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Best face wash for acne: The best washes for spots, blackheads, enlarged pores and oily skin

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Banish spots and prevent breakouts with our pick of the best face washes you can buy for acne-prone skin

Choosing the best face wash to tackle your acne breakouts can feel like sitting a Chemistry exam. Salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, alpha hydroxy acids... what are these supposedly magic ingredients, and how can they help your skin? We've come a long way since those playground acne cures of toothpaste and surgical spirit, but the options can be just as confusing.

What's more, the best face wash for you depends on many factors, including the severity of your breakouts and the sensitivity of your skin. Acne is triggered by many factors, from hormones to medication, so it's important to limit expectations when reading promises on labels. We used hundreds of verified user reviews, expert tips and first-hand testing to compile our list of recommended products that could make a genuine difference to your skin.

Skip to our pick of the best face washes for acne, or read on for advice on choosing the right product to combat your breakouts.

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How to choose the best face wash for your acne-prone skin

Can a face wash really cure my acne?

According to the British Association of Dermatologists’ (BAD) guide to acne, topical treatments such as face washes "are usually the first choice for those with mild to moderate acne", and can genuinely help – although it may take a few weeks before you notice results.

The BAD advises that you use anti-acne washes on your whole face (and neck, back and chest, if affected) and not just on the spots you can see. This is because their acne-fighting properties get to work long before spots start to form, clearing your pores of excess sebum (oil), dead skin cells and other matter that encourages acne bacteria to multiply and trigger breakouts. So even if they can't "cure" acne, they can powerfully limit the formation of spots.

What ingredients should I look for in a face wash for acne?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that gently exfoliates your skin without scrubbing. Over-the-counter (OTC) salicylic acid products are available in strengths up to 5%. It’s unlikely to clear spots you've already got, but great for helping to prevent future breakouts, blackheads and enlarged pores.

Benzoyl peroxide is a medication that kills the bacteria that causes acne. It also helps to remove excess oil and dead skin cells, so preventing your pores from getting clogged. Available in strengths up to 10% OTC, but high strengths may burn sensitive skin – and bleach your clothing and bedsheets

Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory properties to help calm acne and reduce redness. It's natural, but no weakling: 5% tea tree oil has results comparable to 5% benzoyl peroxide. Like benzoyl peroxide, prolonged use may not suit sensitive skin.

Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the two alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) used in OTC acne products. They help to remove dead skin cells, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the growth of new skin to reduce scars and minimise pores.

Oleanolic acid powerfully reduces the production of excess sebum.

Zinc can help to control oil levels on the skin, even when applied topically rather than being taken as a supplement. For that reason, you'll notice zinc-based compounds turning up in face washes and cleansers a fair bit.

Different ingredients vary in their effectiveness between users, so it's worth trying a variety of products to find out which ingredients work best on your own skin.

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The best face wash for acne to buy

1. Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Foaming Wash: Best all-round face wash for acne

Price: £19 | Buy now from John Lewis

This bestseller from Dermalogica's Clear Start range packs a powerful anti-acne punch with its blend of antiseptic tea tree oil, oleanolic acid and salicylic acid to clear pores and stimulate natural exfoliation. The result is a really satisfying foaming wash that leaves skin shine-free and super-clean without feeling raw and stripped. It also smells wonderful – not something you can say about many acne treatments!

While the Clear Start range is aimed at young people (Dermalogica founder Jane Wurwand was inspired by her own teen daughters), buyers of all ages rave about it. "I am 67," writes one verified John Lewis buyer, "and this stuff keeps my skin in a good state without drying. Would recommend it for all ages." Others report that it genuinely makes a difference, reducing inflammation of existing spots and slashing the likelihood of future breakouts.

Key specs – Type: Foaming wash; Size: 177ml; Active ingredients: Salicylic acid, tea tree oil, oleanolic acid

Buy now from John Lewis


2. Acnecide Face Wash Treatment with Benzoyl Peroxide: Best high-strength face wash for acne

Price: £10 | Buy now from Lloyds Pharmacy

Wash away your zits with this 5% benzoyl peroxide gel, which lathers to a foamy consistency that you can leave on your face for a couple of minutes before rinsing off. The benzoyl peroxide then continues to work on your skin, inhibiting the growth of acne-causing bacteria 'p.acnes' while also reducing excess oil and removing dead skin cells. Even buyers suffering hormonal acne report that it calms down existing spots and brings forming spots to a head overnight, hastening their demise.

