There are so freakin’ many ways to address acne with your skincare. Obviously consulting with your dermatologist is your best bet, but on the over the counter front, there are spot treatments, non-comedogenic moisturizers, anti-inflammatory benzoyl peroxide products, and, of course, the best salicylic acid cleansers. The latter is an integral part of a skincare routine for acne because it’s not only going to dry out existing pimples by busting up oil, but it's also going to keep your pores nice and clean so future breakouts are less common.
“Think of salicylic acid like a pipe cleaner for your skin,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anna Karp. “Salicylic acid is both highly keratolytic and comedolytic, which means it not only dissolves dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, but it’s also able to get down into the pore, dissolve the oil, and break apart the debris inside that commonly leads to acne.”
Sounds pretty good, right? If you’re not sure which cleanser to add to your routine, we’ve got you covered. We’ve tried and tested dozens of salicylic acid cleansers—and talked to the professionals—to uncover the best ones out there. From drugstore options that are surprisingly powerful to luxe options designed to combat the drying side effects of the beta-hydroxy acids, here’s a definitive list of the pore-cleaning, pimple-busting face washes that’ll have you on your way to clearer skin.
What to Look For
- Percentage of the Active Ingredient
Salicylic acid is great, but you're only going to reap the pore-declogging benefits when it's used at a high enough concentration. Make sure you read the label to see where your product falls on the spectrum. Two percent is the highest possible over-the-counter dosage and likely what you'll find in the majority of your cleansers. If you have very dry, sensitive skin, consider looking for a one percent formula. See a lower percentage? Chances are the formula is bolstered with a natural, salicylic acid alternative like willow bark.
- Alternative Acids
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, but a decent number of acne-fighting cleansers will also contain alpha-hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid or lactic acid. The combination of both, while not necessary, can help get rid of current blackheads and prevent other pimples by speeding up cell turnover.
The Best Salicylic Acid Cleansers
- The Best Overall Salicylic Acid Cleanser: SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
- The Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Oil Control:
- The Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Body: Naturium The Perfector Salicylic Acid Body Wash
- The Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Large Pores: Paula’s Choice Pore Normalizing Cleanser
- The Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Blackheads: SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser
SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
With hundreds of five-star ratings, it’s safe to say that this baby is a cult-favorite, and it’s easy to see why. It not only features acne-fighting salicylic acid to help with breakouts and oil, but it also leverages a handful of alpha-hydroxy acids, like lactic and glycolic acids. These AHAs are going to get rid of dead skin cells, speed up turnover, and reveal a fresher, smoother, glowier, and younger-looking complexion.
Pros: Brightening; Multiple benefits
Cons: Good for all skin types, including sensitive
The Best Drugstore Salicylic Acid Cleanser
Neutrogena Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Fighting Face Wash
"I have been using this salicylic acid face wash for years,” says Dr. Karp. “It leaves my skin feeling clean without stripping its barrier.” How does it do this, you ask? The foaming formula was designed with a special microclear technology that allows the powerful active, which is included at a two percent concentration, to get deeper into the skin and address the root of the problem. It’s a miracle worker where blackheads are concerns and chances are, you’ll notice results fairly quickly. Think: One week.
Pros: Affordable; Fast-Acting
The Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Large Pores
Paula’s Choice Pore Normalizing Cleanser
When a bunch of gunk makes its home sweet home your pores, your T-Zone is not going to look so great. Excess debris and makeup will not only contribute to blackheads, whiteheads, and other breakouts, but it can also make your pores look wayyyy larger than they need to. This cleanser is designed to go straight for the problem and dissolve all the unwanted ick that’s taken up residence. While it is effective, rest assured it’s not too harsh. The formula is balanced with soothing and calming agents.
