reason. “The beta-hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin to keep the pores clear. It can dry out pimples you already have and prevent new ones from developing,”’ he says. This formula also incorporates hydrating glycerin and aloe to prevent over-drying and comes in a yummy-scented pink grapefruit variant, both options ringing in at a super affordable price.
Best Gentle: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
Ceramides are a part of a complex family of fats or lipids called a sphingolipid. They work to restore the skin barrier and lock in moisture.
The main drawback of many zit-zapping ingredients is that they can sometimes end up over-drying your skin. Happily, there’s no need to worry about that with this guy. Yes, it boasts salicylic acid to battle breakouts, though the addition of three ceramides, along with hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, ensure it’s still plenty moisturizing. The fact that it’s both fragrance- and paraben-free just makes it all the more gentle.
Best Exfoliating: Glytone Exfoliating Body Wash
Everyone should be exfoliating the skin below their chin on the reg, but this is an even more imperative step when you’re prone to body breakouts. (It’s one of the easiest ways to both keep pores clear and ensure any leave-on treatment products penetrate better.)
Sure, you could use a separate body scrub—or you could make your life easier and reach for this two-in-one exfoliating wash, a go-to for Byrdie’s Commerce Editorial Director Jessica Magherefteh. An 8.8% concentration of glycolic acid goes to town, dissolving dead skin cells and other pore-clogging grime.
It’s a great option if you’re dealing with K.P., also known as keratosis pilaris, too.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel for Face and Body
Zinc is an essential mineral that is needed for numerous healthy bodily functions, including boosting the immune system, healing wounds, and assisting in DNA/protein synthesis and growth. Applied topically, it's shown to aid in wound healing and regeneration, as well as protect the skin by deflecting UV rays.
We love this soap-free cleansing gel because it eliminates dirt and oil without disturbing your skin's pH level—meaning it's especially great for sensitive skin. Glyceryl laurate refines pore size and helps to reduce sebum production, while the brand's proprietary Thermal Spring Water and zinc soothe the skin and calm any irritation.
Best for Dry Skin: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Body Wash
Shea butter is a plant lipid that comes from African shea tree nuts and is rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. It's used to help moisturize, nourish, and soothe the skin.
African black soap has somewhat of a cult-like of following, thanks to the laundry list of benefits it delivers. (Among them, healing breakouts, thanks to its high concentration of antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory sulfur.) The straight-up version can tend to be a bit drying and not a great option if you have dry skin to begin with, which is why we appreciate that here it’s combined with ultra-hydrating shea butter and aloe vera, among other things. The end result? Clearer, less oily, smoother skin.
Best With Benzoyl Peroxide: Humane Acne Wash
As you may have noticed, the majority of the products on this list use salicylic acid. But there’s another top acne-fighting ingredient that, for some reason, doesn’t make its way into body washes that often. We’re talking about benzoyl peroxide, which has the ability to specifically target the bacteria associated with acne and is an effective anti-inflammatory. Here, it’s in a powerful 10% concentration that can be a bit too intense for the face but is ideal for the thicker skin on your body.
Best Subscription: Curology Acne Body Wash
Never run out of body wash again. This subscription-based brand recently moved into the bod category, launching this standout sudser we love. Salicylic acid keeps pores clear and combats inflammation, and the wash lathers beautifully and rinses completely cleanly.
What Our Editors Say
"My back and shoulders are prone to awful cystic breakouts. It's tough to spot-treat these areas, but a body wash makes things immensely easier. This refreshing cleanser is thick and rich and is supposed to sit on the skin for a minute before rinsing off to let it do its thing and sweep out congestion. I can see visible results from consistently using this wash." — Lindsey Metrus, Editorial Project Director
Best Scent: Mario Badescu A.H.A. Botanical Body Soap
One wash was all it took to get Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould hooked on this formula, which she relies on to ward off breakouts on her chest. The refreshing citrus scent makes every morning more pleasant, according to her, though those ingredients do more than just smell good. Papaya and grapefruit enzymes act as gentle exfoliants, and there’s also soothing oat protein in the mix.
Best for Prevention: Alaffia Authentic African Black Soap All-In-One Eucalyptus Tea Tree
If you’ve finally managed to beat body breakouts and now want your skin to stay clear, reach for this multi-tasking wash. It boasts that same African black soap we talked about earlier, along with neem leaf and tea tree oil, two natural ingredients known to help regulate oil and keep breakouts at bay. Speaking of natural, the entire ingredient list is completely clean and chemical-free, and the soap can also be used on your face or as a shaving cream.
