Along with other acne-fighting skincare products, the right face wash can help people with acne-prone skin keep breakouts at bay. Here’s our guide to the best drugstore face washes for acne.

Our Recommendations

1. Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash

La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash

La Roche-Posay Face Wash for Acne and Daily Cleansing

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash

The 2% concentration of salicylic acid in this medicated cleanser helps remove excess oil and clear current breakouts.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Acne and Daily Cleansing
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: Wet your face with lukewarm water, and then gently massage the cleanser into your skin. Rinse with lukewarm water.
See on Amazon

This cleanser contains a 2% concentration of the chemical exfoliator salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Salicylic acid is able to shed excess skin cells and decongest pores to fight current breakouts, as well as prevent future breakouts from happening.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Oil-free
  • Dermatologist tested
  • Non-comedogenic

Cons

  • May be drying

This award-winning cleanser has been dermatologist tested, and is suitable for sensitive skin. It is also non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn’t contain ingredients known to clog pores.

2% Salicylic Acid, water, sodium laureth sulfate, decyl glucoside, glycerin, sodium chloride, coco-betaine, PEG-150 pentaerythrityl tetrastearate, hexylene glycol, sodium hydroxide, PEG-6 caprylic/capric glycerides, zinc gluconate, tetrasodium EDTA, polyquaternium-47, menthol, capryloyl salicylic acid, citric acid.

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 16, 2021.

2. Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

COSRX Face Wash for Acne and Daily Cleansing

COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

This gentle foaming cleanser removes excess oils and helps unclog pores without drying out the skin.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Acne and Daily Cleansing
Tested on animals: No
How to use: Dispense the cleanser into your palms, and then gently massage it into wet skin. Rinse with lukewarm water.
See on Amazon

If you’re acne-prone, you need a daily cleanser that will remove excess oils and impurities without further irritating breakouts or drying out the skin. This cleanser contains a 0.5% concentration of salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps gently unclog pores to minimize breakouts.

Pros

  • Gentle
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

In addition to the salicylic acid, this cleanser contains willow bark water, tea tree oil, evening primrose extract, and other soothing skincare ingredients.

Water, Glycerin, Myristic Acid, Stearic Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Lauric Acid, Butylene Glycol, Glycol Distearate, Polysorbate 80, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Salicylic Acid, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Fragrance, Sodium Chloride, Melaleuca Alternigolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water, Saccharomyces Ferment, Cryptomeria Japonica Leaf Extract, Nelumbo Nucifera Leaf Extract, Pinus Palustris Leaf Extract, Ulmus Davidiana Root Extract, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Flower Extract, Pueraria Lobata Root Extract, 1,2-Hexanediol, Ethyl Hexanediol, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 24, 2021.

3. Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser

Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser

Paula's Choice Face Wash for Daily Cleansing

Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser

This salicylic acid cleanser is one of the best Paula’s Choice cleansers for acne. It removes excess oil and pore-clogging debris without drying out the skin or causing any redness.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Daily Cleansing
Tested on animals: No
How to use: First, wet the skin with lukewarm water. Dispense the cleanser into your palms, and then gently massage into the skin. Rinse with lukewarm water.
See on Amazon

This gel cleanser contains the chemical exfoliator salicylic acid, which is a beta-hydroxy acid (or BHA). Salicylic acid sheds excess skin cells and decongests pores to fight acne and blackheads, leading to a clearer complexion.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Non-drying

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

This cleanser has a 0.5% concentration of salicylic acid. The low concentration helps clear the skin of excess oil and debris without irritating it.

Salicylic Acid 0.5% (anti-acne), Water (Aqua), Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate (cleansing agent), Acrylates/Steareth-20 Methacrylate Copolymer (texture enhancer), Glycerin (skin-replenishing), PEG-200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate (cleansing agent/solubilizer), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (cleansing agent), Arginine (amino acid/skin-softening), Butylene Glycol (hydration/slip agent), PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate (emollient/emulsifier), Panthenol (vitamin B5/hydration), Disodium EDTA (chelating agent), Citric Acid (pH adjuster), PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil (cleansing agent/solubilizer), Sodium Citrate (chelating agent), Phenoxyethanol (preservative), Caprylyl Glycol (preservative), Chlorphenesin (preservative).

