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I'll just say it: Acne is the worst. It doesn’t matter who you are—if there's one thing that unites us, it’s dealing with zits. Everyone has skin that shows off its clogged pores differently, but what’s the first step in dealing with acne, whether it's mild or severe? Washing your face.
"Acne-prone skin requires cleansing to prevent excess oil and bacteria from clogging pores, as well as some gentle exfoliation to slough off and prevent dead skin cells from accumulating on top of pores and compounding the problem of clogging,” explains dermatologist Dr. Milton D. Moore. For this reason, finding the right over-the-counter face wash—and more importantly, using it regularly—is a great place to start. (However, if you have severe acne and don’t know where to begin, consult a dermatologist.)
With all kinds of acne cleansers on the market, some lightweight and some thick and foamy, you should know what attributes to look for as well what active ingredients are said to be the most effective.
The sheer volume of acne-fighting products available can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Read on for the best acne face washes for every skin type.
Best Overall: La Roche-Posay Medicated Acne Face Wash
So what makes this face wash the best of the best? The French pharmacy's favorite sensitive-skin friendly formula still packs a wallop using maximum strength salicylic acid—the true star of any acne regimen—as well as its gentle yet deeper penetrating cousin, lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA). Both of these mild exfoliators treat tough blackheads and whiteheads while being all wrapped up in hydrating glycerin. Which means that when acne goes, moisture doesn’t.
Best Budget: CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
Another potent acne-fighting ingredient is benzoyl peroxide. By attacking the bacteria that causes acne, this is a perfect product for someone who suffers from a more inflamed type of skin issue, including pustules and cystic acne. Although anyone suffering from acne this severe should see a dermatologist for the right treatment, a benzoyl peroxide product is a good place to start. This budget-friendly formula includes niacinamide to help soothe, ceramides to help repair, and hyaluronic acid to help hydrate. Together, these ingredients promise to help offset the drying that's often associated with benzoyl peroxide.
Best Drugstore: Every Man Jack Skin Clearing Activated Charcoal Face Wash
The exfoliating power of maximum-strength salicylic acid joins forces with activated charcoal in this clean, green, vegan, and cruelty-free option that just so happens to be ultra-affordable. If you thought it was impossible to check *all* the boxes with an acne face wash, you can think again—Every Man Jack even promises to balance out the potential acne-fighting and oil-absorbing ingredients with vegetable glycerin and vitamin E.
Best for Blackheads: Murad Acne Clarifying Cleanser
Here’s the deal: fighting blackheads is a marathon, not a sprint. Getting them out of your pores for good means you have to play the long game. Thankfully, this Murad cleanser is great at demolishing those little dark spots thanks to its 1.5 percent salicylic acid. This dose is rounded out by skin-friendly citrus oils and mattifying corn starch. All this means that skin will be left balanced, clear of dirt and dead skin cells, and hydrated.
Best for Whiteheads: NeoGen Dermalogy A-Clear Aid Soothing Foam Cleanser
Salicylic acid is the gold standard for your run of the mill whitehead situation, as long as you don’t overdo it. This cleanser from NeoGen thoroughly cleans skin using hypoallergenic ingredients while salicylic acid gets that trapped oil and skin cells up and out of pores. Just like treating blackheads, whiteheads won’t just go away with a single use. It’s a process, and it takes time. So be patient, and use a product that does the job well. (And this product does the job really well.)
Best for Normal Skin: Bevel Face Wash
If the occasional blemish, pimple, or zit is all you’re dealing with, then lucky you. If you’re looking to keep that track record of an impeccable complexion, then wash every day with a cleanser that balances out overactive T-zones and dehydrated dry patches. This gentle face wash from Bevel includes ingredients such as tea tree oil, witch hazel, and vitamin B3 meant to help keep shine and oil under control, plus aloe vera and coconut water meant to help hydrate the dry spots.
Best for Oily Skin: Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser
When oily skin becomes an all-out issue, you have to break out the big breakout guns. Consider those guns this Jack Black face wash. Glycolic acid is a powerhouse when it comes to helping slough off expired skin cells. Add to that the excellent oil absorption properties of volcanic ash and kaolin clay—yep, the same clay as in all those top-notch detox masks—and you get a face wash that not only fights oil today but keeps oil at bay over time with regular use.