Pros: Lightweight; Softens and soothes skin
Cons: Smells; Might cause irritation
Tata Harper Clarifying Blemish & Oil Control Cleanser
While it’s not always the case, a lot of times people dealing with acne also have pretty oily skin. You know, a slicked, shiny appearance that can’t be mattified. Enter this Tata Harper cleanser, which is specifically designed to soak up extra oil and bring your complexion far, far away from greasy territory. In addition to acne-fighting alpha-hydroxy acids and salicylic acid, the foaming formula also includes a trio of botanicals (aka plant-sourced ingredients) that balance oil production over time.
Pros: Balances oil; Helps with redness; Mattifies skin
Cons: Strong smell; Might leave face dry and itchy; Expensive
Skinfix Acne+ 2% BHA Cleanser
I’m a big fan of Skinfix’s entire Acne+ line, as well as their non-comedogenic moisturizers, so it’s no surprise that this face wash landed on the list. While it checks off all the usual boxes thanks to the two percent salicylic acid inclusion, I want to call out how it goes above and beyond on the redness front. Because some acne can bring along angry, red inflammation, the brand added green tea, niacinamide, azelaic acid, and zinc to the formula in an effort to create a more even tone.
Pros: Reduces redness and inflammation; Addresses post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Cons: Can aggravate fungal acne, specifically malassezia folliculitis
SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser
Ideal for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin types, this derm-loved cleanser is the real deal. In addition to salicylic acid, it contains a slew of exfoliating, deep cleansing ingredients like the brand’s proprietary lipo-hydroxy acid and glycolic acid. That powerhouse is going to not only keep your pores clean, and, fingers crossed, acne and bay, but will also give the added benefit of brightening your skin thanks to a freshly exfoliated complexion.
Pros: Effective, Good for aging skin
Cons: Leaky packaging
The Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Body
Naturium The Perfector Salicylic Acid Body Wash
In the same way that you can break out in blackheads and whiteheads on your face, you can have pimples pop up on your chest, back, neck—anywhere there is skin, there can be pimples. Instead of trying to coat your body with your facial cleanser, reach for this body-specific option from Naturium. It has a gel texture that feels super smooth upon application and works long after you've stepped out of the shower. If you want to get a more efficacious treatment, let the body wash sit on the skin for a few minutes before rinsing it off.
Pros: Affordable; Can also be used on the face
Cons: Non-foaming; Hard to squeeze out of the bottle
The Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Dry Skin
CeraVe SA Renewing Cleanser
One of the major CeraVe hallmark’s is its dedication to a healthy skin barrier. Even when the goal is to dry out acne, they still place skin health and hydration front and center. This specific cleanser leverages salicylic acid to treat whiteheads and blackheads galore, as well as a trio of ceramides to restore moisture and keep skin looking bouncy. As a result of the latter, it’s a good option for those with sensitive or easily irritated skin.
Pros: Affordable; Gentle
Cons: Doesn’t remove makeup
Obagi Medical Acne Cleansing Wipes
If you’re dealing with body acne or face acne one of the top tips is to cleanse immediately after a workout or a sweat session. We know it can be tricky to make a pit stop at home and do a true skincare routine, so consider tossing these cleansing wipes in your bag. They will clear your face of gunks, pollutants, makeup, and other debris, while infusing pores with exfoliating salicylic acid. You don’t need to rinse afterwards either, just go along with your day.
Pros: Great for on-the-go treatment; Easy to use
Cons: Not safe for eye area; Not as effective as a true cleanser
NeoStrata Mandelic Clarifying Cleanser
While this baby is likely going to be too harsh for anyone with dry or sensitive skin, it can be a savior for people with oilier complexions. In addition to salicylic acid, this cleanser features mandelic acid, which is an ingredient famed for its exfoliating and oil control powers. It’s going to smooth out skin texture and get rid of rough patches, all while preventing new acne from forming. Because it is a heavy duty cleanser, please make sure to follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturizer morning and night to keep irritation at bay.
Pros: Powerful; Fragrance-Free
Cons: Drying; Irritating
The Best Salicylic Acne Scrub
Burt's Bee's Clear & Balanced Deep Cleansing Acne Scrub
Combining the gritty texture of a scrub and the powerful de-clogging powers of willow bark extract, which contains one percent salicylic acid, this particular cleanser takes two-pronged approach to fighting breakouts. While a scrub probably isn't best for uber-sensitive skin, this is pretty gentle. Sustainably sourced cica is a star ingredient—and its soothing powers are instantly noticable.
