courtesy of manufacturers
When it comes to treating acne, leave-on and spot treatments may get all the attention. But did you know the face wash you're using also plays a huge role? For starters, thorough cleansing is essential for keeping breakouts at bay; you want to make sure you're getting rid of excess oil, dirt, and other grime that can increase the likelihood of clogged pores.
But choosing a face wash with some key actives can also go a long way in your quest for a clearer complexion. "The two most effective ingredients you should look for in an acne wash are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid," says Tiffany Jow Libby, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Benzoyl peroxide targets acne-causing bacteria, unclogs pores, and minimizes inflammation. Salicylic acid exfoliates dead skin cells, unclogging pores and reduces excess oil," she explains. That being said, you don't want to risk over-drying or over-stripping your skin, so it's also important to seek out formulas that contain hydrating ingredients such as glycerin, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid, points out Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. No matter which one you choose, try this top tip: Lather up with the face wash then sing the alphabet before rinsing. This ensures those active ingredients are in contact with your skin for enough time to do their thing.
Ahead, seven acne face washes that dermatologists themselves love.
SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel
The namesake ingredient, LHA or lipo-hydroxy acid, is a great chemical exfoliant, as are the glycolic and salicylic acids that are also at work in the formula. Dr. Libby is a fan, saying it helps not only prevent and treat acne breakouts, but also resurface and exfoliate the skin, calling it a "one-stop-shop for achieving clear skin." Plus, since it does help exfoliate, it's great not only for treating existing blemishes, but also minimizing the look of any dark marks leftover from pimples past.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
Both Dr. Libby and Dr. Jaliman recommend this pick. "It contains 2% salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, that deeply penetrates pores and follicles to unclog them and decrease excess oil," says Dr. Libby. Dr. Jaliman echoes that sentiment, and also lauds it for the addition of hydrating glycerin, adding that she's partial to the pink grapefruit variant ($8; target.com) of the classic formula.
Joesoef Anti-Acne Sulfur Soap
Jordan Carqueville, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago, is a fan of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, but says that sulfur is another great acne-fighting ingredient worth looking for in a cleanser. "It's anti-keratolytic, meaning it helps reduce the build-up of dead skin cells, is antibacterial, and also helps tamp down redness," she explains. It's the main ingredient in this affordable find, which is also a great choice for bar soap fans.
CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
Another drugstore standout, this is one of Dr. Jaliman's recommendations. It too is a salicylic-acid based option, though it gets her vote largely for the addition of ceramides and hyaluronic acid to keep it nice and hydrating. There's also niacinamide in the mix, a good ingredient for helping to even out skin tone, she adds.
PanOxyl 4% Creamy Facial Treatment Wash
"This is my favorite over-the-counter acne wash to recommend to patients," says Dr. Libby. At work: benzoyl peroxide, which helps rid the skin of the bacteria that causes acne, P.acnes. "It helps both prevent and treat acne breakouts, while also reducing excess oil and unclogging pores. Plus, it's formulated with humectants and emollients to strengthen the skin's moisture barrier," she says. FYI, she likes this 4% concentration for the face, though there's also a stronger variant with 10% benzoyl peroxide that she says is great for the body.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser
"This also contains a 2 percent concentration of salicylic acid, as well as lipo-hydroxy acid to help exfoliate dead skin cells," says Dr. Jaliman of another one of her favorites. Bonus points for the fact that it's fragrance-free, a major boon if you have sensitive skin.
Dove Beauty Bar
We know what you're thinking—this certainly doesn't seem to fit in the same category as the other picks on this list. But Dr. Carqueville says that, especially if you're using intense, acne medications (think things such as retinoids or Accutane), sticking with an extremely mild, extremely gentle cleanser may actually be the best thing for your skin and can help minimize the likelihood of ending up with unsightly dryness and/or irritation. This is her pick, arguably one of the gentlest, soap-free options out there, which is also filled with moisturizing ingredients.