The 10 Best Face Washes for Acne-Prone Skin of 2023

Our top pick is the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser, which is gentle enough to use twice daily but is packed with powerful ingredients.

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Laroche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser
Amazon.com

Washing your face is a staple part of any basic daily skincare routine. Acne-prone skin in particular can reap visible results from blemish-fighting formulas, but it's all about finding the right product to match your specific concerns.

To find the best face washes for acne, we spent hours researching the most popular options on the market. While narrowing down the list, we considered factors like ingredients, benefits, and price. We also spoke with Dr. Corey L. Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, for expert advice on choosing the best formula for you.

"Choose a face wash with active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid," says Dr. Hartman. "Gentle cleansers with hydrating ingredients, like glycerin and ceramides, are also a good choice, as oftentimes acne treatments can dry out the skin's moisture barrier." With that in mind, our top overall pick is the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser, which is budget-friendly, effective, and great for treating all different types of acne.

Find all of our face wash recommendations below, and keep scrolling for expert advice on what to keep in mind while shopping for them.

Best Overall Face Wash

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser

4.8
La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser

Courtesy of Amazon 

Who it's for: People looking for a budget-friendly medicated face wash that treats breakouts and prevents future ones.

Who it isn't for: Those with hyper sensitive skin may want to stay away from salicylic acid altogether to avoid irritation.

This dermatologist-formulated gel face wash contains 2 percent salicylic acid acne treatment to target—and prevent—everything from blackheads and whiteheads to red, raised pimples and cystic acne. But it also goes one step further with hydrating glycerin and 0.5 percent lipo-hydroxy acid (a salicylic acid derivative). The latter has been clinically shown to offer "skin renewing, exfoliating, and acne treating properties," per the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, to pack an extra punch when it comes to beating blemishes.

Not only does this face wash treat and prevent breakouts, but it also works overtime to reduce excess oil. This formula is designed to significantly decrease unwanted shine that accumulates throughout the day. For that reason, this face wash is considered top of the line for oily, acne-prone skin.

Per the brand, this face wash is gentle enough to use twice daily—once in the morning and once in the evening. All in all, it's a smart (and budget-friendly) option for those who want a medicated formula that isn't too harsh on the skin.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid
  • Formulation: Gel
  • Size: 6.7 ounces

Price at time of publish: $17

Best Budget Face Wash for Acne

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash with Salicylic Acid

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

Amazon

Who it's for: Those looking for an affordable face wash that reduces the appearance of acne.

Who it isn't for: This product contains fragrance, which may not be ideal for those with sensitive skin.

Surely you recognize this drugstore-famous face wash. It's been a bestseller for years for its simplicity, effectiveness, and affordability. The orange-bottled cleanser contains the maximum strength of 2 percent salicylic acid (the highest amount allowed in over-the-counter formulas). It also features the brand's patented MicroClear technology, a blend of ingredients that works to clear excessive sebum and help boost the delivery of salicylic acid into pores to speed up the treatment process.

Those with oily and acne-prone skin will see the best results with twice-daily use. The gel formula creates a refreshing lather when massaged into the skin that shouldn't make your skin feel dry or tight. Thanks to the formula's aloe and chamomile extract, your complexion will likely feel soft and soothed after cleansing in the morning and evening.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid
  • Formulation: Gel
  • Size: 9.1 ounces

Price at time of publish: $9

Best Natural Face Wash for Acne

Three Ships Clarify Tea Tree + MCT Cleansing Oil

Three Ships Clarify Tea Tree Cleansing Oil

Who it's for: People looking for an EWG-verified acne-fighting face wash.

Who it isn't for: Those looking for a bottle that'll last a while, as this one's the smallest on our list.

Want a face wash for acne that doubles as a makeup remover? This natural option's got you covered. It's made of 99 percent MCT (coconut oil), 0.5 percent tea tree oil, and 0.5 percent cedarwood oil that melts off cosmetics (including waterproof formulas) in one fell swoop while also targeting blemishes.

While coconut oil helps remove makeup, dirt, and oil, tea tree oil helps reduce the appearance of redness and blemishes. Likewise, cedarwood oil has strong antibacterial properties. Case studies support both ingredients: A 2017 trial showed that tea tree oil products "significantly improved mild to moderate acne," while a 2016 study highlighted the benefits of cedarwood oil.

Perhaps most notably, this cleansing oil is EWG-certified, which means it's free of chemicals that the corporation deems potentially dangerous to your health. The only crutch is that the 2-ounce bottle likely won't last you that long, but on the bright side: It's really easy to travel with.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Coconut oil, tea tree oil, and cedarwood oil
  • Formulation: Cleansing oil
  • Size: 2 ounces

Price at time of publish: $15

Best Gentle Face Wash for Acne

Versed Keep the Peace Acne-Calming Cream Cleanser

Versed Keep the Peace Acne-Calming Cream Cleanser

Target

Who it's for: People looking for a vegan face wash that is gentle enough to be used everywhere (including eyelids).

