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The Best Acne Face Washes for Dry, Oily, Combination and Mature Skin

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Written by Jenna Cartusciello

An acne face wash can make or break your skincare routine; it’s either the best thing that happened to your skin or the reason for most of your ailments. Why do the results swing so wildly from great to terrible? It always comes down to the ingredient list, and unfortunately, many brands still use harsh foaming agents, dyes and synthetic fragrances. All of these add-ins can create dried, flaky skin, irritation and inflammation — the perfect storm for a breakout.

But looking through every single ingredient list is a hassle and frankly, no one has the time! To simplify your skincare journey, we’ve created a comprehensive list of the best acne face washes on the market. We based our recommendations on product performance, buyer reviews, ingredient lists, prices, customer service, ease of purchase and the input of dermatologists. There is something for every skin condition, from oily skin to mature skin to rosacea, so that everyone can find their perfect match.

The 18 Best Acne Face Washes for All Skin Types

Finding the Best Acne Face Washes

While most people associate pimples with puberty, acne can hit at any age and it affects people well into adulthood. For women, breakouts can even start up during perimenopause and menopause. But before you reach for medicated serums and creams, we strongly encourage you to look at your cleanser first. A good acne face wash is the foundation for a great routine.

So, where should you begin? Maren Locke, MD, who goes by The Budget Dermatologist on social media, recommends that you first narrow your search by considering gentle cleansers. If you want something stronger (ie. a formula that has acne-fighting ingredients) choose chemical exfoliation over physical. “[Chemical exfoliation] means allowing the topical acid to gently dissolve the layer of dead skin cells and dislodge the pore-clogging debris rather than using microbeads or products with gritty textures,” says Dr. Locke. “Often, physical exfoliators … can be too harsh and strip away the skin’s protective barrier. This barrier damage can result in increased inflammation and trigger acne breakouts.”

As such, our product guide lists both traditional gentle face washes and medicated face washes with chemical exfoliants. We have not recommended any cleansers with physical exfoliators.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Acne Face Washes

Though a great acne face wash can do wonders for your skin and prevent future breakouts, it isn’t a miracle worker. Other factors are at play, including your exercise routine, sleep habits, diet, medical conditions and tap water. It’s important to think about each of these external and internal factors before switching your cleanser to something new. We also recommend speaking with your primary care provider or a dermatologist to help you see the full picture of your skin health.

In addition, it’s important to decide whether you want your cleanser to have active ingredients or not. Active ingredients like salicylic acid work beautifully to clear clogged pores, but they can also be drying and irritating. However, they may be ideal in wash-off form which minimizes sensitivities. Whether you choose a cleanser with active ingredients or a no-nonsense, gentle face wash, we recommend using salicylic acid in just one product in your skincare routine to start.

What Are the Different Types of Acne Face Washes?

Acne face washes come in three main forms: foam, cream or lotion and gel. All three forms may have active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to help control breakouts.

Foam

A foam cleanser is any cleanser that lathers and foams when you rub it into your skin in circles. These cleansers can be thick and creamy or light and airy depending on the other ingredients in the formula. If you have dry or sensitive skin and want to try a foam cleanser, we recommend using one that feels thick and creamy. Even then, you may run into excessive dryness.

Cream/Lotion

Cream and lotion-based cleansers don’t have foaming agents or traditional cleansing ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate. Instead, they rely solely on hydrating ingredients to help slough off dead skin cells and remove excess oil. Cream and lotion cleansers are best for people with sensitive and dry skin, though they don’t cleanse the skin deeply or remove makeup well. If you use a lotion cleanser, you may want to have a deep-cleaning face wash on hand for days full of SPF, makeup or sweat.

Gel

Gel cleansers have a clear, jelly-like formula that doesn’t contain any oils. They may contain hydrators and foaming agents, though not always. In addition, many dermatologists recommend them for acne-prone skin because they do an excellent job of drawing out oil and clearing pores. However, they may exacerbate dry skin, especially if they contain foaming agents.

