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The Best Salicylic Acid Cleansers for Acne and Exfoliation

Carey Schaal
Written by Carey Schaal

There’s nothing quite as refreshing as washing your face with a salicylic acid cleanser. Formulated to get deep into your pores, salicylic acid gets rid of the dead skin cells causing clogged pores, effectively fighting against pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads. These cleansers can make your journey toward clear skin a lot simpler, and to help you out, we’ve put together a list of the best salicylic cleansers of 2024. The Perfect Image cleanser is our top choice for its ability to gently exfoliate while reducing inflammation. Look through all of our options as well as our buying guide to figure out which one suits your skin’s needs.

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Finding the Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser: A Buyer’s Guide

If you have uncontrollable oily skin like I do, you might be used to over-cleansing your face in an attempt to control the oil. Unfortunately, this practice can actually make the breakout a lot worse. If you find yourself in this boat like I did, take a look at skincare products that contain salicylic acid.

Best used for exfoliation and unclogging pores, salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that treats acne and acne scars while also making oily skin tolerable. This BHA goes deep into your pores to kill dead skin cells that are the cause of your pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads. By exfoliating and deep-cleansing your skin, salicylic acid cleansers help manage acne and breakouts in coordination with other acne-fighting products. If you don't have acne, salicylic acid cleansers are still a great choice to deep clean your face from the feel of dirt and oil.

These cleansers are excellent for all skin types and will leave you feeling refreshed. Ready to add salicylic acid to your skincare routine? Our guide will walk you through the buying process and let you know all about salicylic cleansers.

What to Consider Before Buying a Salicylic Acid Cleanser


When choosing a cleanser, take note that salicylic acid works best with ingredients that complement BHA, such as niacinimide and hyaluronic acid. Both are popular for their acne-fighting and hydrating properties. In contrast, you should avoid products that blend retinol and salicylic acid or glycolic acid and salicylic acid as these combinations can cause dryness and irritation.

Safety and Concentration

Before deciding on a skincare regimen, you should always consult with your dermatologist about your concerns. If you do choose to use products with salicylic acid, you should begin with products that contain 2% salicylic acid. This amount is safe for most skin types, and will likely not cause any harmful side effects.


Based on the formulation, there are different types of cleansers, such as cream, gel, and lotion-based. For salicylic acid cleansers, we recommend opting for water-based cleansers with a gel-like composition as these are ideal for sensitive skin that's readily irritated. Often oil- and fragrance-free, these cleansers penetrate deep into the skin, rehydrate dry skin cells, and help to prevent acne outbreaks. To avoid irritation, always opt for a patch test.

Fragrance-free composition

Salicylic acid is one of those components that might make certain people sensitive — mainly if you're using it for the first time. So, if you have sensitive skin, look for the purest formulations available to prevent any irritants. One way to test this is by smelling the product. Fragrance-free cleansers are usually suitable for people who have oily or sensitive skin.

The Best Salicylic Acid Cleansers of 2024


Perfect Image Salicylic Acid Cleanser


  • Powerful, yet gentle exfoliation
  • Visibly reduces the size of pores
  • Helps improve skin tone and texture


  • Not for those with sensitive skin

The Perfect Image salicylic acid cleanser is the perfect choice for anyone looking for an effective way to clear clogged pores, reduce inflammation, and stop breakouts. This professionally formulated salicylic acid peel prep cleanser contains tea tree oil and green tea extract, all of which have amazing benefits for the skin.

The gel exfoliator cleanser works by targeting both the surface and deeper levels of the skin, exfoliating it and unclogging pores to give you a more refined texture. It's also enhanced with green tea extract, which helps reduce inflammation and fight off free radicals that cause damage to the skin cells. Tea tree oil is another natural alternative to benzoyl peroxide and has been proven effective in reducing breakouts. In my opinion, these acne-fighting ingredients make this the best pick for customers with active acne. But even if you don't we still couldn't recommend this enough as all the benefits you get from this amazing cleanser make it the best overall product on our list.


Paula’s Choice Salicylic Acid Cleanser


  • No fragrance or parabens
  • Helps to cleanse clogged pores
  • Reduces the signs of aging


  • May not suit every skin type

Paula’s Choice cleanser is a go-to product for treating enlarged pores. Its non-abrasive formulation contains 2% BHA (beta hydroxy acid), which clears and shrinks enlarged pores, exfoliates dead skin cells, and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.

Salicylic acid, a BHA, replicates the skin’s natural exfoliation mechanism by helping it remove additional layers while unclogging and clearing pores. Not only does this product help with exfoliation, but it also helps to combat redness and aging signs. As an added plus, this pick has a neutral scent, so it's perfect for users who are sensitive to fragrances.


