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 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.
1A 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.
2A Low-Foam Gel Cleanser That's Packed With Superfoods
This antioxidant-rich gel cleanser gives you that satisfying foam so many people crave, but without using sulfates to create it. Gentle cleansing agents produce a light foam when you rub this cleanser between your hands, and the gel texture provides a bit of slip that makes your fingers glide over your skin while you massage it into your face, without any tugging or pulling.
3This Gentle Cleansing Balm 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 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.
4A pH Balanced Foam 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.
5This No-Rinse Micellar Water For The Most Sensitive Skin
Micellar waters might just look like a bottle of water, but they're so much more than that. You can consider these no-rinse cleanser a hybrid between an oil-based and a water-based cleanser. Micellar waters get their names from the tiny micelles — little oil molecules — suspended in the solution. These micelles cling to makeup and sebum, and the water in the solution lifts and washes them away.
Bioderma Sensibio is French pharmacy favorite that's free of alcohol and fragrance, and it won't irritate sensitive skin. To use, simply wet a couple of cotton pads with the solution and gently sweep them across your face until the pads are no longer removing dirt or makeup. For most people, that means using two or three pads.
6A Six-Ingredient Gentle Cleanser That Can Even Remove Eye Makeup
If your skin seems to react to just about anything, keep this in mind: The less ingredients a product has, the less likely you are to be sensitive to something in it. This incredibly gentle cleanser — from eco-friendly brand Indie Lee — contains just six ingredients that were carefully selected to remove makeup and excess sebum while nourishing and hydrating sensitive skin. The light rose scent comes from rosehip oil — an antioxidant-rich oil known for fading post-acne marks.
7This Cult-Favorite Cleansing Duo For Morning & Night
April Skin Magic Stone Natural Cleansing Soap + Charcoal Soap, $30 (Set of 2), Amazon
This natural soap duo from April Skin is unlike any soap you've ever washed your face with before. The long-lasting bars are made from a blend of oils and clay to deeply cleanse the skin without causing dryness or irritation. The brand recommends cleansing with the black bar in the morning, which provides a lighter cleanse than the grey bar and contains charcoal to draw out gunk from your pores. The grey bar provides a more thorough cleanse that's better suited for evening — and it's designed to remove makeup.
8A Deep Cleansing Clay That's Perfect For Oily Skin
This deep cleanser effectively saps up excess oils with red clay and a mix of gentle cleansing agents, without leaving skin feeling tight. The formula also contains licorice root extract which helps 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.
9A Soothing Self-Foaming Cleanser Infused With Green Tea Leaves
There's no need to foam this cleanser between your hands to create a lather — it's actually dispersed as a rich, creamy foam straight out of the bottle. The gentle cleansing foam contains an impressive array of botanical extracts, including fermented green tea. And if that's not enough green tea for you, actual green tea leaves rest at the bottom of the bottle, infusing the cleanser with hydrating and brightening properties.
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