Best for Combination Skin: Marie Veronique Shave Prep + Daily Wash
Whether it’s dry patches, oil slicks, or somehow a hybrid of the two, combination skin is easier to keep balanced than a lot of people think. Using lactic acid, the most gentle of our face-approved acids, this tingly delight from Marie Veronique is perfect for daily use, whether you shave or not. Lactic acid has larger molecules than its buddy glycolic acid and it doesn’t penetrate quite as deep into the skin. That means it keeps dryness and irritation to a minimum while still providing excellent exfoliation of old, oil-ridden skin cells.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Perricone MD Gentle and Soothing Cleanser
All too often, those who suffer from sensitive skin don’t realize that throwing everything but the kitchen sink while standing at the bathroom sink isn’t the best plan of attack. In fact, it is likely making it worse. Perricone MD removes all the skin irritation that accompanies many daily acne face washes while keeping the hero ingredient—salicylic acid—at full strength. The fragrance-free, non-foaming formula is packed with ultra-fine sucrose, and squalane helps to maintain a hydrated and healthy surface skin microbiome.
“A majority of the time, I recommend gentle facial cleansers that avoid over stripping the skin of oils to avoid excessive dryness and inflammation, particularly because most acne-fighting [products] will also be quite drying,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nikhil Dhingra of Spring Street Dermatology in New York. “I tend to lean towards gentle cleansers to give stronger acne-fighting, leave-on products a fighting chance of being more tolerable for my patients to use regularly.”
Best for Redness: Neutrogena Oil-Free Cleanser
Unless your redness is a result of a more serious issue such as rosacea, chances are a nice OTC product will help tame the fiery beast. Neutrogena is a dermatologist favorite for its gentle formulations and this oil-free cleanser is no exception. Loaded with two percent salicylic acid, this face wash counters any oncoming redness with soothing aloe and calming chamomile.
Best for Hyperpigmentation: NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Wash
As we mentioned, as far as acids go, glycolic is going to give you the most bang for your buck. That’s because it does an excellent job with cell turnover, while also doing an excellent job of not drying the bejesus out of your skin. It also targets hyperpigmentation, or dark spots exceptionally well. Packed with 18% glycolic acid, this is going to help fight dark spots, while amino acids and antioxidants give your skin more life than ever.
Best for Inflammation: Dr. Jart+ Teatreement Cleansing Foam
Tea tree oil is one of those ingredients that we can’t figure out how we lived without before. Found at a powerful concentration of 41% in this Dr. Jart+ wash, it promises to work wonders on day-to-day inflammation while a gentle dose of salicylic acid works to keep pores clean and clear. You don’t need the tingle to know it’s working—the results are all the proof you need—but it sure is a nice, refreshing treat.
Best for Dry Skin: Urban Hydration Bright & Balanced Aloe Vera Leaf Face Wash
Yes, even dry skin can fall victim to the occasional blemish or breakout, and when dry skin is attacked with ingredients that further drive out hydration, that can cause a problem. This aloe vera face wash from Urban Hydration gently cleanses skin and clears pores to fend off acne, while aloe, the key ingredient behind the magic, keeps skin naturally smooth, soft, and yes, hydrated.
What to Look For in Acne Face Washes for Men
Thick, Rich Texture
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman says that, when it comes to acne washes, it’s best to find a formula that’s strong enough to fight through hair-bearing skin—especially if your facial hair is on the longer or coarser side. “The lather should be thick and rich and able to get through beards in order to thoroughly cleanse the skin,” he says.
As with any acne wash, Dr. Hartman stresses the importance of a formula that’s packed with key active ingredients. “Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are both known to be vital components of an acne-fighting regimen,” he says.
Dr. Hartman also recommends avoiding any formulas that may be too drying. “It’s not necessary to strip all of the oil from the skin,” he says. “Some oil is essential, and causing the skin to be too dry can actually cause an overproduction of oil and an exacerbation of acne.”
Meet the Expert
What is the most effective acne wash?
Our top picks for an effective acne face wash combine maximum-strength acne fighters like salicylic acid and other exfoliating acids to keep pores clear and soothing ingredients to minimize irritation. In general, look for salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide as the active ingredient, typically in concentrations from 0.5 to 2 percent for salicylic acid, and 2 to 5 percent for benzoyl peroxide.
How do guys get rid of acne?
According to the derms we spoke with, washing with a thick, rich cleanser that contains actives like salicylic acid is a good place to start to treat acne. It's best not to be too aggressive with products, though. Dr. Hartman notes some oil is essential for the health of your skin, and it shouldn't all be stripped away. Typically, people who seek to control their acne will follow cleansing with an acne treatment and then a light moisturizer.
Is soap good for acne?
Cleansing with a mild, gentle soap that is free of harsh sulfates can help moisturize skin and calm irritation, but it typically doesn't have the acne-fighting ingredients that a cleanser does. Using a face wash specifically made for treating acne breakouts ensures you wash with potent actives that can help unclog pores and exfoliate skin, helping to keep it clear.