Pros: Affordable; Effective
Cons: Not for super sensitive skin
The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser
I don't know about you, but I need my cleanser to work up into a little bit of a foam. But the fact of the matter is that most acne cleansers come in a gel texture. Not this one—Inkey List was able to concoct a light foam that packs in all the good-for-your-skin ingredients. In addition to two percent salicylic acid, this product also features a zinc compound that soaks up excess sebum.
Pros: Helps reduce oil; Great texture; Affordable
Cons: Too drying for some
What Are the Side Effects of a Salicylic Acid Cleanser?
Perhaps the biggest downside of salicylic acid is that it can be drying and cause irritation—especially for those with dry or sensitive skin types. That’s why it’s important not to overdo it. “It is a mild exfoliant, so I wouldn’t combine a salicylic acid cleanser with too many other exfoliating products,” says Dr. Karp. “I would avoid using it with retinoids or other acids unless it’s already in the product as a combination.”
It’s also important to reinforce hydration with an oil-free, non comedogenic moisturizer.
Meet the Dermatologists
Dr. Anna Karp
Anna Karp, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist at the Skin Institute of New York (SINY®). Dr. Karp specializes in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology, and she treats adults and children at SINY’s® three offices in New York City’s West Village and Bay Ridge and Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York.
Dr. Karp is a native New Yorker, growing up on the South Shore of Long Island. After graduating magna cum laude with her bachelor of arts degree in Biology from the State University of New York at Binghamton, she went on to earn her medical degree from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. She then completed dual residencies in Family Medicine and Dermatology at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, New York.
During her residency, Dr. Karp presented at a number of local and national conferences, and she published several articles in peer-reviewed journals. She also served as Chief Resident during the final year.
Dr. Karp is an active fellow and member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, and the American Medical Association. As a highly skilled dermatologist, she focuses on providing the highest level of individualized and compassionate care to all her patients.
“One of the main things that leads to the formation of these plugs is stress and hormones,” says Howe. That means that no matter how much you wash your face, you can still get blackheads. It also means that all skin types can get them, no matter if you're oily, dry, or have acne prone skin.Can you wash your face 2 times a day and still get acne? ›
Washing your face several times a day can further irritate your skin, leading to more breakouts. What to do instead: Wash your face twice a day — when you wake up and before you go to bed. You'll also want to wash your face when you finish an activity that makes you sweat. Dry out your skin.How long should you let cleanser sit? ›
We would suggest cleansing your face for at least 60 seconds. Cleansing doesn't have to be an aggressive experience, or packed with active ingredients.Why is my acne getting worse even though I wash my face? ›
Scrubbing Your Face
But excessive and aggressive washing can actually irritate your skin, causing it to overproduce sebum, which clogs your pores and may make breakouts worse. Plus, scrubbing your skin can increase inflammation, causing your existing blemishes to look redder and more irritated.
You're Washing Your Face Too Frequently
If you wash your face too much, your skin can become dry and flaky, causing a build-up of dead skin in your pores. Even if you're acne-prone and want to keep your face oil-free, you can overwash your face.
