What’s the Best Acne Face Wash? These 7 Will Help Give Blemishes the Boot

editor@purewow.com (PureWow)
·6 min read

Acne…ugh. Whether you deal with constant blemishes or just a smattering of pimples on your chin during your period every month, skin issues can be a huge pain—both physically and emotionally. But, as many of us know, treating acne often begins with cleansing, which is why we’ve rounded up seven of our absolute favorite acne face washes, from drugstore classics to splurge-worthy formulas.

RELATED: Is Wearing a Face Mask Causing My Acne? (Or Is That Just the Stress of Being Human Right Now?)

The Best Acne Face Washes at a Glance:

Best Overall: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

Best for Sensitive Skin: EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser

Best for Cystic Acne: CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser

Best for Face and Body: PanOxyl Acne Foaming Face Wash

Best Exfoliator: SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser

Most Splurge-Worthy: Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser

Best Clean Option: Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Cleansing Gel

1. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

Best Overall

  • Value: 20/20

  • Functionality:19/20

  • Ease of Use:19/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Results:19/20

  • TOTAL: 95/100

The best overall acne face wash option is from the good old drugstore? Yep. Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne has been so popular for so long (and dermatologist recommended) for good reason: It works, and it costs less than a fancy salad. Formulated with 2 percent salicylic acid, it’s meant to gently—but thoroughly—clean pores for clearer skin. Even though it’s oil-free, it won’t cause over-drying or irritation, which we’ve found with some oil-free anti-acne cleansers. No frills, for sure, but as long as it gets the job done and leaves us with a clearer complexion than the one we started with, that’s all we need.

Buy it ($10)

2. EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser

Best for Sensitive Skin

  • Value: 16/20

  • Functionality:18/20

  • Ease of Use:20/20

  • Aesthetics: 20/20

  • Results:19/20

  • TOTAL: 93/100

When you have acne (or even just the occasional blemish), it can be tempting to find the strongest anti-acne cleanser possible. When you have acne and sensitive skin, though, you know that harsh cleansers will only make your skin worse. This one from EltaMD (yep, the brand with that best-selling sunscreen), is the opposite: It’s an oil-free, pH-balanced formula that gently cleanses without irritating or drying your skin. With more than 300, 5-star reviews on Dermstore, it frequently gets glowing reviews like this one: “Great cleanser for dry skin with uneven texture! Once applied onto damp skin, it foams up and gently exfoliates while cleansing. It leaves the skin feeling fresh & healthy but not dry or tight!”

Buy it ($28)

3. CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser

Best for Cystic Acne

  • Value: 20/20

  • Functionality:17/20

  • Ease of Use:18/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Results:18/20

  • TOTAL: 91/100

From too much sugar or starting your period, acne can be brought on by a whole host of things. If you deal with painful cystic acne, try CeraVe’s affordable cleanser. A unique formula with three essential ceramides (lipids that help form the skin's barrier and help skin retain moisture), it cleanses and removes oil without disrupting the protective skin barrier. Here’s how one satisfied customer describes it: “I have been struggling with terrible hormonal cystic acne since I was in the sixth grade. This past Monday, I had twelve cysts on one side of my chin. Today is Saturday, and they are 99 percent cleared, with no new breakouts forming…this only dries out my pimples, not the rest of my skin, which is wonderful. I highly recommend trying this if you are at your wits end with acne. It cleared my skin without harsh chemicals or drying it out, it could clear yours too!”

Buy it ($15)

4. PanOxyl Acne Foaming Face Wash with 10 Percent Benzoyl Peroxide

Best for Face and Body

  • Value: 20/20

  • Functionality:18/20

  • Ease of Use:18/20

  • Aesthetics: 17/20

  • Results:18/20

  • TOTAL: 91/100

Yes, we know this list is meant predominantly for facial acne, but blemishes can be unpredictable, and sometimes pop up on your back, chest or pretty much any other surface. That’s where this drugstore pick comes in. With the maximum concentration of Benzoyl peroxide (10 percent), it may be too harsh for super-sensitive skin, but if your epidermis can take it, it’s worth it—working quickly and effectively to eradicate stubborn spots wherever they may be. Aesthetically, it’s very bare bones, meaning if you’re looking for pretty packaging, you might want to look elsewhere.

Buy it ($9)

5. SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser

Best Exfoliator

  • Value: 17/20

  • Functionality:18/20

  • Ease of Use:18/20

  • Aesthetics: 17/20

  • Results:18/20

  • TOTAL: 88/100

Yes, this one is a touch pricey, but you’re really getting two products in one—a cleanser and an exfoliator. Infused with powerful glycolic and salicylic acid, this dual-action cleanser works to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. A 7 percent concentration of Salicylic, Glycolic and Lactic acids clean gently but deeply. Heads up that this isn’t as intense an exfoliator as products that are solely meant to slough off dead skin cells, but if you’re looking for acne fighting powers with an added touch of skin-softening, this is one of your best bets.

Buy it ($35)

6. Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser

Most Splurge Worthy

  • Value: 15/20

  • Functionality:18/20

  • Ease of Use:19/20

  • Aesthetics: 19/20

  • Results:19/20

  • TOTAL: 90/100

Are there $9 options on this list that work perfectly well? There sure are, but if you’re willing to shell out a few dozen more dollars, this cleanser from clean beauty brand Tata Harper is so damn luxurious. This foaming gel cleanser targets blemish-causing impurities and balances oil with natural salicylic acid and AHAs. Prickly pear flower enzymes exfoliate to encourage cell renewal and clear buildup, wild crafted juniper fruit helps balance oil without disrupting the natural pH-balance and chlorella helps nourish the skin to soothe redness and calm irritation (it’s also what makes this cleanser green). If you don’t want to spend $72 without knowing if you’ll love it, you can buy a smaller size for a more reasonable $35 to get the gist of what this stuff can do.

Buy it ($72)

7. Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Cleansing Gel

Best Clean Option

  • Value: 18/20

  • Functionality:18/20

  • Ease of Use:18/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Results:18/20

  • TOTAL: 90/100

A clean option at a more affordable price than the Tata Harper cleanser, Biossance’s cleanser has almost 21 thousand ‘loves’ on Sephora’s website. A gel cleanser enhanced with tea tree oil and plant-derived squalane that cleanses pores to help balance skin and reduce excess surface oil, it’s suitable for every skin type and is vegan, cruelty-free and gluten-free. As one customer says, “This stuff has saved my skin. I have less breakouts and since I wear a mask 40 hours a week this really fights pimples trying to push through. For this to really work I use their cleanser, the lactic acid, tea tree oil, detox mask, and renew mask. Pricey for the set but so worth it!!!!” Maskne be damned.

Buy it ($29)

RELATED: The 6 Best Acne Spot Treatments According to Adults Who Still Get Acne

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