Raise your hand if you’re a grown-ass adult who still wakes up with breakouts on the regular.
Yeah, it’s the freaking worst. But while you might have tried every acne spot treatment and Instagram hack on the planet to clear up your complexion, there’s one part of your skin-care routine that deserves more attention in the war on zits: your face wash.
“Even though a cleanser doesn’t stay on your skin very long, it can still help exfoliate your skin and clean out dead skin cells and oils that clog pores,” explains RealSelf contributor Michele Green, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Look for washes containing salicylic acid, says Green. It’s a beta hydroxy acid that dives deep into your pores to clear out built-up oil, dirt, and dead skin cells—the stuff that cause your standard blackheads and whiteheads.
Benzoyl peroxide is another super-effective ingredient. It attacks the P. acnes bacteria that causes breakouts—specifically, those painful, swollen, under-the-skin zits. Warning: It can dry out your skin, so start with a lower concentration and work your way up if you think you need something stronger. (And use white towels—it can bleach colored fabrics! FML.)
Need recs? All of these face washes will be A++ for your acne:
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser
BUY IT $7, target.com
The pink grapefruit cleanser is a cult classic for a reason. It has the goods: It’s salicylic acid-based to treat everything from blackheads to breakouts, plus vitamin C to balance out T-zone oil. The light citrusy scent also provides a mood boost in the a.m.
Biore Charcoal Acne Cleanser
BUY IT $6, amazon.com
Salicylic acid combined with purifying charcoal wiggles its way into pores to clean out all that oil and skin cell gunk. It creates a cool tingle that leaves your face feeling squeaky clean. If you have any dryness afterwards, follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Cleanser
BUY IT $8, amazon.com
A 10 percent benzoyl peroxide formula, this one goes heavy duty to attack pimple-causing bacteria in your most stubborn blemishes. Because BP can be drying, start by using this wash once a week and build up as tolerated.
PanOxyl Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Creamy Wash
BUY IT $12, walgreens.com
Another BP cleanser with a moderate 4 percent strength. It’s wrapped up in a creamy formulation, which provides additional moisture so you’re left with soft skin—not that super-tight feeling. You can even use this on your bod to treat bacne.
Buy it: $12.50, walgreens.com
Differin Daily Deep Cleanser
BUY IT $12, amazon.com
This cleanser has 5 percent BP, which is as effective at fighting acne as stronger percentages without causing the same dryness or irritation—a major plus for those of us with sensitive skin. It also contains moisturizing glycerin to hydrate your skin while removing oil, gunk, and bacteria.
Origins Zero Oil Deep Pore Cleanser
BUY IT $23, sephora.com
All you need is a little H2O and this lathers into a nice cooling foam. If you have an issue with oil, count this as your go-to. The salicylic acid treats pores, saw palmetto (a berry extract) stops germs from proliferating on the skin, and mint keeps impurities at bay.
Peter Thomas Roth Acne Clearing Wash
BUY IT $38, sephora.com
The 2 percent salicylic acid cleanser is tough enough to tackle breakouts and remove a day’s worth of makeup, but it’s still gentle on your skin thanks to allantoin, an ingredient that eases potential sensitivity, and pro vitamin B5, which helps skin stay supple and redness-free.