These Acne Face Washes Are Your Ticket to Clearer Skin

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From the moment we hit puberty, acne becomes a big part of most of our lives. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting about 50 million Americans every year. But acne doesn't disappear after your teenage years. Instead, it can carry on into adulthood or develop then for the very first time.

That’s why the skincare products we use every day are so important—starting with our face wash.  “People who are acne-prone know that sometimes the stress over the proper routine can be too much, but the proper cleanser can help manage it all in a way that is sustainable to your skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stacy Chimento, of Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, FL. Lucky for you, we searched high and low to find the best cleansers on the market to heal breakouts and keep them from forming in the first place.

Read on for the best acne face washes you can buy now.

In This Article

Best Overall: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Refreshing

  • Balances skin

  • Doesn't feel greasy

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't remove makeup

  • Might be drying for some

This acne face wash is not only budget-friendly, but it also works hard to get rid of blemishes and keep skin calm and clear. The formula is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog up pores, and it's non-drying and non-irritating—perfect for anyone with sensitive skin. Chimento says it’s a real winner.  “You have salicylic acid for exfoliation, ceramides to prevent dryness and protect the epidermis, hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin, and niacinamide, which reduces redness,” she explains.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid, Niacinamide, Ceramides | Size: 8 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Drugstore: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Fighting Face Wash

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Balances skin

  • Improves skin texture

  • Gently cleanses

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't remove makeup

  • The smell

This classic, dermatologist-recommended cleanser is a best-seller for a reason. It’s formulated with salicylic acid, which is often the best ingredient to try if you find yourself dealing with acne. It’s a beta hydroxy acid, which means it works to exfoliate and clear dead skin cells that are clogging up your pores. That translates to less frequent breakouts and overall clearer-looking skin.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid | Size: 6 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Blackheads: Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Cleanser

Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Cleanser

Courtesy of Walmart 

What We Like
  • Very hydrating

  • Removes oily skin

  • Eliminates impurities

What We Don't Like
  • Not for very sensitive skin

Key Ingredients

Activated charcoal is created from carbon-rich materials burned at high temperatures, like coal, coconut shells, and wood. In skincare, there are claims that it binds to and removes impurities from the skin, but more research is needed.

By now you probably know the whole schpeel about how charcoal benefits the skin, so we won't get into it here, but just know that this charcoal-infused cleanser is the stuff, particularly if you're dealing with blackheads. The hard-hitting combo of charcoal and salicylic acid removes impurities from the skin so pores are purified (no more of those black dots pebbling your nose) and breakouts are left at bay.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid | Size: 6.77 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Oil-Free: AcneFree Oil-Free Acne Cleanser

acnefree oil free acne cleanser

Courtesy of Amazon 

What We Like
  • Fragrance-free

  • Suitable for body too

  • Holds on to moisture

What We Don't Like
  • Can stain or bleach colored towels and fabrics

Key Ingredients

Benzoyl peroxide is an organic acid in the peroxide family that has been used to treat acne because of its keratolytic, moderate comedolytic, and antibacterial properties, which include the reduction of P. acnes and Staph. aureus on the skin.

If you tend to go for oil-free formulas to counteract skin that already produces too much oil, this formula is a great option. It’s formulated with benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria and glycolic acid to exfoliate the skin and get rid of clogged pores without drying them out.

Active Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide, Ceramides, Glycolic acid | Size: 8 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Oily Skin: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser

4.4
Facial Cleanser by Differin
What We Like
  • Fragrance-free

  • Very gentle and few ingredients

  • Works quickly

What We Don't Like
  • May not be for sensitive skin

When it comes to clearing up acne, benzoyl peroxide is a total powerhouse ingredient. It kills the bacteria on your face that causes acne to form, so not only will it banish your pimples, but it’ll stop them from forming in the first place. It’s important to use benzoyl peroxide carefully though since it can be drying to sensitive and dry skin types. But for oily skin, it’s a great option and can even slow the overproduction of oil.

Active Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide, Acrylate Copolymer | Size: 4 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Differin Daily Deep Cleanser

 Byrdie / Joline Buscemi

What Our Testers Say

"This formulation is not only affordable but is powerful enough to clear skin without drying it out." — Joline Buscemi, Product Tester

Best for Whiteheads: Mario Badescu Skin Care Acne Facial Cleanser

 Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser
What We Like
  • Gentle on the skin

  • Not greasy

  • Balances skin

What We Don't Like
  • May not be for sensitive skin

From the brand that created the ultimate acne spot treatment (if you know, you know) comes this equally-great acne face wash. It's a clarifying formula with salicylic acid, aloe vera, and thyme extract to help remove pore-clogging dead skin cells while preventing the skin from drying out.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, Thyme extract | Size: 6 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Redness: Neutrogena Oil-Free Cleanser

Neutrogena Oil-Free Cleanser
What We Like
  • Fresh chamomile scent

  • Smooths the skin

  • Don't need to use daily

What We Don't Like
  • Might not be for sensitive skin

Acne can, of course, cause unattractive zits to pop up, and with that can come redness as well. This cleanser is formulated to get rid of blemishes and the redness that makes skin look even more irritated. The salicylic acid clears up acne while naturally derived aloe and chamomile extracts work to calm the skin and soothe it.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid | Size: 6 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Combination Skin: Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control 3-In-1 Foaming Face Wash

