Cleansing is a delicate balance for any skin type, but it's especially difficult to thoroughly cleanse skin that's prone to breakouts and sensitivity. If you're lucky enough to find one, the best cleansers for sensitive, acne prone skin will leave your skin feeling soft and clean, without making your face feel tight or causing it to break out more — which is really everything a cleanser is meant to do.
Although a thorough cleanse is essential to treating breakouts and minimizing future acne flare-ups, you don't need to use a harsh cleanser to get great results. In fact, harsh cleansers can actually make breakouts and sensitivity worse by drying out and irritating your skin, and they often fail to remove makeup completely. And, if you use an acne treatment regularly, you might find that your skin is way more sensitive to harsh ingredients than it used to be.
To minimize the risk of a full-on face freakout, look for a cleanser that's free of sulfates — harsh cleansing agents that are added to products to produce foam — as well as alcohol and artificial fragrances. And, if you're buying an oil-based cleanser, which do an amazing job of thoroughly removing makeup and excess oils, be sure to avoid mineral oil, since it's a common culprit behind clogged pores.
Beyond that, it's always great to use a cleanser that contains antioxidants and soothing ingredients, like calendula, rose, or green tea. Oily skin types can benefit from using a formula with clay or charcoal. As for ingredients that treat acne directly, BHA and tea tree oil do an amazing job of clearing pores and minimizing breakouts, but are likely to irritate super sensitive skin.
If the thought of carefully reading the label of every cleanser you can get your hands on terrifies you, I suggest starting here. These nine gentle cleansers help keep sensitive, acne prone skin clean, healthy, and clear.
1. A Gentle Cleansing Milk That Soothes The Skin & Reduces Inflammation
If you haven't tried a cleansing milk before, the texture might surprise you. These creamy cleansers don't foam, and they feel more like a moisturizer than a cleanser, but this prevents them from stripping the skin of vital moisture.
This gentle cleansing milk is free of alcohol, sulfates, parabens, and artificial fragrances that can irritate sensitive skin. The formula contains Omega 3 and 7 fatty acids that reduce inflammation and improve skin's barrier function over time, making it more resilient against irritation and breakouts. Calendula and chamomile calm irritated skin, which helps reduce the redness associated with acne.
2. A Foaming Cleanser Made With Green Tea To Brighten And Hydrate
Safe for sensitive skin, this green tea foaming cleanser delivers on its promise to brighten and rejuvenate your complexion. Made from fermented green tea leaves, its formula combines the calming properties of green tea with soothing aloe to bring a soft radiance to your skin. This foamy miracle worker is made without sulfates, parabens or phthalates, and is a fantastic natural cleanser to bring into your trusted skin care regimen.
The fan-favorite Korean cleanser also comes in cranberry, blueberry, and cereal formulas. Not only is it a great cleanser on its own, but it's also an excellent choice for the second step in double cleansing — a method that combines using an oil-based cleanser (to remove makeup and impurities) first, followed by a water-based cleanser (to eliminate any excess oil or residue left on skin) for an ultra-deep clean.
3. A Cleansing Balm That Removes All Traces Of Makeup Without Clogging Pores
If you wear makeup or have oily skin, you should really consider using an oil-based cleanser at night. It might sound odd to wash with oil but because oil sticks to oil, it truly is the most effective way to remove makeup and deeply cleanse your pores of excess sebum and buildup.
This cult-favorite balm cleanser starts out as a mess-free solid, but quickly melts into an oil as you massage it into your skin. The super gentle formula won't irritate sensitive skin types, and it's free of mineral oil, too. If you plan on following the double-cleansing method, you'd want to use this cleanser first, since it's oil-based. Follow up with a gel or water-based cleanser (like the ones directly above and below) for a satisfyingly deep cleanse.
4. A pH-Balanced Cleanser With BHA & Tea Tree Oil
In order to do it's best job of fighting off acne-causing bacteria, skin needs to maintain a pH of around 5, but cleansing your skin can throw it's pH way off. This gentle gel cleanser helps your skin retain a normal pH balance after cleansing, and contains an array of ingredients that reduce inflammation and fight acne without irritating the skin — including a mild dose of BHA and tea tree oil. Another thing that makes this cleanser especially great for sensitive skin is that it's free of SLS, which is a common ingredient used in gel cleansers to produce that foamy lather, but is known to dry out skin.
