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Acne can seem like the end of the world sometimes, but you don’t have to live with the unsightly blemishes if you don’t want to. A great face wash for acne can go a long way to clearing up your skin, reducing signs of acne and preventing blemishes in the first place. (More guys are starting to consider acne concealers as well.) If you’re tired of dealing with breakouts and want to find the best acne face wash for your mug, then how do you choose the right product? After all, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of acne products for sale right now.
To help us identify the best face wash for acne, we reached out to Dr. Joel Lamm, a board-certified dermatologist and the supervising physician of the Every/Body dermatology clinic, to help us cover the basics about acne. He explained the different symptoms of acne, the most common ingredients to fight acne, and offered a few great face washes for acne and basic best practices for using them.
SPY Reviews: The Best Men’s Face Wash Products
Understanding Acne & Acne Face Wash
First, it’s important to understand the problem. You may know what blackheads and whiteheads look like, but do you know what they are? These are the most common types of acne blemishes, and they’re both caused by a buildup of bacteria and sebum, which is the oily substance produced by sebaceous glands in the skin.
Dr. Lamm told SPY, “Blackheads and whiteheads are both comedones, which are the primary lesions of acne. They both occur when the skin does not normally exfoliate, and sebum builds up.” The key difference? Whiteheads are when the pore is closed and filled with pus. On the other hand, blackheads are open, which causes the buildup to oxidize and change color.
Both issues can be treated with regular exfoliation, whether through face washes for acne, face scrubs for men, other topical products or clinical procedures, Dr. Lamm said.
Our Go-To Ingredients for Acne Face Washes: Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide
Salicylic acid is “a beta-hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin to unclog pores. It is also anti-inflammatory which can help reduce redness and irritation,” Dr. Lamm said. Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical that “penetrates the pores to kill bacteria and exfoliate the skin.” That makes both of them common over-the-counter ingredients to treat symptoms of acne. Both exfoliate skin, but benzoyl peroxide is particularly good for its antibacterial properties, while salicylic acid is great for clogged pores. “Topicals containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can be beneficial in treating mild acne… Both are effective depending on your individual concerns,” Dr. Lamm said.
It’s worth noting that benzoyl peroxide tends to be harsher on the skin than salicylic acid in our experiences. Whatever kind of acne you’re dealing with, we’d recommend starting with a salicylic acid product before going for a benzoyl peroxide product (unless you know firsthand your skin can tolerate benzoyl peroxide).
The Best Acne Face Wash
Please note that Dr. Lamm didn’t specifically recommend the products below, which were selected by SPY’s grooming editors and product reviewers. All of these products meet the criteria we discussed above and are designed to exfoliate and cleanse your face. Most of these face washes also contain either salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (or an equivalent ingredient) for an added punch. For stubborn acne that won’t resolve with normal cleansing (or adult acne), we recommend consulting a dermatologist before trying yet another acne face wash.
Because SPY.com is a men’s website, we’ve focused on the best acne face wash for men in the guide below, but all of the products below can be used by both men and women.
1. Proactiv Acne Renewing Cleanser
BEST FACE WASH FOR HORMONAL ACNE
Hormonal acne is merely adult acne, consisting of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads and acne cysts due to an overproduction of sebum, the oily skin substance. So if you can treat the overproduction or at least manage it, then can treat the acne. The Proactiv Acne Renewing Cleanser uses benzoyl peroxide and exfoliating beads to mechanically and chemically even out and cleanse the skin. But hey, we’re adults; we need good stuff to keep our skin feeling healthy too. Hyaluronic acid and chamomile go a long way to moisturizing and soothing skin amid the harsh benzoyl peroxide.
2. Geologie Everyday Face Wash Exfoliating Cleanser
BEST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
The Geologie Everyday Face Wash Exfoliating Cleanser is more of a gentle cleanser than an aggressive face wash for acne, but you’d be surprised how much it can help. With 2% salicylic acid, it’ll comfortably handle mild to moderate acne over time, breaking down blemishes and cleaning up pores and blackheads. Our testing found that because it’s not too strong, it’s more suitable for sensitive skin and daily use.
Read More: The Best Face Wash for Sensitive Skin
3. Neutrogena Men Invigorating Face Wash
Neutrogena is a go-to for all things acne, whether blackheads, whiteheads, uneven skin or excess oil. That’s why you can’t go wrong with the Neutrogena Men Invigorating Face Wash. Instead of salicylic acid, citric acid is used to fight blackheads, minimize whiteheads and wash away accumulated oil and grime.
4. CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
BEST DRUGSTORE ACNE FACE WASH
The CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser is available in drugstores everywhere and delivers a potent acne treatment without totally stripping the skin. It employs 4% benzoyl peroxide to break down all signs and symptoms of acne, but CeraVe’s combination of ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid ensures skin maintains sufficient moisture. Plus, it foams up and washes away nicely and leaves skin feeling smooth and clean.
5. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
BEST FACE WASH FOR TEENAGE ACNE
If we had to pick only one bona fide classic acne product for teens, it would be the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash. Seriously, this face wash was practically invented for newcomers to acne. It’s formulated with salicylic acid to clear away excess oil and gently cleanse blackheads to hopefully give any teen (or adult) the fresh face they deserve.
6. PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
BEST FACE WASH FOR CYSTIC ACNE
Cystic acne is a deeper, pus-filled acne cyst, often larger in size than typical blackheads and whiteheads. Because cystic acne can be larger, deeper and filled with excess oil and bacteria, it frequently requires prescription-strength topical treatments. The PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash contains 10% benzoyl peroxide, making it a powerful exfoliating and antibacterial face wash for acne that can be purchased over the counter. It won’t solve cystic acne overnight, but it can reduce acne over time for many users. If this stuff doesn’t help, then you’ll want to consider seeing a dermatologist because face washes for acne don’t get much more potent than this.
7. Harry’s Exfoliating Face Wash
BEST NATURAL FORMULA
Harry’s Exfoliating Face Wash is an excellent starting place for anyone looking to quash their acne through exfoliation. A mix of acids and volcanic rock combine to mechanically and chemically buff skin and wash away excess oil that can cause acne. The addition of eucalyptus, peppermint, glycerin, and aloe vera makes this a soothing and refreshing experience.
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