texture shot of face cleansers

Acne isn’t just a problem for teens. Zits and pimples can pop up at any age, affecting more than half of women in their 20s and over a third of women in their 30s and 40s, according to one study. While adult acne is a common concern, you don’t have to suffer helplessly. With a few tweaks to the way you cleanse your face, the first step in your skin care routine can be your first step toward clearer skin, too. We asked Dr. Cynthia Bailey, a board-certified dermatologist in Sebastopol, CA.  to share her best tips on how to choose the right acne cleanser for you, as well as how to use it to get your best results.

Look for Acne-Fighting Ingredients

According to Dr. Bailey, the best facial cleansers for acne should have at least one of these key ingredients: salicylic acidglycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide. “Acne cleansers with these ingredients will gradually unclog pores, reduce the size of existing blackheads and slow or stop the formation of new ones,” she says.

Each of these ingredients has its own unique acne-fighting superpower. “Benzoyl peroxide is the best ingredient for treating the acne-causing bacteria called p. acnes,” Dr. Bailey explains. “In fact, study after study continues to show that benzoyl peroxide is more effective than prescription topical antibiotics at treating p. acnes.”

Meanwhile, salicylic acid, which is derived from willow tree bark, wintergreen oil or sweet birch, works well for most skin types. Aside from being an exfoliant that sloughs away dead skin cells and dissolves pore-clogging impurities, it helps to address inflammation, which is thought to be the primary cause of acne.

Glycolic acid, another chemical exfoliant, helps keep pores clear by dissolving the structural lipids that hold dead skin cells and bind them to the surface. Studies have also shown that glycolic acid effectively encourages and stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, restoring damaged skin faster and reducing signs of environmental damage with continuous use.

How to Wash Acne-Prone Skin

According to Dr. Bailey, it’s not enough to have a facial cleanser designed for acne-prone skin. Half the battle is properly washing your face. Here’s what she recommends: “First, wet your face with warm water, then lather your cleanser over all of your facial skin. Depending on your skin type, you can use your fingers, an exfoliating cloth or a sonic skin-cleansing brush system. Rinse well with warm water to remove the lather entirely. Some of the important acne cleanser ingredients will stay behind, but the cleanser’s foaming agents, as well as built-up oil, dead cells, products and bacteria, will be rinsed off of your skin.”

For best results, Dr. Bailey recommends washing your face morning and evening to thoroughly cleanse and deliver acne-fighting ingredients to your skin.

Best Face Cleansers for Acne-Prone Skin

Ready to choose your cleanser? Here are our top picks for the best face cleansers for acne-prone skin.