1

Best Overall: Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser

Pros

  • No-nonsense formula
  • Gentle lather
  • Creamy application

Cons

  • May dry out skin
  • Can leave a stripped, tight feeling
  • Not great at removing makeup

If you need a no-nonsense face wash that cleanses without stripping and works in any acne skincare routine, we recommend the Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser. The simple ingredient list includes gentle cleansers that completely remove sebum, dirt and oil, and hydrators to balance out the formula. It has a silvery, goopy-like appearance, a creamy feel and a gentle lather.

Be warned: While this product is great for sensitive skin, it may be overly drying. You may consider using this face wash only when you need a deep cleanse, and using a lotion-based cleanser the rest of the time. In addition, it isn’t the best at removing makeup (though it is better than other products we’ve tested).

2

Best Overall With Salicylic Acid: La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash

Pros

  • Fragrance free
  • Great for oily skin
  • No-nonsense formula

Cons

  • Drying
  • Cap leaks
  • May irritate skin

If you want to incorporate salicylic acid into your routine but you have sensitive skin, a rinse-off treatment may be your best bet. We like the La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash because it’s excellent for easily-irritated skin types. The gel-based, fragrance-free formula removes dirt and oil, and the medicated certification means this product is strong enough to be effective.

However, this formula may be overly stripping if you have dry skin, and the salicylic acid may lead to irritation. Some buyers have also noticed that the cap leaks, so you may need to store the bottle on its side.

3

Best Drugstore With Salicylic Acid: CeraVe Acne Control Cleanser

Pros

  • Gentle, foaming lather
  • Contains niacinamide
  • Gel based

Cons

  • Drying
  • May create tight sensation
  • Some users don’t find it effective

CeraVe’s Acne Control Cleanser is another great salicylic acid face wash that gently exfoliates and deeply cleanses pores. The gel-based formula has a gentle, foaming lather that helps clear out oil. We also like that it contains niacinamide, which helps soothe and naturally brighten skin.

As with all foaming cleansers, this product may dry out overly-dry skin and create a tight, pulled sensation. Some users have also noted that they don’t notice any difference Also, be careful not to buy the CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser, which contains an undisclosed amount of salicylic acid — so it may not be as effective.

4

Best Budget: Simple Micellar Gel Wash

Pros

  • Great for sensitive skin
  • Simple ingredients
  • Contains lactic acid

Cons

  • Not great for removing makeup
  • May need to double cleanse
  • Quality issues when purchased from Amazon

Sometimes, you don’t have to buy a pricey product to achieve results. The Simple Micellar Gel Wash is an effective, budget-friendly face wash that gently cleans your skin, prepping it for acne serums and moisturizer. The gel-based formula works well for most skin types, and we like that it contains a small amount of lactic acid — a chemical exfoliant that helps purge pores.

Since this product is so gentle, it doesn’t do the best job of removing makeup. (We recommend removing makeup with micellar water prior to cleansing your face.) You may also need to double cleanse if you’re trying to remove excess oil or sweat. Note that a few Amazon buyers have experienced quality issues and received used products.

5

Best for Oily Skin: Youth to the People Superfood Kale + Green Tea Cleanser

Pros

  • Hydrating ingredients
  • Antioxidants
  • Clears clogged pores

Cons

  • Contains fragrance
  • Drying
  • Expensive

Need a face wash that completely removes oil without irritating or stripping your skin? Try Youth to the People’s Superfood Cleanser. This formula contains gentle cleansers that clear clogged pores and antioxidants like green tea which prevent them in the first place.

However, this product contains fragrance, which can cause irritation. The lather may also lead to dryness, especially if you have very dry skin. This is one of our more expensive recommendations at $39 per bottle.

