The 10 Best Salicylic Acid Face Washes of 2020

Bye bye, breakouts

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First Look

Best Overall: La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser at Amazon

"Transforms into a lightweight foam that gently cleanses and exfoliates without drying out the skin."

Best Budget: Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control Foaming Wash at Amazon

"Great for folks who are battling oily and acne-prone skin constantly but don’t want to spend a fortune on skincare."

Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice CLEAR Pore Normalizing Cleanser at Amazon

"Just enough to provide the cleansing and exfoliating benefits you want without the dryness and agitation you don’t."

Best Cleansing Pads: Oxy Daily Defense Cleansing Pads at Amazon

"Effectively cleanses pores, exfoliates, and helps prevent new blemishes from forming when used regularly."

Best Scrub: Alba Botanica Acnedote Maximum Strength Face & Body Scrub at Amazon

"A botanically-powered way to up the exfoliation ante on your typical salicylic acid face wash."

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Vichy Normaderm Daily Deep Cleansing Gel at Amazon

"Clears breakouts, reduces excess oil production, and visibly decreases excess shine."

Best for Dry Skin: skyn ICELAND Glacial Face Wash at Amazon

"A gentle cream cleanser that removes impurities, purifies pores, and soothes irritation to prevent breakouts."

Best for Aging Skin: SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel at Amazon

"Combines the powers of salicylic acid, LHA, and glycolic acid to remove impurities from the skin and encourage cell renewal."

Best for Combination Skin: Glytone Acne Clearing Cleanser at Amazon

"Uses salicylic acid alongside glycolic acid to help reduce breakouts, clean out pores, even out skin tone, and reduce blemishes."

Best Drugstore: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne and Redness Facial Cleanser at Amazon

"Cut through excess oil, and clear away dirt and impurities without drying out the skin."

When it comes to having a clear complexion, salicylic acid should be your go-to. It’s a type of oil-soluble beta-hydroxy acid that penetrates effectively into hair follicles on the skin to eliminate excess oil and sebum that lead to whiteheads, blackheads, and other forms of acne. It also exfoliates your skin, removing dead skin cells on the surface that can contribute to clogged pores and skin dullness. It can even help reduce inflammation associated with breakouts.

There are a lot of salicylic acid-based facial cleansers on the market, but most brands have a unique way of integrating the ingredient into their formulas. That being said, not all salicylic face washes are created equal. They come in a range of formulas, applications, and potencies that affect how your skin will ultimately respond to the chemical.

In order to help you find the best salicylic face wash for your skin, we highlighted the top options for various skin types and budgets below.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser

La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser

Courtesy of Amazon 

Rave reviews abound for this fragrance-free, dermatologist-approved pick from La Roche-Possay. The oil-free gel cleanser transforms into a lightweight foam that gently cleanses and exfoliates without drying out the skin. It’s powered by a 2% salicylic acid concentration, along with alpha hydroxy acids and glycolic acid for moisture balance.

The cleanser is safe and effective for oily, acne-prone, and sensitive skin. Users love how it tackles acne, whiteheads, blackheads, and large pores all in one formula.

Best Budget: Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control Foaming Wash

If you’re battling oily and acne-prone skin regularly but don’t want to spend a fortune on skincare, this formula from Clean & Clear will likely fit the bill. The one-step face wash effectively cleanses the skin, treats existing acne, and prevents future breakouts. It’s oil-free, non-comedogenic, and powered by a 2% salicylic acid concentration that is safe to use daily. Users with particularly oily skin report that despite its potency, the cleanser is non-drying and non-irritating.

Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice CLEAR Pore Normalizing Cleanser

People with sensitive skin usually don’t tolerate high concentrations of salicylic acid very well, but they still want to keep their complexions clear and breakouts to a minimum. Enter this gentle-yet-effective cleanser from Paula’s Choice. It contains 0.5% of salicylic acid, which is just enough to provide the cleansing and exfoliating benefits you want without the dryness and agitation you don’t.

