Is Antibacterial Soap Good for Acne?

If you use antibacterial hand soap to get your skin squeaky clean and reduce bacteria, you might be thinking, maybe this would help clear up your skin?

In general, hand soap is not a great choice for a facial or body cleanser.

Man washing hands with antibacterial soap
JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Soap and Bacteria

It's true that acne is, in part, caused by bacteria. The Propionibacterium acnes bacterium to be exact. And, yes, reducing acne-causing bacteria can have a positive effect on your skin.

But bacteria is only one piece of the acne development pie. There are other factors at work here too, like hormones, abnormal shedding of skin cells, and overactive sebaceous glands.

These factors contribute to the development of comedones, which are plugged poresThese pore blockages start off so tiny that you can't see them. But as they grow, they progress into blackheads or inflamed blemishes, like papules and pustules. 

Antibacterial soap will not stop pore blockage. To improve acne, you must target all of the factors that give rise to pimples, not just bacteria.

Problems With Hand Soap

Antibacterial hand soaps are made for, well, your hands. The skin on your hands is tougher and can generally tolerate stronger cleansers than the delicate skin on your face. Using hand soap on the face can easily over-dry and irritate your skin.

There are better antibacterial cleansing options for your face. A cleanser designed specifically for delicate facial skin cleanses away dirt and excess oil without stripping and drying.

As far as for body breakouts, antibacterial hand soap doesn't make the best body wash either. It's unlikely to do much to clear breakouts because these products just aren't formulated to treat acne.

Acne isn't caused by dirty skin. Soap can aid in the treatment, but it must be gentle on the skin or you may make the condition worse.

Over-the-Counter Options

Over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatment products will give you much better results than antibacterial hand soap can. And there are also plenty of acne facial cleanser options. The ingredients to look for in your OTC acne cleanser are benzoyl peroxide and/or salicylic acid.

  • Benzoyl peroxide will help reduce bacteria and can also reduce oiliness and keep pores from becoming plugged. Benzoyl peroxide remains the most effective acne-fighting ingredient you can get over the counter.
  • Salicylic acid isn't quite the powerhouse as benzoyl peroxide, but it has its benefits too. Salicylic acid helps speed up cell turnover and keeps pores from becoming plugged, so it's a good fit for preventing comedonal acne.

Salicylic acid may help boost the effectiveness of benzoyl peroxide when used in combination. To avoid irritation, some people will use salicylic acid on one night and benzoyl peroxide on the next.

You needn't spend a lot of money on an acne cleanser either. A drugstore brand can work just as well as a fancy salon product. Just make sure to check the active ingredients.

Cleansers aren't the only OTC acne treatment options. Toners, medicated cleansing pads, and lotions containing the aforementioned ingredients are also great choices.

Prescription Medication

Prescription acne medications are also available. If you've already tried an OTC acne product with no improvement, prescription acne medications are the next step.

This is also the route you should take if your acne is moderate to severe. 

If you have trouble getting your acne cleared up, ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a dermatologist who can recommend the best options for your type of acne.

Prescription drugs used to treat acne include topical retinoids like Retin-A (tretinoin), Differin (adapalene), and Tazorac (tazarotene), oral antibiotics like minocycline or doxycycline, and the oral drug isotretinoin for severe cases.

A Word From Verywell

Getting acne under control can be challenging. With all the products on the market and the conflicting info you can come across, it can seem overwhelming, too.

The most important thing to remember is that proven treatments, both OTC and prescription, will net you the best results. Most of those acne treatment hacks involving odd ingredients just aren't grounded in science and won't get you the results you're looking for. Antibacterial hand sops can seem like a quick one size fits all solution, but they don't target many of the problems that contribute to acne. For mild acne, start with OTC acne products, and for stubborn acne or severe acne, see a doctor for a professional skin care plan.

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. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Antibacterial soap? You can skip it, use plain soap and water.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Acne.

  3. Mukhopadhyay P. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian J Dermatol. 2011;56(1):2–6. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.77542

  4. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(5):945-73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

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