Cleansing Tips for Acne Prone Skin

Cleansing the face seems like such a simple thing, doesn't it? But it's normal to have questions about proper skin cleansing, especially if you are prone to acne breakouts. Get answers to some of the most common questions about cleansing the skin, and see your acne improve.

What Type of Cleanser Should I Use?

Caring for her vibrantly soft skin
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Cleanser choice is dependent on a number of factors. Do you have mostly non-inflammatory breakouts? Choose a salicylic acid cleanser, which is a beta hydroxy acid that speeds up cell turnover and clears blocked pores.

Inflammatory breakouts respond well to benzoyl peroxide cleansers, which can reduce bacteria responsible for acne.

If you are using any acne treatment medications, like Retin-A or BenzaClin, cleansing with medicated products may not be a good idea. Instead, use a mild cleanser such as Cetaphil.

Whatever cleanser you choose, it should leave your skin clean but not too tight, dry, itchy, or red. Feeling overwhelmed? Ask your dermatologist or esthetician to recommend a few.

Are Bar Soaps OK?

Certain bar soaps can be used for cleansing the face. Dove and Neutrogena are two examples of bar soaps that are gentle and appropriate to use for cleansing your face.

What you may want to avoid are antibacterial, deodorant body bars. While they work well for cleansing tougher areas like your back or feet, these soap bars may be drying for the face.

More important is the pH of the soap. Cleansers with a very high pH (very alkaline) may be too drying and possibly irritating to the skin.

Generally, you should choose a cleanser specifically formulated to be used on the face. These types of cleansers will give you a gentler cleansing than a bar of soap meant to be used on the body in the shower.

Should I Use a Washcloth or Scrubbing Pads?

These items aren't needed to get a good, thorough cleansing of the skin. It would seem that a good scrubbing would help cleanse out the pores, but if you have inflammatory acne scrubbing away at the skin can further irritation.

Instead, use just the pads of your fingers, massage your cleanser over the face thoroughly, and rinse very well.

If your face feels exceptionally oily, or if you wear makeup, you can do a "double cleanse:" lather up, rinse, then repeat. You can also leave the cleanser on longer before washing it off.

If you just have to use a washcloth or cleansing pad, choose one that is soft and non-abrasive.

What Temperature Water Should I Use?

Room temperature water or just warmer is the best temperature to cleanse the face.

Many people swear by the "steaming hot water to open pores, icy cold to close them" cleansing routine. But this isn't necessary and may actually be detrimental to the skin. Water that is too hot can contribute to couperose (broken capillaries), and exacerbate inflammation.

And cold water isn't needed to "close" pores. Pores aren't like doors; they don't open and close. You can't change pore size with water.

If large pores are a concern, try an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) product. AHAs remove dead skin cells and hardened oil plugs, making pores appear smaller. Light chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and retinoids can also make the pores look smaller.

How Often Should I Cleanse My Face?

Cleansing too often isn't going to help the skin. The skin needs some natural oil to be healthy (yes, oil can be a good thing). Cleansing too often can strip the skin of its natural oil, leading to over-dryness and irritation.

Generally, a twice-daily cleansing is enough to remove dirt, excess oil, and makeup without stripping the skin. If you've been exercising, are sweaty or especially dirty (like, after working in the yard) you can throw an extra cleanse in there for good measure.

And make sure you always wash your face before bed to cleanse away the grime and oil from the day and leave your skin ready for those topical acne medications.

Everyone's skin is different, and there are no absolute rules for cleansers.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tarun J, Susan V, Susan J, Suria J, Criton S. Evaluation of pH of bathing soaps and shampoos for skin and hair careIndian J Dermatol. 2014;59(5):442. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.139861

  2. Facial Cleansing for Rosacea |

  3. Flament F, Francois G, Qiu H et al. Facial skin pores: a multiethnic studyClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015:85. doi:10.2147/ccid.s74401

  4. Tang S, Yang J. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the SkinMolecules. 2018;23(4):863. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863

Additional Reading
  • "Acne." AcneNet. 2007. American Academy of Dermatology.

  • Gerson, Joel; Ph.D.. Standard Textbook for Professional Estheticians. 8th edition. Albany, NY: Milady Publishing, 1999.
  • United States. NIAMS. Questions and Answers About Acne. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.

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