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.

4. Acne Foaming Wash 10% Maximum Strength

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash 10% Maximum Strength

PanOxyl Face Wash for Acne

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash 10% Maximum Strength

This foaming benzoyl peroxide cleanser is excellent for fighting acne on both the face and body.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Acne
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: Gently massage the cleanser into the face, as well as any other areas of the body that are prone to acne (like the back or chest). Rinse with lukewarm water.
See on Amazon

This foaming cleanser contains a 10% concentration of benzoyl peroxide. This high concentration helps kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin while also unclogging pores to treat current breakouts and prevent new blemishes from forming.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Non-comedogenic

Cons

  • May irritate the skin

For the best results, this cleanser should be used on a regular basis as part of an effective skincare routine to keep breakouts at bay.

Active Ingredient: Benzoyl Peroxide (10%) Inactive Ingredients: Carbomer Homopolymer Type C, Carbomer Interpolymer Type A, Decyl Glucoside, Dimethicone, Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate, Glycerin, Palmitic Acid, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Polyoxyl 40 Stearate, Propanediol, Purified Water, Silica, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate, Sorbitan Stearate, Stearic Acid, t-Butyl Alcohol, Xanthan Gum

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Benzoyl Peroxide"

    Accessed Sep. 1, 2021.

5. Pigmentclar Brightening Deep Cleanser

La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Brightening Deep Cleanser

La Roche-Posay Face Wash for Daily Cleansing

La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Brightening Deep Cleanser

This foaming cream cleanser contains exfoliating lipo-hydroxy acid, which works to remove impurities from the skin and brighten overall skin tone.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Daily Cleansing
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: Wet your face with lukewarm water, and then gently massage the cleanser into your skin. Rinse with lukewarm water.
See on Amazon

Lipo-hydroxy acid (which is a derivative of salicylic acid) is a gentle chemical exfoliator that is well-tolerated by most, and great for acne-prone skin and acne scars. It is exfoliating and known to stimulate collagen and elastin production (which is great for anti-aging and evening out skin tone and texture), and also has anti-acne properties. While this acid will be most effective when applied as a leave-on treatment, this cleanser can still contribute towards lightening post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Pros

  • Oil-free
  • Dermatologist tested

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

In addition to the lipo-hydroxy acid, this cleanser contains glycerin, which helps keep the skin moisturized.

Aqua / Water, Glycerin, Myristic Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Glyceryl Stearate Se, Stearic Acid, Lauric Acid, Palmitic Acid, Coco-Glucoside, Parfum / Fragrance, Tetrasodium Edta, Capryloyl Salicylic Acid

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment"

    Accessed Jul. 30, 2021.

FAQs

Can a salicylic acid face wash remove acne scars?

Salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA) is great for unclogging pores and fighting breakouts, but it’s not the best chemical exfoliant for minimizing the appearance of acne scars. Products with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) – such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid – are the best for acne scars, because they work on the surface of the skin to create a more even skin tone and texture. If you’re looking to minimize acne scars, consider adding a chemical exfoliant product with AHAs to your skincare routine.

How do you wash your face if you have acne?

If you have acne, it’s important to be gentle with your skin when washing your face to avoid causing further irritation. If you aggravate your skin when washing it, you increase the likelihood that you’ll get acne scars from your current breakouts. Once you’ve chosen a cleanser that works for you, gently massage it into your skin for about a minute using your fingers. Don’t use a face brush, wet towel, or other scrubbing tool, as this can cause irritation. You should also use lukewarm water when washing your face, as water that is too hot or too cold can irritate and dry out the skin.

How often should you wash your face?

You should wash your face one to two times each day. At the end of the day, it’s essential to cleanse away any dirt, sweat, sebum, and additional debris that has accumulated throughout the day, as neglecting to do so can contribute to breakouts. Many people also choose to wash their face in the morning. This is particularly important if you workout in the morning, as you’ll want to cleanse away any sweat before applying your skincare products. However, you may find that only washing your face at night is suitable. It’s important to note that you should not wash more than two times per day, because over-cleansing can cause irritation and dryness, and may even exacerbate breakouts.

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of super effective face washes for acne that you can find at the drugstore. Consider using one of our recommended face washes in your skincare routine to treat and prevent breakouts.