6

Best Budget for Oily Skin: The Ordinary Squalane All-In-One Face Cleanser

Pros

  • Removes makeup
  • Gentle
  • Contains non-comedogenic moisture

Cons

  • Takes a while to emulsify
  • Small bottle
  • Bottle isn’t completely full of product

While it might feel good to use a rich, lathering cleanser to create a squeaky-clean feeling, you may exacerbate oily skin. A face wash like The Ordinary Squalane All-in-One Face Cleanser is a better solution because it uses gentle cleansing ingredients to absorb and remove oil without stripping the skin. It also contains non-comedogenic hydrators like squalane and glycerin to help the skin maintain its natural moisture.

The downsides? This product is oil-based (squalane is an oil), and it takes a bit of work to emulsify the formula and get it working. Many reviewers are also disappointed in the size of the bottle (1.7 ounces).

7

Best for Dry Skin: Paula’s Choice Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser

Pros

  • Anti-inflammatory ingredients
  • Moisturizing
  • May help restore skin barrier

Cons

  • Not great at removing makeup
  • May overly moisturize oily skin
  • Expensive

Acne-prone skin doesn’t necessarily need a deep cleanse every day. If you have dry skin, a moisturizing face wash without foaming cleansers — like the Paula’s Choice Optimal Results Cleanser — may be the best solution to minimizing irritation. This formula uses green tea and chamomile to soothe inflamed skin and hydrators like glycerin to maintain the skin’s moisture.

Note that lotion-based cleansers like this one aren’t great at removing makeup, and they may be overly moisturizing on oily skin. Also, this product is one of our pricier recommendations.

8

Best Budget for Dry Skin: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

Pros

  • No irritating foaming cleansers
  • May help repair skin barrier
  • Helps skin retain moisture

Cons

  • Doesn’t remove makeup well
  • Ingredient changes resulted in thinner formula
  • Quality issues when buying through Amazon

The CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser is a top dermatologist recommendation for many reasons: It’s budget friendly, doesn’t have foaming cleansers (which can irritate and worsen dry skin) and doesn’t strip the skin. It also contains ceramides, which may help repair the skin barrier in cleanser form, and hyaluronic acid which helps the skin retain moisture.

What could be improved: CeraVe updated this product in recent years, resulting in a thinner formula and a slightly stronger “unscented” scent. This cleanser also isn’t great at removing makeup and a few customers have experienced quality issues when buying through Amazon.

9

Best for Combination Skin: Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser for Combination to Oily, Sensitive Skin

Pros

  • Clears out pores
  • Leaves skin moisturized
  • Contains skin-brightening niacinamide

Cons

  • May leave burning sensation after using chemical exfoliators
  • Formula change in recent years
  • Quality issues when buying from Amazon

If you’re looking for a cleanser as gentle as CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser that removes more oil, try Cetaphil’s Daily Facial Cleanser. It clears out pores more deeply while still providing moisture from ingredients like glycerin and panthenol. We also like that it contains niacinamide, a naturally brightening, anti-acne ingredient.

The downsides: While gentle, this formula may leave a burning sensation if you are cleansing your skin after using a chemical exfoliant. Plus, Cetaphil updated the ingredient list in recent years, so the formula feels a little more oily and less cleansing. Some customers have also experienced quality issues when buying through Amazon.

10

Best for Hormonal Acne: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser

Pros

  • May reduce redness
  • More cleansing than other lotion-based formulas
  • Contains brightening niacinamide

Cons

  • Drying on dry and sensitive skin
  • Not great for removing makeup
  • Quality issues when buying through Amazon

Hormonal acne can affect you at any age, and deep, under-the-skin cysts are the most challenging type of acne to eliminate. While it’s important to work with your dermatologist and primary care doctor to help figure out the cause of hormonal acne, a face wash like the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser can help. This formula removes dirt, SPF and oil without causing irritation, and may also reduce redness and flaking skin.