Best Spray: Paula's Choice Clear Acne Body Spray
While this is technically a leave-in product and not a wash, we think it deserves a spot in your body breakout-fighting arsenal. Let’s face it, those pesky pimples in the middle of your back or top of your butt can be hard to reach, which is where this spray comes up huge. It’s easy to mist on anywhere, even those touch-to-tackle spots, delivering a 2% concentration of salicylic acid to zap zits. Spray, let it dry for a few seconds, and go; there’s no need to rinse. If acne body washes alone don’t seem to be cutting it (or you just have a body wash you’re super loyal to) considering picking up this guy.
Best Bar: DermaHarmony 10% Sulfur & 3% Salicylic Acid Body and Facial Soap
We get it—some people just prefer the experience of washing with a solid soap rather than a sudsy liquid wash. If that sounds like you, try this bar. Not only does it contain the highest concentration of salicylic acid of any products on this list (3%), it also combines that with 10% sulfur to give even the most stubborn of blemishes a one-two knock-out punch.
Breakouts can happen all over your body, making an acne-fighting body wash an important part of your skin-clearing regimen. The Proactiv Deep Cleansing Body Wash earns first place in our book, containing both a two-percent concentration of blemish-busting salicylic acid and exfoliating beads. Salicylic acid is also the star of the show in the classic Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Treatment Body Wash with Salicylic Acid, a drugstore fan favorite. On the flip side, the Humane Acne Wash relies on anti-inflammatory benzoyl peroxide, at an effective 10% concentration that’s great for use on the body. And if you’re all about scent, you’ll appreciate that the Mario Badescu A.H.A. Botanical Body Soap, a favorite among Byrdie editors, smells refreshingly citrusy (but still gently exfoliates skin to help combat clogged pores).
What to Look For in an Acne Body Wash
Zeichner recommends reaching for a formula with salicylic acid, which is a beta-hydroxy acid, if you have congested skin. It's oil-soluble, meaning it’s great for helping to unclog pores and combat blackheads and whiteheads specifically.
Another ingredient Zeichner recommends looking for in an acne body wash is benzoyl peroxide, which is ideal to use if your blemishes are larger, red, and/or inflamed. "Benzoyl peroxide lowers levels of acne-causing bacteria to reduce inflammation," he says. "It can also help open up pimples themselves. I typically recommend cleansers that contain the maximum strength of 10% benzoyl peroxide to allow for the best chance of penetration into the skin."
Foaming or Exfoliating Formulas
For those dealing with body breakouts who are generally oily or are already using other acne treatments, Zeichner recommends opting for a foaming or exfoliating formula. “These remove certain oils and keep the pores clear,” he says. This will not only help to address current blemishes, but can prevent future breakouts.
How do you use acne body wash?
When it comes to using an acne body wash, Zeichner stresses the importance of treating it as an actual treatment and not just a body wash that quickly gets lathered up and washed away. “No matter what cleanser you’re using, think of it more like a short contact treatment rather than just a cleanser,” he says. “It needs enough contact time on the skin to allow for penetration of the active ingredient in order for it to do its job.”
Can you use acne body wash on your face?
According to Zeichner, in most cases, you can use your acne body wash on your face. “The active ingredients in acne washes are the same, whether they’re made for your body or your face, so you can use an acne body wash effectively on your face,” he says. “My only caution comes to body scrubs, which may be a bit too harsh for the face.” In addition to scrubs, be cautious of anything that's heavily scented, as that can potentially cause irritation or trigger a breakout.
Can body wash cause acne?
Some body washes—even those formulated to specifically target acne—can actually trigger acne or exacerbate existing breakouts. Formulas that contain harsh detergents can strip the skin of its natural oils, which then signals the body to produce even more blemish-producing sebum. Zeichner says that body washes with heavy oils or fragrances can also lead to skin irritation, and in some cases, cause breakouts. That said, look for hydrating products formulated without heavy soaps or fragrance to keep your skin happy.
Meet the Expert
Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, is an associate professor of dermatology and the Director of Clinical and Cosmetic Research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He specializes in multiple areas of cosmetic and medical dermatology, including acne.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. An avid exerciser (who likes to sit around in sweaty workout clothes after the fact, oops), she’s always battling backne, and uses an acne body wash every time she showers. Neutrogena's is a long-time favorite, but she recently got hooked on the Curology option.