Who it isn't for: People who'd prefer a maximum strength acne treatment.

The name says it all: This non-drying foaming cream cleanser is gentle, powerful, and soothing. It contains 1.5 percent salicylic acid and apple fruit extract to gently exfoliate and unclog pores without stripping the skin of its natural oils. As for that pretty blue hue? Its coloring is due to the inclusion of the antioxidant blue tansy, which cools and relieves angry, inflamed skin.

If you decide to add it to your shopping cart, the brand recommends massaging a dime-size dollop onto your wet skin for 60 seconds in the morning and evening. It's best to spend a few extra seconds targeting areas prone to oiliness and congestion, like your nose and chin.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid
  • Formulation: Foaming cream
  • Size: 4 ounces

Price at time of publish: $18

Best Exfoliating Face Wash for Acne

Glytone Acne Clearing Cleanser with 2% Salicylic Acid

Glytone Acne Clearing Cleanser with 2% Salicylic Acid

Courtesy of Amazon

Who it's for: Those looking for a formula that works on surface level blemishes and deep within pores.

Who it isn't for: People with dry or sensitive skin may want to consider a formula without glycolic acid.

Formulated for mild to moderate acne, this cleanser features 2 percent salicylic acid and one of the brand's hero ingredients: chemically exfoliating glycolic acid. These active ingredients work in harmony: While glycolic acid rids skin of pore-clogging skin cells from the surface level of the skin, salicylic acid penetrates pores on a deeper level.

Because this is an exfoliating face wash, it's best to gradually introduce it into your skincare routine. Start by using it just once a day to avoid drying out your skin, and then gradually increase to twice a day. You'll definitely want to use a good moisturizer while using this cleanser, and always remember to wear sunscreen.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid and glycolic acid
  • Formulation: Gel
  • Size: 6.7 ounces

Price at time of publish: $34

Best Face Wash for Acne and Dry Skin

PCA Skin Gentle Hydrating Face Wash

PCA Skin Gentle Hydrating Face Wash

Amazon

Who it's for: People looking for a gentler alternative to salicylic acid face washes.

Who it isn't for: People who don't want to spend a lot on face wash.

All you need is a dime-size amount of this face wash to reap its hydration-boosting, skin-calming benefits. While it works for all skin types, dry and sensitive acne-prone complexions will likely see the best results. Ingredients include, for starters, willow bark extract. This ingredient contains salicin, which likely sounds familiar because it's where salicylic acid comes from. (FYI: Salicin is a milder alternative to salicylic acid that reduces inflammation and balances oil production). Teamed with exfoliating and nourishing lactic acid and aloe vera, it simultaneously hydrates, soothes, and balances your skin's pH.

Another advantage of this formula is that it's the biggest bottle on our list, which means you'll probably be able to go a while without having to purchase a second. This should help make up for the higher price tag!

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, aloe, and willow bark
  • Formulation: Foaming
  • Size: 7 ounces

Price at time of publish: $35

Best Face Wash for Cystic Acne

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash

4.7
PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash

Walmart

Who it's for: People looking for a versatile acne cleanser that can be used on the face and body.

Who it isn't for: Those with sensitive skin may want to avoid this maximum-strength formula.

Cystic acne is characterized by painful, pus-filled cysts that develop deep under the skin. Cystic acne is particularly difficult to combat, so you need a powerful face wash in your arsenal. This budget-friendly cleanser is proof that you don't have to shell out big bucks to see impressive results. It contains 10 percent benzoyl peroxide (which is the highest amount you can get over-the-counter, FYI)—and not only works wonders for the face, but also the chest and back. To see results fast, the brand recommends massaging it into your skin for two whole minutes before rinsing thoroughly and patting your skin dry.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide
  • Formulation: Foaming
  • Size: 5.5 ounces

Price at time of publish: $10

Best Face Wash for Hormonal Acne

Dr. Zenovia Skincare 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Cleanser

Dr. Zenovia Skincare 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Cleanser

Sephora

Who it's for: People who tend to get breakouts based on their menstrual cycle.

Who it isn't for: Benzoyl peroxide is a strong bleaching agent that can alter the color of towels and other fabrics, which may be a deterrent to some.

Dr. Zenovia Skincare is specially formulated to treat hormonal skin concerns—and this gel face wash is no exception. It features the line's REG-ulate360 Complex, which is packed with a bevy of active ingredients including resveratrol, vitamin E, green tea, bakuchiol, and genistein. On top of that, it contains 10 percent benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria and unclog pores. It's balanced with skin-soothing medical-grade aloe vera so that your skin doesn't feel overly stripped or dry.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide
  • Formulation: Gel
  • Size: 4 ounces

Price at time of publish: $30

Best Face Wash for Blackheads

Murad Acne Control Clarifying Cleanser

Murad Acns Control Clarifying Cleanser

Amazon

Who it's for: People who want to reap the benefits of salicylic acid without committing to a maximum-strength formula.

