Free of many chemicals and irritants that can cause sensitive and acne-prone skin to flare up. Contains ingredients to balance skin pH and reduce inflammation. Infused with enzymes to calm skin and remove dead skin cells.
Can leave certain skin types feeling dry after use.
Works well with a facial cleansing brush, but can also be used on its own. Does a good job of keeping oil at bay. Contains 2% salicylic acid for added breakout fighting power. Helpful in clearing up cystic acne, which is tough to combat.
Isn’t meant as a method of removing makeup.
This cleanser contains tea tree oil, which is powerful in fighting acne and breakouts. Cleanser is effective in removing makeup. Cool and refreshing feeling is delivered when washing face. Mild enough to use on sensitive skin. Doesn’t dry out skin.
It can be difficult to squeeze cleanser out of bottle.
Begins working after as little as one week of use. Works well for hormonal and stress acne. Cleanser gently exfoliates skin. Effective in clearing skin without being harsh or over-drying. Is accompanied by a refreshing, cooling sensation.
Lid design makes it difficult to control how much comes out when squeezed.
Has small, hygienic spout that makes this product easy to use in shower without letting water in. Helps to even out skin tone and reduce the appearance of acne scars. Is gentle on sensitive skin. Leaves skin looking polished and clear.
Is best when used every other day due to strong ingredients to ensure skin doesn’t get dry.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Anyone who’s struggled with acne knows how frustrating it can be. Every time you clear up a breakout in one area of the face, another seems to pop up in a different spot. The trick to keeping acne under control is making sure your pores are clean of dirt, oil, and bacteria. That’s why having a good acne cleanser is so important.
Acne cleaners are like any face cleanser in that they help remove dirt, oil, and makeup from the skin. But what sets an acne formula apart from other cleansers is that it also contains ingredients that can treat acne and clogged pores. Acne cleansers can help exfoliate the surface of the skin and even inside the pores to prevent clogs. If you prefer natural products, you can find all-natural acne cleansers that use ingredients like tea tree oil to fight bacteria.
To treat acne, a cleanser must have the right active ingredients to help fight acne-causing bacteria, reduce pore-clogging oil, and/or exfoliate the skin to remove debris from the pores. Some common active ingredients in acne cleansers include the following:
Benzoyl peroxide: This medication can help kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin. It can be very drying, though, so only folks with oily skin should use it. Benzoyl peroxide can bleach fabrics, which means you should be careful with your towels and washcloths when using an acne cleanser that contains it.
Salicylic acid: This is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps reduce acne by exfoliating dead skin cells that can clog pores. It can exfoliate within the pores, so it’s able to help remove debris that may be clogging them. Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties, which allows it to soothe acne breakouts. It isn’t quite as drying as benzoyl peroxide, but it takes longer to work.
Sulfur: This is a natural ingredient that helps absorb excess oil on the surface of the skin so it doesn’t clog your pores and cause breakouts. It can aid in sloughing off dead skin cells that can lead to clogged pores, too. Sulfur isn’t as harsh on the skin as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
Tea tree oil: This is a plant-derived natural ingredient with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Tea tree oil can kill acne-causing bacteria, as well as help reduce the redness and inflammation associated with acne.
Glycolic acid: This is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that helps exfoliate the skin to remove pore-clogging debris.
Clay: This is another natural ingredient that helps soak up excess oil that can clog pores and cause acne. Clay can also help exfoliate dead skin cells.
Acne cleansers come in a variety of different formulas, so there’s a fit for every type of skin.
Gel: These cleansers, as the name implies, have a gel-like consistency. They’re extremely effective at deep cleaning the pores to remove clogs, which is why gel is such an effective formula for acne cleansers. This type of cleanser works well for oily and combination skin.
Foam: These cleansers have a lightweight texture that usually starts as a gel but foams up when mixed with water. These formulas work well for oily and combination skin.