However, this formula may be drying if you have extremely dry or sensitive skin. It also isn’t the best at removing makeup, and some customers have experienced quality issues when buying through Amazon.

11

Best for Sensitive Skin: First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser

Pros

  • Formulated for sensitive skin
  • Maintains moisture
  • Irritation-reducing ingredients

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Formula change in recent years
  • Smell may be off putting

If your skin reacts to just about anything and the CeraVe or Vanicream cleansers don’t work for you, try the First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser. This unscented, sulfate free and alcohol free formula gently removes makeup, oil and dead skin cells. It has a creamy consistency to maintain your skin’s moisture, and ingredients like aloe and allantoin reduce redness.

Unfortunately, some customers have noticed that the formula changed in recent years and they don’t experience the best results from this product anymore. The smell is also off putting for some, as is the price per ounce.

12

Best Budget for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Calm + Restore Nourishing Oat Cleanser

Pros

  • Non-foaming
  • Great for dry skin
  • Unscented

Cons

  • Doesn’t remove makeup
  • May need to cleanse twice
  • Shipping issues when ordering online

A face wash for sensitive skin needs to tick a lot of boxes — it must be hydrating but not pore clogging, cleansing but not stripping, fragrance free and non-irritating. The Aveeno Calm + Restore Nourishing Oat Cleanser passes with flying colors. We love that the milky consistency removes dirt and oil while leaving the skin moisturized.

This product is so gentle, however, that you may need to cleanse your skin twice to feel a difference. It also isn’t the best at removing makeup and you may experience shipping issues if you order online.

13

Best for Rosacea: Paula’s Choice CALM Ultra-Gentle Cleanser for Sensitive Skin

Pros

  • Contains prebiotic sugars
  • Gentle lather
  • Fragrance free

Cons

  • Lather may exacerbate sensitive skin
  • May cause dryness
  • Expensive

Rosacea and acne is one of the most challenging skin combinations, because the ingredients that help treat breakouts may exacerbate rosacea. If this is your current dilemma, we recommend using a soothing, unscented cleanser like the Paula's Choice CALM Ultra-Gentle Cleanser. We love that it contains prebiotic sugars, which help replenish the skin’s microbiome.

The downsides: This formula lathers, and while it’s extremely gentle, it could still exacerbate very sensitive skin or cause dryness, leading to more acne. We recommend cleansing your skin with this formula just once per day if these are your symptoms.

14

Best for Acne Scars: Murad Clarifying Cream Cleanser

Pros

  • Time-release salicylic acid
  • Not stripping
  • Unscented

Cons

  • Expensive
  • May be drying
  • May not clear breakouts as well as leave-on treatments

Salicylic acid is great for reducing the appearance of acne scars, and Murad’s Clarifying Cream Cleanser takes it one step further. The salicylic acid in this formula is in tiny, time-released capsules, so this product helps fade acne scars and prevent future breakouts after you rinse it off. We also like that this formula is unscented and lotion based, so it doesn’t strip the skin.

However, some buyers wished this product felt more hydrating, and others noticed that they didn’t see a difference after repeated use.

15

Best With Benzoyl Peroxide: PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash, 4% Benzoyl Peroxide

Pros

  • No-nonsense formula
  • Affordable
  • Cream-based

Cons

  • Irritating
  • Best if used without other acne treatments
  • Bottle leaks

Looking for a strong formula that will knock out your acne and prevent future breakouts? Try stepping up your game with benzoyl peroxide instead of salicylic acid. The PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash 4% is a great product to try because it’s affordable and has no-nonsense ingredients. The creamy formula also helps reduce dryness.

However, benzoyl peroxide is difficult for the skin to tolerate, and you may experience redness and peeling — especially if you have sensitive skin. You may need to stop using other acne treatments while you use this product, because you could damage your skin barrier. In addition, some customers have complained that the bottle easily leaks.

