Cleanser is the foundation of any good skin care routine, especially one designed to fight acne — but you need to make sure you're using the right one. According to board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, M.D., the best face washes for acne contain ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, zinc pyrithione, or niacinamide. Dr. Green tells Bustle that alpha-hydroxy acids, retinol, hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid, and dimethicone tend to be good for acne-prone skin, too.
That said, since cleanser doesn't stay on your face for very long, you'll probably need to use other, leave-on products to help treat your acne — you can find a list of the best topical treatments for acne here (and here are some great options for cystic acne). But if your acne doesn't seem to be responding to over-the-counter products, you may want to talk to your dermatologist about going the prescription route.
If you have acne and skin that's sensitive, don't use too many active over-the-counter products at once, unless your dermatologist has advised you otherwise, board-certified dermatologist Michele Farber tells Bustle, because "too many products or overusing medications can be drying."
With those tips in mind, scroll on to shop eight of the best cleansers for acne-prone skin, from charcoal-based formulas to French pharmacy favorites to gentle bar soaps and more.
1. The Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash For Acne
La Roche-Posay's Effaclar gel cleanser contains 2% salicylic acid, an acne-fighting ingredient that helps unclogs pores by removing the bacteria that causes acne, explains Dr. Green. This is an oil-free, fragrance-free face wash that won't irritate skin or leave it feeling overly tight, and it's many a dermatologist's favorite for those reasons.
2. The Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash For Sensitive, Acne-Prone Skin
Another great, French pharmacy cleanser, this one may be a better choice for people with sensitive skin because it's free of those pesky, potentially irritating sulfates and has a lower concentration of salicylic acid (0.5%). It's also free of oil, soap, and alcohol, though it does have a light fragrance. As for what else it does contain? The acne-fighting mineral zinc, skin-renewing copper, and the brand's signature, volcanic thermal water, which helps keep skin strong and protected.
3. The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Face Wash For Acne
Benzoyl peroxide destroys bacteria on the skin, and it also has anti-inflammatory and blemish-fighting properties, explains Dr. Gary Linkov, M.D. This PCA SKIN BPO 5% Cleanser contains 5% benzoyl peroxide along with gluconolactone, a poly-hydroxy acid that works to gently exfoliate skin. Calming and moisturizing ingredients like aloe, cucumber, chamomile, and jojoba balance out the formula, which should be helpful when you're dealing with inflammation.
4. A More Affordable Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser
This cleanser from Differin also contains 5% benzoyl peroxide, but it comes at a much more palatable price point. It doesn't contain any fragrance or sulfates, so it's a solid choice for people with sensitive skin.
5. The Best Korean Face Wash For Acne
Loaded with natural acne-fighters like tea tree and willow bark extract, belif's Problem Solution Cleansing Foam is another great choice for people with oily, acne-prone skin that's also sensitive. If you prefer to stay away from harsh acids and ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, this is a great alternative.
6. The Best Charcoal Face Wash For Acne
This First Aid Beauty cleanser contains some very unique ingredients, in addition to 2% salicylic acid: namely charcoal, which is known for its purifying properties, kaolin — another popular purifier — soothing honey, and probiotic-rich yogurt extract to keep skin strong (and thus less susceptible to future breakouts). Like all First Aid Beauty products, this cleanser is free of the most common potential irritants, including fragrance and sulfates, so it's another safe choice for people with sensitive skin.
7. The Best Bar Soap For Acne
Though most of us know that zinc pyrithione is effective at treating dandruff, it can also be good for people with acne-prone skin, says Dr. Green. This no-frills bar soap can be used all over your face, body, and scalp, so it's great to keep in the house if you tend to experience seborrheic dermatitis, acne, and/or generally irritated, itchy skin.
8. The Best Cleanser For Body Acne
This is a soap-free gel cleanser made with Avène's signature thermal spring water (which contains postbiotics and trace elements to soothe, soften, and calm skin), zinc gluconate to fight acne, and monolaurain, a patented ingredient that helps balance oil production. You can absolutely use it on your face, but it also makes a really great body wash if you tend to experience breakouts on your chest, arms, and back.
Michele Green, M.D., board-certified cosmetic dermatologist.
Michele Farber, M.D., board certified dermatologist.
Gary Linkov, M.D., a board-certified facial plastic surgeon.