The 9 Best Soaps for Acne of 2021

Fight acne with these powerful washes

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First Look

Best Overall: CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser at Ulta

"Great for those with acne and dry skin because it has hyaluronic acid to help hydrate the skin and prevent breakouts."

Best Budget: Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar at Amazon

"Not only is the soap gentle for all skin types, but it is also incredibly budget friendly."

Best Bar Soap: Aspen Kay Naturals Dead Sea Mud & Charcoal Soap Bar at Amazon

"This handcrafted bar soap from Aspen Kay Naturals has amassed a cult following in the skincare realm."

Best Face Soap: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash at Amazon

"Great for getting rid of dirt and cleansing pores."

Best Body Soap: Humane Benzoyl Peroxide 10% Acne Treatment Body & Face Wash at Amazon

"Made with 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, the highest concentration recommended for acne treatment."

Best Back Soap: Mario Badescu A.H.A Botanical Body Soap at Amazon

"Doesn't have a chemical smell like other acne products."

Best Sulfur Soap: Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser at Amazon

"Formulated with three percent sulfur to keep acne-prone skin clean, while preventing blemishes, unclogging pores, and balancing oily skin."

Best Gentle Soap: Differin Acne Face Wash, Sensitive Skin Formula at Amazon

"Made specifically to help treat acne for those with skin prone to irritation."

Best Antibacterial Soap: PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash at Amazon

"Highest OTC 10 percent benzoyl peroxide wash available, with maximum strength antimicrobial powers to help kill acne-causing bacteria."

Acne can require a handful of treatments methods to keep breakouts under control—starting with your daily soap. “When you have acne, it is important to think about the products you are using to wash your face but also your body, especially if you are prone to body acne,” explains Nazanin Saedi, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Thomas Jefferson University. But there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to battling acne. “Not all people who have acne have the same type of skin,” she points out.

If you have dry skin, she suggests a hydrating face wash. For people who have sensitive skin, products with gentle ingredients are your best bet. “For oily skin, salicylic washes are a great option and they help unclog pores and blackheads” says Dr. Saedi. Both blackheads and whiteheads can benefit from a benzoyl peroxide wash, which will help clear up acne-causing bacteria on the skin's surface. 

Here are the best acne face washes on the market that are worth checking out.

Best Overall: CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

 Courtesy of Ulta Beauty

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser is a great place to start for people prone to acne. “It is great for those who have acne and dry skin because it has hyaluronic acid to help hydrate the skin and won't make you break out,” says Dr. Saedi. The fragrance-free, non-comedogenic product is also formulated with three essential ceramides (1, 3, 6-II), helping keep your skin hydrated and restoring its protective barrier. While Dr. Saedi prefers the hydrating version, CeraVe also offers a Foaming Facial Cleanser for those who like a product that bubbles.

Best Budget: Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar

Not only is the soap “gentle for all skin types,” it is incredibly budget friendly. This liquid alternative is actually considered a “non-soap,” meaning it is free of any harsh surfactant ingredients that will irritate your skin. It can be used all over the body, so you can target pesky breakout areas like your back and chest.

Best Bar Soap: Aspen Kay Naturals Dead Sea Mud & Charcoal Soap Bar

This handcrafted bar soap from Aspen Kay Naturals is formulated for all skin types with Dead Sea mineral mud, activated charcoal, and a slew of organic oils—including unrefined shea butter, extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, sustainable palm oil, and castor oil. It can also be used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and psoriasis.

Best Face Soap: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

According to the brand, Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Fighting Face Wash is is the number one dermatologist recommended acne-fighting face cleanser, and like CeraVe and Cetaphil, it gently cleanses the skin. Additionally, it's also formulated with the active ingredient salicylic acid, which helps clear up your breakouts and also fights against future ones. Even though it's tough on acne and blackheads, it won't irritate your skin and is great for a wide variety of skin types, ranging from oily to dry.

Best Body Soap: Humane Benzoyl Peroxide 10% Acne Treatment Body & Face Wash

Humane’s main objective is to provide clean, vegan, and cruelty-free (but effective) products using minimal ingredients. This treatment, which can be used for the face as well as body, is made with 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, the highest concentration recommended for the treatment of acne. If you do opt to try it, be forewarned that your skin might get worse before it gets better. If the product irritates your skin for more than a few days, stop using the product and contact your dermatologist.

Best Back Soap: Mario Badescu A.H.A Botanical Body Soap

Treating bacne—AKA back acne—is similar to facial acne. One of the things we love about this product is that it doesn’t have the chemical smell of many other acne products. In fact, the aroma is just as appealing as Mario Badescu’s other body washes. This is because instead of any potentially harsh ingredients, it relies on botanicals to do the work—papaya and grapefruit extracts break down dead skin cells, ginseng rejuvenates, and oat protein soothes and calms irritation.