If a blackhead is close to the surface of your skin, it's more likely to go away on its own. However, some blackheads can be deeply embedded in your skin. Deep, embedded blackheads are less likely to go away on their own. If you have embedded blackheads, a dermatologist or medical aesthetician can remove them.Should you wash your face with hot or cold water? ›
Although an occasional splash of cold water might benefit your complexion, for the most part you should be aiming to wash your face with lukewarm water. Lukewarm water will work with your cleanser to remove dirt and bacteria from your skin, all without being overly stripping and drying.Is washing your face with cold water good for acne? ›
Cold water can be very beneficial if you have acne. See, hot water can strip your skin of needed natural oils and can actually make your acne worse. Washing with cold water will not remove your natural oils, and can also reduce puffiness and inflammation in the skin.Why do I get pimples even though I eat healthy? ›
Some medications can cause acne (especially steroids and lithium), and hair products, makeup, and other products we put on our skin can contribute to clogged pores. Genetic factors, pollution, smoking, and stress have also been suggested as causes or contributors to acne.Is it better to wash your face first or shower? ›
Have no fear – we've done our share of research, and the answer is clear: post-shower is definitely the way to go. Sure, washing your face in the shower saves time but it can also do more harm than good – like, clogging pores with other products (gross) or drying out skin with hot water (ouch).
In summary, whether you wash your face in the shower or at the sink is a personal preference. It is okay to wash your face in the shower. It is okay to wash your face at the sink. What matters most is that you focus on using gentle cleansers, warm water, and gentle pressure.Why not wash face in shower? ›
The extra heat may cause irritation that can be particularly damaging to sensitive skin. This can worsen skin conditions, like acne. There's also bathroom bacteria to factor in.Does cleanser help with blackheads? ›
Face washes can keep blackheads away and, in many cases, remove your existing blackheads. The primary purpose of face washes is to remove excess oils, dirt, bacteria, and dead skin from your face. Doing so reduces their chances of blocking your pores and forming blackheads.How do you stop blackheads from refilling? ›
A key component for home care is salicylic acid, which can help exfoliate the skin and reduce blemish-causing bacteria. It is also important to choose skincare products with noncomedogenic ingredients that will not clog pores and to avoid greasy products that can worsen blackheads and other types of blemishes.How do you get rid of blackheads when you've tried everything? ›
- Use Products With Salicylic Acid. ...
- Add a Retinoid to Your Routine. ...
- Consider Alpha Hydroxy Acids. ...
- Opt for an In-Office Treatment. ...
- Using Harsh Scrubs. ...
- Doing Manual Extractions. ...
- Turning to Suction Devices.
What happens if you don't remove blackheads like these? They'll likely turn into deep blackheads and, eventually, pimples. Because blackheads are a type of clogged pore, they can become painful, red, and swollen, and can even develop pus down the road.Is it OK to squeeze blackheads? ›
'You should absolutely not squeeze blackheads. Squeezing a spot can push the inflammation deeper and this can cause scarring of the skin,' she says. Squeezing a spot can push the inflammation deeper and this can cause scarring of the skin.Does toothpaste get rid of blackheads? ›
Toothpaste also deep cleans pores and plucks out blackheads. Salt is a natural disinfectant and helps defoliate your skin. Salt never dissolves in toothpaste and thus it is the best combination.What is the best thing to wash your face with? ›
Use a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that does not contain alcohol. Wet your face with lukewarm water and use your fingertips to apply cleanser. Resist the temptation to scrub your skin because scrubbing irritates the skin. Rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry with a soft towel.Is it OK to use a washcloth on your face? ›
Myth: You shouldn't use a washcloth to dry your face.
But King said it's usually fine to use a clean cloth on your face if you "gently pat dry without rubbing."
Should you wash your face in the morning or night? Regardless of your skin care needs, all experts agree: you absolutely should wash your face at night. As dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner told Allure, “If you're going to skip (a wash), then it's better to skip the morning one than the evening one.What does cold water do to your hair? ›
Cold water preserves natural oils and keeps your hair manageable, gives it a healthy shine and loads it up with extra moisture giving it a smoother and shinier look. Cold water helps close the cuticles. Closed cuticles are smoother cuticles which can give your hair some much needed shine.Does putting a hot towel on your face get rid of acne? ›
Pores relax or dilate in the presence of heat. Warmth and moisture help loosen the contents inside the pores and draw excess oil and dirt to the surface. People can treat large, inflamed pimples by alternating hot and cold compresses. To make a hot compress, soak a towel in hot water.Does hot water affect hair? ›
Prolonged or repeated exposure to hot water can make your hair dry because it can strip the hair of its natural oil and moisture. Extremely hot water can weaken your hair roots and cause them to loosen or even uproot. Water should be lukewarm and never so hot that it scalds your hair or scalp.What foods help clear skin? ›
- yellow and orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, and sweet potatoes.