CeraVe Salicylic Acid Cleanser


  • Hydrates and unclogs pores
  • Boasts the natural skin barrier
  • Can treat active acne


  • May leave a layer on the skin

CeraVe is famous for its salicylic acid composition. It has become a popular classic among those with oily or combination skin since the cleanser gently removes debris and sebum that has accumulated deep inside your pores while also leaving you feeling refreshed throughout the day.

Featuring hyaluronic acid, it keeps your skin moisturized and supple. When you rinse your face, your skin will not feel stretched or dry. To add to that, this cleanser contains ceramides, which help reinforce the skin’s natural barrier. This cleanser also contains niacinamide and PHA, which effectively exfoliate and plump your face while keeping your skin hydrated.


Murad Salicylic Acid Cleanser


  • Smooth, creamy composition
  • Easy to dispense and apply
  • Helps to reduce blackheads


  • Some may not like the cooling sensation

If you’re searching for a light cleaner with little to no aroma, the Murad salicylic acid cleanser is perfect for you. Featuring a simple tube-like packaging, it dispenses a creamy solution containing salicylic acid, which accomplishes an excellent job of keeping your face clean and minimizing acne.

This cleanser is mild, so it won't irritate your skin or trigger any redness or pimples. Nonetheless, it's effective in removing blackheads, increasing cell turnover, and keeping your skin moisturized after each wash. It’s ideal for individuals with adult acne since it won’t dry out your skin and will keep it plump throughout the day.


Neutrogena Salicylic Acid Cleanser


  • Reduces sebum production
  • Oil-free and leaves no residue
  • Protects the skin barrier


  • Not ideal for sensitive skin

Having the Neutrogena salicylic acid cleanser in your arsenal can greatly assist you in the battle against acne and blackheads. This classic salicylic acid cleanser is one of the best drugstore options for oily and combination skin on the market. It contains salicylic acid, which not only treats active acne but also prevents future breakouts.

Featuring clear micro technology, it helps to build the skin’s barrier, allowing acne scars to heal naturally without leaving any dark areas or hyperpigmentation. The composition is oil-free, non-comedogenic, and leaves no traces when washed off. All that's left is spotless, refreshing, and healthy skin. It contains an invigorating blast of grapefruit and Vitamin C, creating a rich, creamy lather that efficiently clears blemishes and blackheads.

People Also Ask

  • Q: Can I combine salicylic acid with other acids?

    A:You can safely combine salicylic acid with other acids such as citric or lactic acid. In fact, salicylic acid is frequently paired with other exfoliating acids for a peeling effect. The combo of acids can potentially be a viable treatment for hyperpigmentation. However, avoid mixing salicylic acid with glycolic acid as this can cause dryness.

  • Q: Will salicylic acid help me exfoliate my skin?

    A:Salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent, which means it can dissolve your skin’s outer layer. It's an efficient acne treatment known for its potential to remove dead skin cells deep into pores.

  • Q: Can I use salicylic acid face cleanser if I am pregnant?

    A:Yes, you can safely apply this product if you are pregnant. This chemical is typically found in everyday cleansers and toners. Nevertheless, doctors recommend applying salicylic acid-containing treatments with a maximum of 2 percent strength.

  • Q: How often should I apply salicylic acid products?

    A:It's okay to use salicylic acid almost every day if it's an element in your cleanser. But, if you use a salicylic acid-containing exfoliator, it's recommended that you only use it three times per week to prevent over-exfoliating and drying of your skin.

  • Q: What should I not use in combination with a salicylic acid cleanser?

    A:You should not use Vitamin C products in conjunction with a salicylic acid cleanser. This is because both of the products are acidic, and too much acidity can upset your skin’s natural pH balance. You should also avoid mixing salicylic acid with retinol as this can cause irritation.

  • Q: Can I use a moisturizer after I’ve applied salicylic acid?

    A:Yes, you can! Moisturizers may help rehydrate and restore skin, so applying one after a salicylic acid exfoliation treatment is a smart idea. Many salicylic acid products include toners, cleansers, spot treatments, and other skincare products, each of which can be accompanied by a moisturizer. Most of the time, it’s advisable to wait a few minutes after using a salicylic acid treatment to allow it to penetrate before using your daily or nighttime moisturizer.

  • Q: Will salicylic acid cleansers effectively remove my makeup?

    A:Yes, salicylic acid cleansers can help you remove makeup. They efficiently remove makeup and debris from congested pores while also diminishing the appearance of acne or inflammation.

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.

Carey Schaal

By Carey Schaal

With a background in interior design and business and a passion for beauty, Carey combines her education and experience to reach a diverse readership. She enjoys curating content that helps consumers discover life-enriching products, whether essential serums or a variety of unique home accents. When she isn’t writing, she’s likely preparing a meal with her family or perfecting her skincare routine.


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