Best Sulfur Soap: Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser

Sulfur is an effective ingredient in treating acne for those with oily skin. Why? The potent-smelling mineral works hard to unclog pores—so hard, in fact, that it can be too harsh for sensitive skin types. Kate Somerville's multi-tasking daily foaming cleanser is formulated with three percent sulfur to keep acne-prone skin clean, while preventing blemishes, unclogging as well as minimizing pores, and keeping oily skin balanced. While the product might seem more expensive than some of the others on our list, keep in mind that a little goes a long way and the bottle will last you several months.

Best Gentle Soap: Differin Acne Face Wash, Sensitive Skin Formula

Having sensitive skin doesn’t mean you can’t use an effective acne product. Differin Acne Face Wash Sensitive Skin Formula is made specifically to help treat acne for those with skin prone to irritation. Like most other acne treatments it contains benzoyl peroxide—but just five percent. The potency is just as effective as 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, but works without drying, irritating, or stripping your skin. If you are using this or any product containing benzoyl peroxide, you should not double up on the ingredient when it comes to a second product. In other words, if you are using this face wash, avoid a topical cream with additional benzoyl peroxide.

Best Antibacterial Soap: PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash

This foaming face wash is the highest over-the-counter 10 percent benzoyl peroxide wash available, with maximum strength antimicrobial powers to help kill acne-causing bacteria. Due to its potency, it also has the tendency to dry skin out. So, if you are using it, make sure to do so with a hydrating moisturizer. Another thing to consider is its potential to bleach anything it comes into contact with, such as towels or t-shirts. Users suggest thoroughly washing the product off after use—unless you want tie-dyed looking textiles, that is.

Final Verdict

Out of all the products on the market, it's best to stick with a, fragrance-free product that is less likely to irritate acne prone or dry skin over a product with more potent acne-fighting ingredients. CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser is not only affordable, but effective. It is also a great face wash to use if you are relying on a topical acne treatment—either prescription or over-the-counter—as you want to avoid doubling up on products with strong, chemical ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide. If you do have specific acne concerns or a skin type other than dry or normal, you might want to consider one of our other options, like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, which works on a variety of skin types.

What to Look for in a Soap for Acne

Skin and Acne Type

Inflammatory acne forms from bacteria and consists of swelling, redness, and clogged pores. This type has many forms, such as cysts and nodules, and can be more difficult to treat because the inflammation is rooted deeper into the skin barrier. “If you have inflammatory acne, such as pimples, nodules, or pustules, I recommend a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide since it can help decrease inflammation,” says Skylar Souyoul, M.D., a dermatologist with South Shore Skin Center in Norwell, Massachusetts. 

Comedonal acne, on the other hand, is non-inflammatory and involves flesh-colored blemishes on the surface of the skin. This acne is closer to the skin and not created through bacteria but through excess oils and dead skin cells, thus clogging the pores. Salicylic acid works to remove any debris or oil in the pores and keep them clear

Acne can also surface on the chest or back. To address those blemishes, Dr. Souyoul recommends a cleanser that contains 5 to 10 percent of benzoyl peroxide. “Beware though, benzoyl peroxide will bleach your towels so make sure you are using white towels to dry your body and face,” she says. 

Ingredients

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the top two ingredients to look out for when purchasing a cleanser that will directly target acne. “If you suffer from blackheads and whiteheads, I typically recommend salicylic acid in your cleanser,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “This beta hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil and dead cells from the skin to keep the pores clear.” Benzoyl peroxide then works to reduce acne caused by bacteria and address any inflammation in the skin. 

Side Effects

Using a cleanser should help improve your skin, not irritate it. But sometimes the ingredients used in these products can cause side effects, so it’s important to pay attention to how your skin feels after trying out a new face cleanser or soap. “If you develop redness, irritation, burning or stinging, it may mean that the cleanser is too strong for you or may contain an irritating ingredient,” Dr. Zeichner says. 

Sometimes these side effects can be caused if you’re combining prescription acne medications with cleansers that include active ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide. “I caution patients that prescription creams can cause dryness and irritation, so they might want to use a gentle cleanser to prep their skin for their topical treatments,” Dr. Souyoul says. “Using too many active ingredients or products could over dry your skin and cause more problems. Sometimes keeping it simple is best.” 

“If you have comedonal acne, meaning mostly whiteheads and blackheads, I recommend a cleanser with salicylic acid which helps clear away dead skin cells and unclog pores."Skylar Souyoul, M.D., a dermatologist with South Shore Skin Center in Norwell, Massachusetts

Why Trust Verywell Health? 

As an internationally recognized health writer and product guru, Leah Groth understands that nobody wants to waste their time or money on products that fail to rear results. Over the years, she has interviewed the world's top health experts and reviewed hundreds of items, to help readers like you discover the most effective health gadgets, goops, and aids that will help you look and feel your very best.

Additional reporting to this story by Danielle Zoellner

As a seasoned health writer, Danielle Zoellner knows the importance of finding just the right product to fit your medical needs. Throughout her career, Danielle has interviewed a variety of experts in the medical and health fields while reviewing dozens of products. Her experience and knowledge in the field work together to help readers like yourself find the best products for your daily life.

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  1. National Psoriasis Foundation. Integrative approaches to care. Updated October 1, 2020.

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