Cream: These cleansers have a thicker, richer texture and typically contain hydrating ingredients to prevent the skin from becoming too dry. They’re the best choice for dry and sensitive skin.
Bar: These cleansers resemble traditional soap bars and may contain some similar ingredients. As a result, some of them can be drying, so they’re best for oily skin.
If you’re using a prescription treatment for your acne, it’s a good idea to check with your dermatologist before starting to use a new acne cleanser.
The majority of people who struggle with acne have oily skin. That’s because excess oil on the surface of the skin can clog the pores and trap bacteria, which can lead to breakouts. If you have oily skin, go with an oil-free cleanser so you’re not adding more oil to your skin that can clog your pores.
Oil isn’t the only ingredient that can clog pores and cause acne breakouts, so you should look for an acne cleanser labeled as noncomedogenic. That label means the cleanser is formulated so it isn’t likely to clog pores and doesn’t feature any ingredients known to cause pore blockages that lead to acne.
Like other types of cleansers, acne cleansers often contain fragrance to give the formula a pleasant scent. If you have sensitive skin, the chemical fragrances used to scent some cleansers can trigger irritation and other skin issues. That’s why most acne-prone individuals prefer cleansers that are unscented or don’t contain any artificial fragrance.
The packaging for acne cleansers usually varies based on the formula. Most gel and foaming cleansers come in a bottle with a pump dispenser, which is very convenient. Cream cleansers have a thicker texture, so they’re usually housed in a squeeze tube to make getting the product out of the container a little easier. Bar cleansers have minimal packaging, so they’re an eco-friendly option.
Face brush: Clarisonic Mia Smart Facial Cleansing Brush
You’ll often see better results with an acne cleanser if you use it with a face brush, which helps deep clean the pores and exfoliate your skin. We like this option from Clarisonic because it offers two speeds and allows for 100 minutes of use on a single charge.
Acne mask: Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Mask
To see effective results in the prevention of acne, it helps to pair an acne cleanser with a more intensive treatment like an acne mask. This one from Peter Thomas Roth contains 10% sulfur to treat acne and bentonite clay to absorb excess oil.
Acne scar serum: CLEARstem CELLrenew Collagen Infusion Serum
If you have dark marks from past acne breakouts, try pairing your acne cleanser with an acne scar serum to fade those spots. We love this one from CLEARstem because it can help fade scars in as little as a week, and it doesn’t contain any artificial colors or fragrances.
Acne cleansers vary in price based on the quality of the ingredients and the size of the container. Most cleansers cost between $5 and $84.
Inexpensive: The most affordable acne cleansers are usually drugstore formulas that are fairly drying and only contain a single active ingredient. These typically cost between $5 and $20.
Mid-range: These acne cleansers aren’t as likely to dry out the skin and typically contain two or more active ingredients. They generally cost between $20 and $40.
Expensive: The priciest acne cleansers are usually from luxury beauty brands and contain two or more active ingredients. They also aren’t as drying to the skin. These typically cost between $40 and $84.
Avoid acne cleansers with exfoliating beads or grains in them. They can irritate the skin and make breakouts worse.
A. Washing your face too often can dry it out, and that’s especially true when you’re using an acne cleanser with ingredients meant to dry up acne and/or soak up excess oil. Wash your face twice daily — in the morning and again at night. That should effectively remove all the dirt, oil, and bacteria from your skin, but it won’t strip the skin of too much moisture.
A. You shouldn’t just let the cleanser sit on your skin. Instead, take 30 to 60 seconds to gently massage it into your skin with your fingers or a cleaning brush. That helps the active acne-fighting ingredients in the cleanser penetrate the pores and go to work.
A. While most people with acne have oily skin, you can still get breakouts if you have dry skin. The trick to using an acne cleanser on dry skin is finding the right formula. Opt for a cream cleanser that contains some hydrating ingredients to avoid stripping your skin of too much moisture. Be sure to follow up with a quality moisturizer, too.