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All the Face Washes That Do and Don’t Work for Acne, According to Experts

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Image: CottonBro

Even if you’re not out and about as much as usual these days, you don’t want to be distracted by your breakout on your next Zoom meeting. We know it can be a struggle to find a face wash that effectively combats your acne without drying up your skin or emptying your wallet. Brittney Powell, a skincare blogger at The Blushing Bliss, knows that routine well and has tried many different acne-targeting face washes to no avail.

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“Previous cleansers I’ve tried that didn’t work [include] Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, Murad Acne Cleanser, Cetaphil, Cerave, Kate Sommerville Eradikate Cleanser, Clean & Clear Triple Clear, and Clean & Clear Continuous Control,” Powell tells me.

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“Depending on how specific you break it down, there are either 4 types of skin or up to 16 (made popular by Dr. Leslie Baumann, a trusted Derm in the space), but at the end of the day, I’m a believer in 4 types: dry, oily, combination, or normal skin,” says Todd Minars, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, University of Miami School of Medicine. “One thing to keep in mind is that there are A LOT of skin types and some of them do require different approaches, which is why I like to recommend acne suffers at least consult with a board-certified dermatologist.”

While you surely won’t avoid trial-and-error entirely, given that your skin is unique, there are thankfully some budget-friendly options to check out before considering a larger spend.

Best for Antioxidants: First Aid Beauty’s Face Cleanser 

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Graphic: Juliana Clark
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“Infused with aloe and allantoin, First Aid Beauty’s face cleanser is sulfate and fragrance-free to ensure that your skin maintains its natural pH without stripping away moisture,” remarks Juliana Clark, Associate Producer at The Inventory. “This product is so powerful it can remove dirt, oil, grime, and even makeup. Just add a bit of water to the cleanser’s whipped texture, and watch your skin transform!”

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Best for Acne Control: Clean & Clear Acne Wash

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“One of my favorites that I use, whenever I’ve lost control of a breakout, is the Clean & Clear acne wash. It has a 2% dose of salicylic acid which after about a week of day and night use keeps the pimples and grease at bay,” says Rhea Henry, a content strategist with Rank-It.ca

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“However,” Henry continues, “it is a bit harsh when I’m not having an active breakout so I find I generally don’t use it as often outside of summer when I tend to have most of my breakouts; I just follow it up with the matching oil-control moisturizer if I find that my face feels a little dry.”

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Best for Gentle Cleanse: Neutrogena Ultra Gentle

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Image: Neutrogena
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Powell has tried numerous cleaners over the years to deal with her active acne outbreaks, investing considerable time and money without a solution. “I have found that the best cleansers for acne are very gentle and mild cleansers, versus something harsh and drying like many traditional acne cleansers are,” she said. “This is because traditional acne cleansers have harsh ingredients like sulfates, menthol, and alcohol that dry out and irritate the skin leading to acne and breakouts.”

Gentler cleansers ended up being the solution to her needs, and her skin has cleared up since. One of her favorites is Neutrogena Ultra Gentle, which is available in both creamy and foaming formulas.

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“The foaming formula being better for those with oilier skin types, but both are super gentle and hydrating without stripping your skin or leaving a gross film of moisture,” Powell elaborates.

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Best for Sensitive Skin: Cetaphil, Cerave, and Vanicream

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Image: Cetaphil
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“My go-to recommendations for nearly all patients looking to improve the appearance of their skin or help control acne are Cetaphil, Ceravem, and Vanicream (the original versions for each brand),” Dr. Minars tells me.

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According to Dr. Minars, these non-drying products are hugely beneficial since dryness helps contribute to skin issues. They also don’t have pesky dyes or fragrances.

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“Having your products free from colors and fragrances are particularly important for those patients with sensitive skin types, as those elements can irritate and flare up their issues.”

Best for Oily Skin: Foreo Luna Facial Cleansing Brush

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“It’s interesting to mention, as I’ve had patients declare they have sensitive skin, and the reality is that they’re having sensitivity issues because they’re overwhelming their systems with wrong products or too aggressive regiment,” Dr. Minars cautions. “Be mindful of overwashing your face, as it can be irritating and actually create a sort of negative feedback loop that strips your face of natural oils.”

You also do not need to wash your face more any once a day, says Dr. Minars. “I suggest that patients do not need to perform anything special in the mornings outside of their normal routine. If you have very specific issues that require attention in the morning you’re fine to proceed, but by and large, I see more benefits when patients wash upon their return home each day.”

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When it comes to products that are designed to offer a “deep clean” like the Luna, “I wouldn’t recommend using it daily, as your face doesn’t need that level of frequency with such a device. I’ve had a patient who irritated their skin far more than they would have without using one at all,” Dr. Minars explains, “Now don’t get me wrong, they can be great for many of us, just be mindful and limit your sessions to two times per week.”

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No one solution is guaranteed to work for everyone, but a little budget-friendly trial and error—paired with the advice of experts—can help you find the right products and routine to help your skin feel its best.

This story was originally published by Chaya Milchtein on 09/10/2020 and updated by Juliana Clark with new information on 11/12/2020. 

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Chaya Milchtein is an automotive educator, freelance writer, and empowerment speaker who's made it her mission to engage and empower people in her community and beyond.

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