The fragrance-free gel is also infused with panthenol to moisturize, calm, and refresh the skin. Reviewers love the lather it creates, as well as the soft, fresh-faced feeling it leaves behind.

Best Cleansing Pads: Oxy Daily Defense Cleansing Pads

If you’re in the market for a quick and easy cleansing pad that will cater to oily and acne-prone skin, you can’t go wrong with this classic pick from Oxy. The pads have a 2% salicylic acid concentration for effective pore cleansing and exfoliation, and when used regularly, they can help prevent new blemishes from forming. Meanwhile, they are gentle enough to minimize irritation and redness. These dermatologist-tested, fragrance-free pads are also very convenient for folks who are always on-the-go.

Best Scrub: Alba Botanica Acnedote Maximum Strength Face & Body Scrub

This 100% vegetarian scrub is a botanically-powered way to up the exfoliation ante on your typical salicylic acid face wash. It contains a 2% salicylic acid concentration naturally sourced from willow bark extract, as well as ground walnut shell for both chemical and mechanical exfoliation.

The dermatologist-tested scrub is non-comedogenic, and it doesn’t contain any chemicals like parabens, phthalates, or synthetic fragrances. But because it's a scrub, it’s always a good idea to be gentle when you use it, and moisturize your skin thoroughly afterward.

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Vichy Normaderm Daily Deep Cleansing Gel

This exfoliating cleanser is gentle, but it’s also highly effective in purifying the skin and unclogging pores. The 0.5% salicylic acid concentration pairs with glycolic acid to effectively reduce oil buildup and breakouts while zinc and copper work to reduce excess oil production and visibly decrease excess shine. It also contains mineral-rich Vichy water, which helps to hydrate the skin. If you struggle with acne, cystic acne, or large pores, this cleansing gel could bring you some much-needed relief.

Best for Dry Skin: skyn ICELAND Glacial Face Wash

People with dry or sensitive skin will love this gentle cream cleanser. It removes impurities from your skin with oat- and amino acid-based surfactants while salicylic acid derived from white willow bark purifies pores and reduces irritation to prevent breakouts.

The formula also includes Icelandic kelp, which helps detoxify the skin and soothe inflammation, and cylindrica seed oil, which helps repair the lipid barrier to prevent dryness. Reviewers swear by this face wash, noting that a little bit goes a long way for a luxurious lather.

Best for Aging Skin: SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel

SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel is a cleanser that combines the powers of salicylic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid LHA, and glycolic acid to not only remove impurities from the skin, but also encourage cell renewal. The result? Skin that is free of breakouts, a more refined skin texture, even skin tone, and a brighter appearance. Ideal for both oily and combination skin, this formula is free of parabens, phthalates, fragrances, soaps, alcohols, and dyes. Users say that this face wash creates a clean feeling like no other, and it doesn’t cause any excess dryness or irritation.

Best for Combination Skin: Glytone Acne Clearing Cleanser

This popular cleanser contains a 2% salicylic acid concentration alongside glycolic acid to help reduce breakouts, clean out pores, even skin tone, and reduce blemishes. The formula reaches deep into pores to remove acne-causing bacteria and impurities while providing the proper balance of hydration for the skin to heal and restore. The dermatologist-approved face wash is beloved by users of all ages due to its ability to address a wide variety of issues, including milia, blackheads, whiteheads, and large pores.

Best Drugstore: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne and Redness Facial Cleanser

If easy access is your primary concern, look no further than the Neutrogena section in your local pharmacy. This pretty green face wash is powered by a 2% salicylic acid concentration, helping you cut through excess oil and clear away dirt without drying out the skin. The oil-free formula is supplemented with soothing aloe and chamomile extracts to help calm any potential irritation and redness. This cleanser was specifically developed for acne-prone skin.