Be aware that prolonged use will dry out your skin (and even bleach your bedsheets), so use an oil-free moisturiser to maintain balance.

Key specs – Type: Gel wash; Size: 50g; Active ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide (5%)

Buy now from Lloyds Pharmacy


3. Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel: Best lathering wash for face, chest and back acne

Price: £12 | Buy now from Boots

This gentle pH-balanced gel is deeply hydrating, lathers brilliantly and leaves your skin feeling intensely clean and smelling divine, with none of that tight over-washed sensation. A little goes a long way, which is just as well because we can't resist using it on our chest, back, shoulders and anywhere else we're occasionally plagued by breakouts.

Avene Cleanance's main active ingredient is Comedoclastin, a patented milk thistle extract that helps to block the formation of blackheads, whiteheads and bumps (aka comedones). It really works, according to user reviews. "I bought this after my skin started to break out due to hormonal changes," says one buyer. "I found it to be a nice gentle, effective cleanser which didn’t leave my skin feeling tight."

Key specs – Type: Foaming gel; Size: 200ml; Active ingredients: Comedoclastin, zinc gluconate

Buy now from Boots


4. Boots Tea Tree & Witch Hazel Foaming Face Wash: Best-value face wash for acne

Price: £3 | Buy now from Boots

Boots' own-brand face wash is amazing value, but that's certainly not the only reason we recommend it (and buy it). It's incredibly satisfying to use, thanks to the easy instant-foam pump (no lathering in your hands required), and its tea tree and witch hazel formula is a powerful spot-blitzer that leaves your skin feeling deep-cleaned and really refreshed. It's also effective at removing make-up, and doesn't leave your skin feeling dehydrated.

Key specs – Type: Foam wash; Size: 150ml; Active ingredients: Tea tree oil, witch hazel

Buy now from Boots


5. La Roche Posay Effaclar Purifying Cleansing Gel: Best foaming face wash for sensitive skin and adult acne

Price: £18.50 | Buy now from Boots

Adult acne often takes the form of deep, painful cysts that can only be prevented with serious deep cleaning and decongesting – without stripping out the skin's natural oils. La Roche's foaming gel cleanser uses acids to powerfully dissolve dead skin cells, coupled with a gentle zinc compound to balance excess oil and shine. It's incredibly effective at decongesting skin, leaving it feeling fresher and less inflamed without disturbing the skin's delicate balance. Bonus points for the hefty 400ml pump bottle, which should last you many months.

Key specs – Type: Foaming gel; Size: 400ml; Active ingredients: PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate (glycolic/oleanolic acid family)

Buy now from Boots


6. Cetaphil Pro Cleansing Facial Wash: Best face wash for skin prone to redness and rosacea

Price: £15 | Buy now from ASOS

This high-street chemist's favourite doesn't look glamorous but it's the bees' knees for calming inflamed skin caused by rosacea and acne. The foam face wash doesn't contain any of the headline-making anti-acne ingredients, but instead relies on glycerin to leave sensitive skin feeling smooth, supple and hydrated, plus sodium cocoyl glutamate, an allergy-friendly amino acid derived from coconut oil.

Key specs – Type: Foam; Size: 295ml; Active ingredients: Glycerin, sodium cocoyl glutamate

Buy now from ASOS


7. Murad Blemish Control Clarifying Cleanser: Best wash face for occasional adult acne

Price: £25 | Buy now from John Lewis

This gentle rinse-off cleanser from celebrity dermatologist Dr Murad is tough enough to target the common causes of acne, but is also soothing and stabilising for sensitive and older skin. Many buyers rave about it, with verified John Lewis customers reporting that it reduces their breakouts and makes their skin "feel noticeably firmer and smoother (and) look so much clearer". Its thick gel consistency takes a bit of getting used to, but it lasts ages, even when used twice a day.

Key specs – Type: Gel; Size: 200ml; Active ingredients: Salicylic acid, green tea extract

Buy now from John Lewis


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