- spinach and other dark green and leafy vegetables.
- whole-wheat bread.
- brown rice.
Kiwis, cherries, and stone fruits (like peaches, nectarines, and plums) may be good for acne because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Kiwis are a high fiber fruit packed with vitamin C and vitamin E. Peaches have b-complex vitamins, which may help improve skin tone and texture.What meat is good for acne? ›
- fish, such as mackerel, salmon, and sardines.
- pastured eggs.
- soybeans and soy products, such as tofu.
- spinach and kale.
- navy beans.
- grass-fed beef.
- nuts, such as walnuts and almonds.
· Pat yourself Dry & Moisturize
Now that you have taken a hearty shower, the next step is to dry your body without losing moisture. This doesn't mean that you rub yourself with a towel, as the action can cause irritation and itchiness. Instead, pat yourself dry leaving your skin a little damp.
Shaving after showering
This is because the hot shower water cleanses your skin: the steam opens up your pores, flushing out the dirt that has accumulated since your last shower, and causes your hair follicles to soften - making it easier for you to enjoy a closer, more comfortable shave, with fewer passes.
Cleanser Before Scrub
By cleansing first you help removing dirt, sweat and make up off skin's surface. You are then working with a clean base to then exfoliate away dead skin cells that can pile up on skin's surface.
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Many doctors say a daily shower is fine for most people. (More than that could start to cause skin problems.) But for many people, two to three times a week is enough and may be even better to maintain good health.Should I wash my face with cold water? ›
Lukewarm water is advisable to wash your face with, but cold water has its benefits, too. Cold water tightens the appearance of your skin, so it may make you look renewed and refreshed. It also helps boost your circulation, which can help give your skin a healthier appearance, albeit temporarily.Why shouldn't you wash your face in the morning? ›
It protects your skin's natural barrier
Your skin works hard all night building its own natural barrier against the world (a layer of helpful oils keeps skin soft), so why strip it all away as soon as you wake up with a face wash? “Washing your face in the morning can strip your natural defense barrier,” says Carlen.
In the shower, you can use it to clean your body better than you can with just soap and your hands. That's because one major skincare perk of washcloths is that they provide gentle physical exfoliation for the face and body.Can Dove soap be used on face? ›
Can you use Dove beauty bar on your body and face? Our mild beauty bar is a handy head-to-toe multi-tasker, so yes, you can use Dove beauty bar on your body and face. It also works wonders at cleaning and moisturizing your hands – so we recommend keeping a bar by the sink.Does drinking water help acne? ›
Staying well-hydrated can also improve your immune system, supporting your body in fighting off infections — which in turn helps prevent acne. Many studies indicate that having a healthy immune system also keeps your skin's microbiome strong and able to fight off acne-causing bacteria.What are junk foods for acne? ›
Acne is strongly associated with eating a Western-style diet rich in calories, fat, and refined carbohydrates ( 24 ). Fast food items, such as burgers, nuggets, hot dogs, French fries, sodas, and milkshakes, are mainstays of a typical Western diet and may increase acne risk.What not to do with blackheads? ›
Blackhead Treatments to Avoid
You should avoid oil-based and alcohol-based cleaners. If you have oily skin, products that have these ingredients can irritate your skin. If you have normal skin, moisturizers that contain some light oil should be fine. If you have dry skin, oil-based moisturizers may help.
People with blackheads should avoid popping, squeezing, rubbing, touching, or picking at affected areas. Not all acne is treated in the same way. To treat blackheads, a healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications depending on a particular situation.What are the 3 steps to clear skin? ›
- Exfoliate (At least twice per week, but more frequently if your skin responds well to scrubs)
- Cleanse (Every morning and as soon as possible after exercising or sweating)
- Moisturise (Every morning and after cleansing)
- Wash your face. Dirt, sweat, and makeup can irritate your face and clog your pores. ...
