How to Choose the Right Acne Cleanser for Yourself

Been to the skincare aisle lately looking for an acne cleanser? Then you’ve seen the overwhelming choices. But don’t worry. With a little know-how, you can choose the right acne cleanser for you.

Woman washing face at a sink
Sean Justice / Getty Images

Choose a Form of Cleanser You Like Best

Foaming or non-foaming? Bar or liquid? This really comes down to personal preference. All types of cleansers work equally well, so choose the one you’re most comfortable with.

As a general rule, non-foaming cleansers or cleansing lotions tend to be less drying than foaming cleansers. These are a good choice if your skin is naturally on the dry side, or if it’s drying out because of your acne treatments.

Many people swear you should never use bar cleansers on the face, but it’s really OK if you use the right bar. Dove, Neutrogena, and PanOxyl are a few examples that are perfect bar soap options for the face.

Decide If You Need a Medicated or Non-Medicated Option

Medicated acne cleansers are available both over-the-counter and with a prescription, and usually contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur.

Regular use of a medicated cleanser can help reduce pore blockages and breakouts. If you aren’t using any other treatment product, a medicated cleanser is a good choice.

If you’re currently using another acne treatment medication, like Retin-A or isotretinoin (formerly marketed as Accutane), a medicated cleanser will most likely leave your skin too dry and uncomfortable. You’ll want to choose a non-medicated cleanser instead. Try something meant for sensitive skin—like Aveeno, Cetaphil, or Eucerin. 

Make Sure the Cleanser Is Meant for Your Face, and Not Your Body

The skin on your face, neck and décolleté (chest area) is quite thin and delicate. So while that super smelling, ultra cleansing body wash is great for elsewhere on the body, it isn’t a good choice for your face.

If a cleanser is meant for the body, it should only be used on the body. Stronger doesn’t mean better, especially when it comes to your skin. Always use a cleanser that is specifically designed for the face, to reduce the chance of irritation.

Focus on How It Makes Your Skin Feel, Not on the Price

High priced facial cleansers don’t necessarily work any better than bargain products you can find at your local drug or discount store. So don’t worry if you can’t afford a pricey product (or just don’t want to spend an arm and a leg!). You aren’t doing your skin a disservice by choosing a great buy over trendy packaging.

A better guide is to go with how the cleanser makes your skin feel. Is your skin tight, dry, or itchy after you use it? It’s not the right cleanser for you. Try another brand.

Ask for a Recommendation

Still overwhelmed? Ask the pros!

If you’re seeing a dermatologist, ask him/her first. Not only will your doc have effective cleansers in mind, but knows exactly which acne medications you’re using. You’ll get personalized recommendations.

Another option is an esthetician. Your esthetician can suggest cleansers, and usually will have them on sale for you to take home.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.