Just as the best acne body wash helps to eliminate bacne, the best face wash for acne is essential when struggling with how to get rid of acne. It's not always a miracle worker, but your skincare regimen is a non-starter without it.
While an acne face wash will include any number of active ingredients to target breakouts, its main role is to purify, cleanse, and unclog pores. That’s what all of the best acne face wash has in common, regardless of the skin type it serves.
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Read on to learn which type of cleanser is best for your acne-prone skin, and to learn why Murad Clarifying Cleanser With Salicylic Acid is our top pick for our 2023 Grooming Awards. (Here’s a hint: It satisfies the most people, with a potent but gentle gel formula.)
Quick note: The shower seems like a great place to use your acne face wash, but it's typically best to wash your face at the bathroom sink so you can really work the product into your skin, leave it on for 30 to 60 seconds, then wash it off and apply your topical products immediately after. If you insist on doing it all in the shower, keep the water lukewarm, not steaming hot, as this can dry out your skin and create more irritation.
How We Tested
At Men's Journal, we’re constantly testing the latest products. Our contributors and editors have more than a decade of grooming coverage under their belt. Whenever something enters the marketplace, it’s also at our desks, and quickly being tested. Think of us as grooming lab rats; we get to enjoy the spoils when something is really great, and endure the agony when a product isn’t up to par.
1. Best Overall Face Wash for Acne: Murad Clarifying Cleanser With Salicylic Acid
Skin Type: oily, combination, normal
Salicylic acid is the most sought-after ingredient in acne face wash, and for good reason: It exfoliates surface skin cells while seeping into pores to free up trapped cells and any buildup of sebum (the oil your pores secrete). It also balances oil production to mitigate future breakouts. As for Murad Clarifying Cleanser With Salicylic Acid, there’s a medium-grade concentration of 1.5% salicylic acid that is gentler than most, so it serves as a general acne prevention method for people who experience one-off zits every so often. The gel satisfies the oiliest skin types, as well as normal and most combination skin types. So, unless your skin is overly dry, there’s a good chance this face wash will work wonders, no matter how commonplace your breakouts may be.[$29; amazon.com]
2. Best Purifying Face Wash for Acne: Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Clay Cleanser
Skin Type: oily, combination, normal, sensitive
Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Clay Cleanser deploys a combination of oil-absorbing clay plus two types of exfoliants: physically gritty volcanic ash (in small, gentle granules) plus glycolic acid, which gently lifts dead cells away from the skin. While it celebrates these exfoliating powers, our favorite aspect is the purifying, refreshing reset it provides in the process. The rest of your products will absorb and perform better with this acne face wash as the first step in your regimen, and you’ll feel renewed with each rinse.[$24; amazon.com]
3. Best Face Wash for Hormonal Acne: Differin Maximum Strength Acne Foaming Cleanser with 10% Benzoyl Peroxide
Skin Type: oily, combination, normal
Differin built its brand on its excellent adapalene gel, a type of retinoid that improves cellular turnover to reduce clogged pores as well as minimize inflammation. However, Differin Maximum Strength Acne Foaming Cleanser With 10% Benzoyl Peroxide takes a different approach: It uses 10 percent benzoyl peroxide—the highest over-the-counter concentration allowed—to combat inflammatory and chronic acne that's resultant of bacterial proliferation. While benzoyl can be drying on skin, that side effect is often happily tolerated considering how effective it is at clearing one’s complexion. Just be sure to rinse it thoroughly, as the ingredient can stain fabrics.[$14; amazon.com]
4. Best Acne Face Wash for Sensitive Skin: Dr. Loretta Micro-Exfoliating Cleanser
Skin Type: normal, dry, sensitive
Dry and sensitive skin types should prioritize cleansers with a nourishing base no matter the active ingredients each contains. Dr. Loretta Micro-Exfoliating Cleanser comes from a dermatologist-built brand. It has an extremely hydrating, soothing cream base (courtesy of coconut oil, glycerin, and aloe). As for acne, it also carries 2 percent salicylic acid, which provides some serious pore excavation to prevent and treat pimples.[$35; amazon.com]
5. Best Acne Face Wash for Combination Skin: Aesop In Two Minds Facial Cleanser
Skin Type: combination, normal
Combination skin is always a conundrum: Do you target your oily areas or your dry areas? Aesop has you in mind with its entire In Two Minds assortment, which includes Aesop In Two Minds Facial Cleanser, as well as a moisturizer and toner. The cleanser itself tones skin with witch hazel to nourish dry parts and reduce oily parts, while salicylic acid unclogs pores and smooths skin. Both of those ingredients help reduce blemishes by keeping everything centered; turns out it’s pretty good to be right down the middle. The gel formula is a great centering force, too: not too drying, not too heavy, everything just right for your skin, which is finally getting the attention it deserves.[$65, 8.73 fl oz; amazon.com]
How to Identify Your Skin Type
You may find the same ingredient in two different products that satisfy completely different skin types. For example, salicylic acid is the hero ingredient in a few of our picks below, one of which is perfect for oily skin, one for combination skin, and one for dry skin; it’s all about the formula as a whole. To find the best face wash for acne for your individual needs, identify your skin type first.
Dry skin naturally produces less oil than combination and oil types, so it can appear to be a bit more dull, flaky, and dehydrated. As such, fine lines tend to be more visible because of a lack of moisture. This skin type can also be a bit more sensitive.
Oily skin can appear shiny or feel greasy by day's end. That's because oil glands are a bit more active. If you're not using products to keep pores clear, dead skin cells and excess sebum can clog them and spur breakouts. This skin type is more prone to blackheads and acne.
Combination skin falls somewhere in between with the T-zone of the face (forehead, nose, and chin) being oily and the cheeks being dry.
rmal skin types enjoy well-balanced skin that's hydrated and less prone to acne.
Men's Skincare Routine
If you regularly break out, chances are that you've tailored your entire skincare regimen around this fact—and if you haven’t yet, then make it a priority. This includes:
- Acne face wash suited to your skin type
- Targeted acne treatment (like a topical gel or serum with salicylic acid, a pore-cleansing mask that uses clay or charcoal, and adapalene gel or prescription-grade tretinoin)
- Lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizers (meaning they won’t clog your pores)
- Sunscreen for acne-prone skin
Ultimately you need to get to the bottom of what's causing your acne; aside from genetics, it’s probably stress, diet-related, comedogenic skincare products, hormone fluctuations, subpar hygiene, or bacteria proliferation.
We say all of this because a men's skincare routine needs to be holistic in its approach to fighting acne, and you can’t pin all the pressure on a face wash for acne to make things right. Secondly, different people might choose different key ingredients in their acne cleanser. Maybe you want a clay cleanser, which can suck out excess oil from the skin, while someone else wants salicylic acid to exfoliate dead skin and unclog pores. Others may choose benzoyl peroxide because it targets inflammatory acne caused by bacteria.