Who it isn't for: People who want a face wash containing more than one active ingredient.

Blackheads are a type of non-inflammatory acne that crop up when your pores or hair follicles get clogged with sebum. They form itty-bitty black dots on the skin and have a knack for appearing in frustrating clusters. To target them, one of the star ingredients in this face wash is salicylic acid, which penetrates your skin to dissolve pore-clogging oil. There are two types of salicylic acid in this cleanser: one that gets to work immediately, and an encapsulated form that stays in the skin, even after the cleanser is washed off.

This feature is a great way to prevent blackheads from forming, but there are other steps you should take if blackheads are a recurring issue. Exfoliating the skin is great, as well as going to dermatologists for professional extractions. One thing you shouldn't do? Use pore strips, which can irritate the skin further.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid
  • Formulation: Gel
  • Size: 6.75 or 13.5 ounces

Price at time of publish: $34

Best Face Wash for Acne and Hyperpigmentation

Hyper Skin Hyper Even Gentle Brightening Cleansing Gel

4.9
Hyper Skin Hyper Even Gentle Brightening Cleansing Gel

Sephora

Who it's for: Those looking to reduce the appearance of acne marks and dark spots.

Who it isn't for: Those looking for a face wash containing acne medication.

Hyperpigmentation is a term for darkened patches or spots on the skin, and a few of its causes are sun exposure, inflammation from acne, and hormones—but there are even more potential culprits where that came from. The good news: Hyper Skin's gel face wash utilizes a trio of powerful ingredients to minimize the appearance of dark spots and uneven skin tone. It contains mandelic acid (a gentle exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acid), licorice root extract that targets excess melanin, and willow bark extract to soothe irritation and minimize the look of redness, swelling, and blemishes.

To see the best possible results, the brand recommends applying the cleanser to damp skin, massage it into your skin gently, letting it sit for 30 seconds, and then rinsing thoroughly.

Product Details:

  • Key Ingredients: Mandelic acid, licorice root extract, and willow bark extract
  • Formulation: Gel
  • Size: 5 ounces

Price at time of publish: $28

Final Verdict

Overall, we recommend the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser for its powerful yet gentle formula. It contains a bevy of solid acne-fighting ingredients, including salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid, and works to reduce shine throughout the day, which is great for those with oily, acne-prone skin.

How to Shop for Acne Face Wash Like a Pro

Ingredients

Dr. Hartman sings the praises of two standout acne-fighting ingredients, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, noting that both are "commonly found in acne face washes because they have decades of research to show how well they treat acne."

  • Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that "penetrates through the lipid layers between skin cells and into pores to unclog them, dissolves skin debris, reduces skin inflammation, and treats papules and pustules of acne," says Dr. Hartman. "It can also break the connections between skin cells to increase exfoliation and cell turnover."
  • Benzoyl peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide is both an FDA-approved acne medication and an antiseptic that "kills bacteria and prevents bacteria from multiplying," explains Dr. Hartman.

Formulation

Acne face washes vary in formulation, and there are seemingly endless cream, gel, oil, and foam options on the market. Dr. Hartman recommends foam formulas for all types of acne-prone skin—be it dry, oily, or a mix—because it's "gentle on the skin, yet effective."

Use

"If your skin can tolerate it, you can use an acne face wash once a day," says Dr. Hartman. "If you haven't used one before, try using it 1-2 times per week and add additional days from there as your skin tolerates it." To ensure you're doing what's best for your skin, consider consulting with your dermatologist for a personalized plan.

Questions You Might Ask

How often should you wash your face if you have acne?

"I advise patients with acne that they should wash their face twice daily," says Dr. Hartman, noting that "once in the morning and once at night before bed" is a good regimen to follow for best results. Washing more than that is unnecessary, he says, and warns that "over-washing can actually cause more aggravation to your face—which can lead to more acne."

What's the best way to wash your face if you have acne?

The first step in cleansing your face if you have acne is to wash your hands. Then, using a "dime-sized amount of cleanser," generate a lather by running your hands under the water before applying it to your skin, says Hartman. Then, "gently rub the lather into your face in upward motions" and follow by rinsing with "clean, lukewarm water" and finish by "patting the skin dry with a washcloth." Pro tip: Don't rub the washcloth on your skin, warns the pro, because "rubbing can irritate acne."

What's a good skincare routine for acne?

Listen up: "A good morning skincare routine would be to wash the face, apply an acne spot treatment or full-face treatment, then a moisturizer, followed by a sunscreen," says Dr. Hartman. "An ideal evening routine would start with a cleanser," followed by "a retinol treatment and a moisturizer."

Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Marisa Petrarca, a freelance writer who specializes in beauty and lifestyle content. She has over five years of editorial experience, and her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, POPSUGAR, SELF, and more. To write this article on the best face washes for acne, she considered the ingredients and formulations of dozens of cleansers to come up with the best options. She also spoke with Dr. Corey L. Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, for expert advice.

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