16

Best Runner-Up With Benzoyl Peroxide: The Inkey List 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser

Pros

  • Kills 95% of acne-causing bacteria
  • Moisturizing ingredients
  • Lotion based

Cons

  • Irritating
  • Not great for dry skin
  • Expensive

Looking for an alternative to PanOxyl? Try the Inkey List’s 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser. It’s a touch stronger than Panoxyl, and the brand claims that the formula kills 95% of acne-causing bacteria in 15 seconds. This product is great for stubborn and persistent acne (as opposed to the occasional breakout), and it contains a few moisturizing ingredients to reduce dryness.

Of course, this product is still irritating and can cause redness and flaky skin. (If you’re worried about irritation, we recommend using this just a few times a week to start out.) Some buyers also wish that the lotion-based formula foamed and lathered more.

17

Best for Makeup Removal: Purito From Green Cleansing Oil

Pros

  • Vegan and cruelty free
  • Short, no-nonsense ingredient list
  • Unscented

Cons

  • Contains common allergens
  • Should follow up with non-oil-based cleanser
  • Expensive

The key to removing makeup at the end of the day is oil, but oil-based cleansers aren’t always good for acne-prone skin. However, the Purito From Green Cleansing Oil stands up to the task by using non-irritating and natural oils, including olive, almond, grape seed and sunflower seed oil. We also like that this product is vegan, cruelty free and made sustainably.

However, almond and sunflower seed oil are common allergens and may cause an allergic reaction — so make sure you perform a patch test before using. We also recommend following this cleanser with a non-oil-based cleanser to reduce the chance of a breakout.

18

Best Oil-Free Makeup Removal: Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Water

Pros

  • Non-irritating
  • Short ingredient list
  • Gentle

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not great for waterproof mascara
  • May need a lot of product

Sometimes, the best makeup remover for acne is simply micellar water — a gentle cleanser made with water, moisturizers and very mild detergents. The Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Water is a great product for this purpose because it’s non-irritating, oil free and has a short ingredient list. Many buyers note that it’s also a great everyday cleanser because it is so gentle.

The downsides? This bottle is on the pricier side, and it doesn’t perform as well on waterproof mascara. Some buyers note that they had to use a lot of product to get their makeup off.

People Also Ask

  • Q: What face wash is best for acne?

    A:Our top recommendation is the Vanicream Gentle Cleanser. Other excellent products include the La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash and the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser.

  • Q: What is the best way to remove pimples with face wash?

    A:If you are using a face wash with no active ingredients, first wet your skin with lukewarm water. Then rub your acne cleanser into your skin in gentle circles and rinse. You may need to double cleanse. If you are using a face wash with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, leave the product on your skin for a minute or two before rinsing off. Pat your skin dry and apply your favorite moisturizer.

  • Q: How much does an acne face wash cost?

    A:Most cleansers for acne cost between $8 and $40. The majority cost between $15 and $30.

Why trust Us

At Us Weekly, we aim to inform readers to make smart purchasing decisions, saving you both time and money. Our editors are obsessed with finding products in a variety of categories from fashion and beauty, to home and fitness.

We try various products, so we can recommend our favorites, and we also summarize feedback and data from other customers. Data, like product reviews and ratings, helps us recommend the best product choices for individual price points and needs.

On top of that, we highlight unique product features for special use cases, ingredients preferences, and more. We strive to make sure you are discovering new products that can make your life easier, while keeping you up to date with the best product choices for types of items you already know and love.

Author photo

By Jenna Cartusciello

Affiliate Commerce Writer Jenna loves recommending great products to her friends and family, so helping the rest of the internet on their quest to find the best stuff makes tremendous sense! Though she mainly writes in-depth buyer’s guides these days, Jenna still enjoys crafting the occasional health article. In her spare time, she loves immersing herself in creative writing. Her favorite authors (for anyone who is willing to geek out with her) include Neil Gaiman, Cheryl Strayed, and Jennifer Egan.

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