We’ll try just about anything to swap our acne for a clear, radiant complexion, including some products and practices that might not be so great for our skin-hello, harsh exfoliants, scrubs, and pimple popping. Luckily, whether you’re treating acne with a face wash or enlisting a cleanser to aid a topical treatment, there are some pretty stellar options to keep breakouts in check.
Face washes targeting people with oily or sensitive skin should be your top picks-and choose a gentle cleanser that won’t further clog your pores. As a guide, look for labels like “noncomedogenic” (read: non-pore-clogging), which means the product is perfect for those with oily or acne-prone skin and is less likely to cause breakouts, says David Lortscher, MD, a California-based dermatologist and CEO of Curology.
If you have non-inflammatory acne, like blackheads and small whiteheads, look for ingredients like salicylic and glycolic acids and sulfur, since they’re “keratolytic” and can dissolve the clog inside pimples and gently exfoliate skin to decrease acne, explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Other powerful acne-fighting ingredients to try? Benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, aloe, chamomile, and tea tree oil are all good choices, New York City-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, tells Health. These ingredients kill bacteria, reduce oiliness, and unclog pores. Hydrating and calming components like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and green tea are also a safe bet, adds Dr. Nazarian. If you sweat a lot or live in a hot, humid climate, zinc soap could also help with fungal acne, points out Dr. Lortscher, but some zinc soaps contain pore-clogging ingredients, like cocoa butter, so be sure to check the label.
Avoid facial cleansers with ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which can seriously dry out skin and may lead to more breakouts. And don’t even think about washing your face with hand soaps, harsh bar soaps, or scrubs that physically exfoliate the skin, warns Dr. Lortscher.
Don’t overdo it either; it’s not necessary to use a cleanser every time you wash your face, says Dr. Lortscher. Some people prefer to simply rinse their face with water and no cleanser. If this works for you, then no harm done, he says.
Want to bid adieu to stubborn acne once and for all? Here, the top picks from dermatologists that will help calm and clear your breakouts ASAP.
1 Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Face
A favorite of Dr. Jaliman, this affordable cleanser boasts salicylic and glycolic acids to help banish acne, while aloe and chamomile soothe skin and calm irritation. Face washes with glycolic acid are safe for all skin types and can be used every day if it doesn’t irritate your skin, she says.
2 Proactiv Deep Cleansing Wash
Dr. Nazarian recommends this face wash for acne-prone skin, since the salicylic acid helps unclog pores and reduces oiliness to clear acne and help prevent future breakouts.
3 Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash
If you’re using topical acne treatments, go with a gentle cleanser like Dove, advises Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It’s important to keep the skin hydrated and maintain a healthy skin barrier when treating your acne, and this wash has ultra hydrating ingredients similar to those found in your moisturizers, he says.
4 SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel
Another pick from Dr. Jaliman, this face wash for acne features a combination of LHA and glycolic and salicylic acids to gently exfoliate and decongest your skin. It also has glycerin, a humectant that moisturizes skin by drawing water from the air into the skin’s outer layer and protects skin from moisture loss, she says.
5 NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Wash
Formulated with glycolic and lactobionic acids, this facial cleanser is a favorite of Dr. Nazarian’s since it removes impurities, unclogs pores, and supports healthy cell renewal. Bonus: Antioxidant-packed grapefruit extract tones and refreshes skin.
6 Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Foaming Facial Cleanser
On top of Curology’s Face Cleanser, Dr. Lortscher likes this drugstore find that’s free of oil, soap, allergens, and harsh ingredients. It removes excess oil, dirt, and makeup; protects skin’s natural moisture barrier; and won’t clog pores.
7 Clean & Clear Continuous Control Daily Acne Face Wash
“If you suffer from red, angry pimples, your go-to ingredient should be benzoyl peroxide,” says Dr. Zeichner. This potent ingredient is found in drugstore cleansers like this one and lowers the levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin to help reduce inflammation, he explains.