Ingredients Your Face Wash Should Have If You Have Acne-Prone Skin


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By Jackie Manno/Sept. 13, 2021 2:44 pm EDT

People who struggle with acne are likely familiar with the importance of regular face washes and their impact on the skin’s appearance. Insider spoke with dermatologist Caren Campbell, MD, who noted that those with acne-prone skin should be washing their faces at least twice a day — both in the morning upon waking and at night before going to bed — to fully remove dirt and oil. Finding a face wash that works for you is the first, essential step in this acne-treating process — however, grabbing the first cleanser you see on the shelf at your nearest drugstore probably won’t give you the customized, acne-fighting support you need to get rid of the bumps. 

Not all facial cleansers are created equal, especially when it comes to the concentration of ingredients that best fight breakouts. If you have acne-prone skin, here are the ingredients your face wash should contain to properly exfoliate, unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and prevent future breakouts. 

Look for exfoliating acids in your face wash

Salicylic acid is great for acne because, not only does it remove the top layer of skin by exfoliating, it also penetrates deeply to unclog pores and get rid of excess oil. This ingredient is best for treating mild acne, such as whiteheads or blackheads. “Salicylic acid is chemically similar to the active component of aspirin, meaning it decreases inflammation and is beneficial for both inflammatory and noninflammatory acne,” David Lortscher, dermatologist and founder of custom skincare line Curology, told Shape. Because of this, salicylic acid is ideal for anyone with oily, acne-prone skin to incorporate into their daily routine.

Furthermore, glycolic acid also exfoliates and reduces inflammation (via Healthline). Better yet, it’s suitable for dry and sensitive skin types, unlike many acne-fighting ingredients, making it ideal to incorporate into your everyday skincare routine.

Finally, lactic acid is another exfoliator that is also suitable for sensitive skin types because it gently removes dead skin cells. Byrdie reports that this type of acid kills infections that result in irritated acne lesions; as such, many beauty brands have begun to include the ingredient in certain cleansers.

Look for acne-fighting ingredients that unclog pores

If you’ve been dealing with inflammatory acne your whole life, a benzoyl peroxide cleanser may be the way to go. “[Benzoyl peroxide] can be very effective at both treating active acne lesions and preventing new ones,” dermatologist Jordan Carqueville told Byrdie. However, this ingredient is mainly recommended for those who suffer from severe and chronic breakouts as opposed to occasional blemishes since it can be quite drying.

Tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial nature, fighting organisms that cause acne while reducing redness, swelling, and inflammation — making it a go-to ingredient for those who deal with breakouts. Healthline reports that, in order for tea tree oil to be effective, you should use it every day. As such, this oil is gentle enough to be a part of your daily cleansing routine. 

Lastly, a powerful acne-fighting ingredient that is less commonly found on the skincare market is sulfur. “It works by softening and thinning the epidermis to prevent clogged pores,” dermatologist Arielle Kauvar told Byrdie. Although she says that the ingredient itself is not as effective as some of the other ingredients frequently found in cleansers, sulfur can really give your zits a run for their money if used properly. 

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