- Wear sunscreen. ...
- Moisturize your face. ...
- Refrain from picking your face. ...
- Stay hydrated. ...
- Eat a healthy diet. ...
- Develop a skin-care routine. ...
- Get quality sleep.
- DAY 1: Remove your makeup EVERY single night (if you don't wear makeup, then thoroughly cleanse your skin every night). ...
- DAY 2: Catch up on your beauty sleep! ...
- DAY 3: Exfoliate your skin every week. ...
- DAY 4: Drink water & stay hydrated. ...
- DAY 5: Give your skin a day off! ...
- DAY 6:
This type of acne develops when oil (sebum) and dead skin cells combine to form a plug that clogs your pores. Sometimes, cleansing and exfoliating may be enough to loosen the plug and draw it out. But if the plug hardens, or it's too deep to access, you might not be able to remove the blackhead on your own.Why do I get blackheads no matter what? ›
The most common cause is oil gland over-production, which can happen during hormonal shifts, such as puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy. Blackheads can also form when hair follicles are irritated or when dead skin cells do not shed regularly.Why do I have a blackhead that never goes away? ›
Prolonged exposure to the air causes the blockage to oxidize and darken. Because the pore gets stretched out of shape, it will fill back up again even after it is emptied. These stubborn pores are most likely to occur on the face, chest and back.How often should I wash my face if I have blackheads? ›
“If you have acne-prone skin, you should wash your face at least twice a day,” says Dr. Obayah. “A foaming cleanser can be helpful for oily skin and it's important not to skip out on using moisturizer when you have oily skin (lack of moisture can lead to your skin overproducing oil to keep it hydrated).How do you draw out blackheads? ›
“Gently press on each side of the blackhead until it begins to release,” she says. “Apply slow and even pressure, and once you are able, lightly pinch the tweezers and pull the blacked out material from the skin to extract it. If the blackhead does not release easily, do not continue to attempt the extraction.”Does Toothpaste get rid of blackheads? ›
Toothpaste also deep cleans pores and plucks out blackheads. Salt is a natural disinfectant and helps defoliate your skin. Salt never dissolves in toothpaste and thus it is the best combination.How do I permanently get rid of blackheads on my nose? ›
- Use Products With Salicylic Acid. ...
- Add a Retinoid to Your Routine. ...
- Consider Alpha Hydroxy Acids. ...
- Opt for an In-Office Treatment. ...
- Using Harsh Scrubs. ...
- Doing Manual Extractions. ...
- Turning to Suction Devices.
First, apply a generous amount of Vaseline to your nose or designated area with blackheads and keep layering it on. Second, once the petroleum jelly is applied cover it up and wrap in plastic wrap until it stays in place and is formed to your face. Third, go to sleep with the mask on.
When you have blackheads, these large pores become clogged with a substance known as sebum. A chemical reaction with the sebum occurs under your skin. Melanin is oxidized and turns the clogged pores a black color.What is a white worm pimple? ›
The white worm-like structure is trapped or overfilled sebum inside the pore and sometimes the exposed tip may appear black in colour, which disguises itself as a blackhead. They are not a type of acne; they are just simple passageways within the skin's structures.What is a giant blackhead called? ›
A dilated pore of Winer is a common, giant blackhead pimple, found on your head, neck and torso. Dilated pores of Winer occur on adults and the elderly. Your healthcare provider can easily remove it if you don't like how it looks on your skin. Living With.Is it OK to squeeze nose pores? ›
Squeezing nose pores may put your pore health at risk for irritation, redness, or damage to the pore itself. Instead, treat yourself to a pore-clearing face mask!Should you touch your blackheads? ›
Squeezing or Picking at Pimples Is Never a Good Idea
There are things your hands can do that will make acne worse. Picking at the skin, squeezing blemishes, and scratching off scabs will definitely make acne look worse.