Like brushing your teeth or flossing, washing your face is one of those things you should be doing every night. But unfortunately, finding the right cleanser for your skin type isn't as straightforward. If you have acne-prone skin, the wrong face wash can clog your pores and trigger breakouts; Then, there are cleansers that do their job too well by stripping your skin of its natural oils, which can lead to irritation and excess oil production to counteract the drying effects. The best cleansers for acne-prone skin offer a balance between skin that's completely clean, but still nourished.
How often should you wash your face?
NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman suggests that acne-prone skin types wash their face in the morning and evening, as well as immediately after working out. "I recommend a double cleansing ritual to my patients to first lift dirt and grime, and then to wash them away," she says. Celebrity esthetician Jeannel Astarita prefers encourages a double cleansing method as well, noting that it's particularly "imperative to thoroughly cleanse in the evening to remove sweat, sunscreen, makeup, and pollutants before sleep."
What are the best cleansers for acne-prone skin?
When it comes to double cleansing, Dr. Engelman and Jeannel both find washing your face first with an oil-based cleanser, then with a gentle exfoliating cleanser to be most effective. "Essentially, the oil binds to the oils on your face, and the cleanser rinses them away without stripping your skin of its good natural oils," Dr. Engelman explains.
For the second step, Dr. Engelman says to look for a water-based cleanser that contains acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or jojoba esters. "These ingredients work by killing bacteria, drying excess oil, and forcing the skin to shed dead skin cells," she explains. "This will unclog pores that are prone to becoming inflamed, [and] exfoliating will allow other products to properly penetrate the skin."
How often should you exfoliate your skin?
Just don't overdo it by combining too many exfoliating products (such as a salicylic acid cleanser and a salicylic acid acne treatment at night). If you choose a cleanser with exfoliating ingredients and you're already using nightly acne treatments, try limiting its use to twice weekly and sticking to an oil or cream cleanser the rest of the time. "Over-exfoliation will expose skin, weaken skin barrier function, and trigger inflammation," Dr. Engelman says. "If the barrier function is damaged, skin becomes vulnerable to inflection from microorganisms such as bacteria and fungus, and leads to sensitivity, irritation, and acne."
Are there any ingredients acne-prone skin should avoid?
And no matter what, Jeannel warns that you should avoid harsh physical exfoliators like walnut and apricot scrubs. "Everyone, but especially people with acneic skin, should stay away from harsh scrubs because they can cause small tears in the skin and spread acne-causing bacteria," she explains. "Also, avoid products that claim to leave skin feeling tingly or minty fresh, as many of them contain menthol or eucalyptol, which can dry out and irritate skin."
When in doubt (or when experiencing irritation), Dr. Engelman recommends using a gentle cream cleanser. If you're experiencing chronic acne, you'll also want to consult with your dermatologist, as they can help you choose a skin care routine to keep breakouts under control.
To help get you started, here are five of the best cleansers for acne, including one of Dr. Engelman's go-to choices.