Because this face wash is so gentle — think of it as basic in a good way — it's a great choice for morning cleansing, when you don't need something as heavy-duty as at night.
5. A Deep Cleaning Face Cleanser That Won't Strip Your Skin Of Natural Oils
This fragrance-free, pH-balanced formula, has a powerful botanical antioxidant blend that protects the skin against environmental factors that commonly lead to irritation and acne. When mixed with water, this whipped cleanser develop a rich creamy texture that leaves skin feeling soft and supple, and though it deeply cleans the skin, — removing dirt and makeup — it won’t strip your skin of its natural oils. It contains aloe vera, rich in vitamin E, and allantoin, a powerful ingredient known to soothe dry skin.
First Aid Beauty makes all of their products with sensitive skin in mind, which is why you can trust that this gentle cleanser won't cause irritation or provoke further breakouts. Almost 80 percent of Amazon reviewers gave this cleanser a five-star rating, resulting in a rare overall rating of 4.5 stars.
6. A Hydrating Cream Cleanser With Three Kinds Of Hyaluronic Acid & A Gentle Lather
Hada Labo's philosophy is one that sensitive and rosacea-prone skin types could benefit a lot from adopting. Their products contain only what the skin needs to stay hydrated, calm, and healthy — which means you'll never find fragrance, alcohol, parabens, dyes, or sulfates in them.
This cream cleanser is great for anyone with combination to dry skin. Glycerin and three kinds of hyaluronic acid hydrate the skin while you cleanse, and the rich formula comes out of the bottle as a cream, but creates a soft lather when you rub it behind your hands. It's super concentrated, so you only need a pea-size amount to cover your entire face.
7. A Deep Cleansing Clay That's Perfect For Oily Skin
Another excellent choice from sensitive skin-friendly brand First Aid Beauty, this deep cleanser effectively saps up excess oils using red clay and a mix of gentle cleansing agents — but the gentle, sulfate-free formula ensures your face will never be left feeling dry or tight. The cleanser also contains licorice root extract to help fade post-acne marks and even out your skin tone over time — something those with acne prone skin are sure to appreciate. Glycerin keeps skin hydrated while you cleanse and green tea soothes irritation and redness.
What's more, the formula is free of alcohol, parabens, artificial dyes and fragrance, and even propylene glycol — a known irritant to which many sensitive skin types are allergic.
8. An Enzyme Powder Cleanser That Exfoliates Sensitive Skin Without Irritation
Most cleansers contain preservatives and stabilizing ingredients to keep them from spoiling, and that's because they also contain water. The presence of water creates an environment where bacteria can easily grow, if there isn't something in the formula to slow that process. But because powder cleansers — like this one that's made from corn and rice bran — don't contain any water, they also contain far fewer potentially irritating preservatives.
Once the powder comes in contact with your damp palms, it turns into a light foam that's easy to handle. The slightly grainy texture and papaya extract in the formula work together to gently exfoliate sensitive skin without the irritation that often comes with using a scrub. And, you can even control the level of exfoliation by adjusting the amount of water you mix in.
9. An Organic Foaming Cleanser That Doesn't Use Sulfates
If you’re looking for a gentle, yet deep cleanse that’s free of harmful chemicals, this organic face wash is filled with plant-based extracts and essential oils that will leave your skin revitalized. It can even give you that satisfying foam so many people crave, but sans the sulfates that are usually used to create it. Coconut oil and shea butter nourish skin while the stimulating rosemary essential oil works its natural-astringent magic by balancing oil control and fighting bacteria. Without any dyes, synthetic fragrances, or drying chemicals, this face wash is going to be a daily-go-to for anyone looking to spoil their face the way nature intended.
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This post was originally published on 6/21/2017. It was updated on 6/18/2019. Additional reporting by Adeline Duff.