Final Verdict

The best salicylic acid face wash is ultimately the one designed to cleanse your particular skin type and does so effectively without causing excessive dryness, agitation, or other side effects. For oily, acne-prone, and combination skin, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser is an excellent choice at an affordable price. For more sensitive skin, skyn ICELAND Glacial Face Wash will do the trick. Sometimes, finding the right face wash requires a bit of trial and error, but if you start with these products, you probably won’t have to try many more.

What to Look for in a Salicylic Acid Face Wash

Salicylic Acid Percentage: Most salicylic face wash products contain 2% salicylic acid, which is a safe and effective concentration for normal, oily, and acne-prone skin types. If you have dry or sensitive skin, opt for a less intense cleanser with 0.5% to 1% salicylic acid. 

Moisturizers: Salicylic acid can easily throw off your skin’s hydration balance, resulting in dryness, redness, and irritation, and other uncomfortable side effects. That’s why some face wash formulas include ingredients like soothing botanicals, hyaluronic acid, and ceramide moisturizers. Look for products that include one of these elements when you can.

Clean ingredients: It’s always a good idea to keep chemicals like parabens and sulfates away from your skin, especially on your face. Keep an eye on those labels and opt for natural, organic, and clean products when possible.

Why Trust Verywell

As a seasoned health writer, Alena Hall understands how important it is to know exactly what you’re getting in a wellness product. Over the years, she has reviewed dozens of products, from athletic recovery aids to homeopathic essential oils to ever-trendy CBD topicals, to help readers like you discover products that can help you live your best life.

A Note About Safety

Be careful not to overuse salicylic acid face wash products, as they can excessively dry out and irritate the skin. Most dermatologists recommend applying a quality moisturizer after each wash. Be sure to keep these products away from your eyes, and rinse them immediately should contact occur. Wear plenty of sunscreen when using salicylic face washes because they may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. People who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should not use salicylic acid products. Finally, if you’re still concerned about picking the right product for you, discuss your needs and options with a board-certified dermatologist.

What Experts Say

“Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid. Salicylic acids are exfoliants and can aid in treating acne. Patients with comedonal acne can especially benefit from use of salicylic acid face washes. Discuss your skincare regimen with a board certified dermatologist to decide which product is best for you. These washes come in a range of percentages with varied formulations. People may experience redness, irritation, or other side effects from use of salicylic acid. It is pregnancy category C and should not be used in individuals who are pregnant or trying to conceive a child. Discuss these and other potential side effects with a board certified dermatologist.” — Meghan Feely, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist


“Salicylic acid works by reducing oil and sebum on the skin. It also helps to exfoliate dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, which also contribute to the clogging of pores and dullness of the skin. One of the key features to look for in the face wash is the strength of the active ingredient — in this case, salicylic acid. The most common strength percentage in face washes will be 2 percent. Individuals with acne-prone or oily skin would benefit from use of salicylic acid washes. Sensitive or dry skin types are often not able to tolerate salicylic acid ingredients due to enhanced irritation or dehydration of the skin. Be careful not to get the acid into your eyes when using these products. Make sure to apply moisturizer to the skin after using these products so that the skin doesn't become overly dry or irritated. — Jordan C. Carqueville, MD, a leading board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist


“Salicylic acid is a type of beta-hydroxy acid that is oil-soluble, so it penetrates deep into pores to eliminate excess oil and unclog the pores. It also acts as an exfoliant and helps to get rid of dead skin cells to help improve tone and texture of the skin. Additionally, it can also help reduce inflammation, so it can be helpful for all types of breakouts. Although salicylic acid can be helpful for breakouts, it is important to know that it can also be irritating, particularly for those with sensitive skin. As a result, it is important to not overdo it and be sure to find one that is good for your skin type. Those with more oily skin may prefer more of a gel based cleanser or a higher concentration of salicylic acid, while those with more sensitive skin may require a cleanser that is also hydrating and more gentle on the skin. Although cleansers are a great way to incorporate salicylic acid or beta-hydroxy acids into your skin care routine, other helpful options include toners, peel pads, and serums. With many anti-acne products and exfoliants, using salicylic acid can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it is important to remember sunscreen.” — Marisa K. Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist

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