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control 3-in-1 Foaming Wash

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Conveniently pumps

  • Tackles combination skin

  • Moisturizes the skin

What We Don't Like
  • Might not work for those with allergies

Dealing with combination skin can be tricky since parts of the face are oily—usually around the T-zone (the forehead, nose, and chin)—and the other areas tend to be dry. So, picking the right cleanser is important in keeping your skin balanced and happy. This formula has acne-fighting salicylic acid, but it’s also gentle enough to use daily.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid | Size: 8 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best With Sulfur: Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser

Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Cleanser Acne Treatment
What We Like
  • Fragrance-free

  • Hydrates the skin

  • Unclogs the pores

What We Don't Like
  • Might not work on sensitive skin

When it comes to acne, you hear a lot about the wonders of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Nothing against them (they're acne-fighting great ingredients for certain) but let's also give some due praise to sulfur, which makes a big 3% cameo in this cleanser. When used over time, you can expect to see visibly clearer skin and minimized pores.

Active Ingredients: Sulfur | Size: 4 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best With Glycolic Acid: Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser

Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser

Courtesy of Dermstore

What We Like
  • Unclogs pores

  • Cleanses without stripping

  • Has potency

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

According to dermatologist Dr. Nava Greenfield of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York, this formula is a great pick packed with potent glycolic acid to exfoliate. Use this cleanser to help remove surface dead skin cells, which can pile up on the surface, clog pores, and lead to acne. Your skin will look glowy as a result, too, which is never a bad thing.

Active Ingredients: Glycolic Acid | Size: 6.7 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Powerful: DermaDoctor Ain't Misbehavin' Medicated AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser

What We Like
  • Unclogs the pores

  • Gentle on the skin

  • Works on combination skin

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't remove makeup well

This cleanser is formulated with both AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHA (salicylic acid) so you know it's not messing around—or should we say, misbehaving. It's got salicylic acid, but also glycolic acid, witch hazel, and allantoin. Dr. Greenfeld recommends reaching for this one when you're dealing with comedones, those small, flesh-colored bumps that usually appear on the forehead and chin.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid | Size: 7.1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Final Verdict

We searched high and low to find the best cleansers on the market to banish zits and keep them from forming in the first place. We found that the best acne face wash is CeraVe's Renewing SA Face Cleaner. Not only is it budget-friendly, but it also includes blemish-busting salicylic acid to address existing acne and keep pores clear. If you're steering clear of sal acid and prefer a benzoyl peroxide-based cleanse, we recommend Differin's Daily Deep Cleaner. The BP (benzoyl peroxide) helps kill acne-causing bacteria before it has a chance to wreak havoc.

What to Look For in an Acne Face Wash

Salicylic Acid

According to Chimento, this popular acne-fighter is worth seeking out. It’s a beta-hydroxy acid or BHA, that’s ideal for helping to unblock clogged pores, a key component of acne, she explains. It’s a perfect choice if blackheads and/or whiteheads characterize your acne.

Benzoyl Peroxide

On the flip side, this common ingredient is great for those who are battling bacterial acne, says Chimento. (This type of acne is generally characterized by red, inflamed pimples.)

Skin-Soothers

By nature, many anti-acne ingredients can be fairly intense and harsh for the skin. Chimento says it’s a good idea to seek out washes that also contain some calming or soothing ingredients, think chamomile or aloe vera, to ward off the potential for irritation.

FAQ
  • Does face wash remove acne?

    While nothing can exactly “remove” acne, a face wash formulated for acne-prone skin can help to treat it. This is one of several steps you’ll want to take if you have acne, especially if you have acne that is hard to treat. If you’re just getting started with treating acne, a face wash is the easiest place to start because washing our faces is something we all do regularly anyway. An acne face wash can help to clear skin, and it may help to also keep it clear so that fewer future breakouts occur.

  • Does face wash cause pimples?

    The wrong face wash for your skin type can lead to pimples if it clogs your pores or if it isn’t the right match for your skin type or your needs. For example, a face wash that doesn’t remove makeup shouldn’t be used alone if you are wearing makeup because then there will still be residue left behind that can clog your pores. People with dry skin should use a different face wash than people with oily skin since their skin will have different cleaning and refining needs.

  • How can I get rid of acne?

    Using a face wash for skin with acne is a great way to help your face clear up. In addition to that, there are other things you can try. There is a prescription treatment for acne called Winlevi, which is the first FDA-approved prescription drug for hormonal acne since Accutane was approved many years ago. There are natural options for getting rid of acne too, such as manuka honey, which has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any face washes available at Walmart from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at contact@byrdie.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. Arif, T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:455-461. doi:10.2147/CCID.S84765

  3. Kawashima M, Nagare T, Doi M. Clinical efficacy and safety of benzoyl peroxide for acne vulgaris: Comparison between Japanese and Western patients. J Dermatol. 2017;44(11):1212-1218. doi:10.1111/1346-8138.13996

  4. Houshmand, EB. Effect of glycolic acid, phytic acid, soothing complex containing Emulsion on Hyperpigmentation and skin luminosity: A clinical evaluation. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;20(3):776-780. doi:10.1111/jocd.13950

  5. Kasparaviciene G, Kalveniene Z, Pavilonis A, Marksiene R, Dauksiene J, Bernatoniene J. Formulation and Characterization of Potential Antifungal Oleogel with Essential Oil of Thyme. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:9431819. doi:10.1155/2018/9431819

  6. Surjushe A, Vasani R, Saple DG. Aloe vera: A short review. Indian J Dermatol. 2008;53(4):163-166. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.44785

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