Facial washes and cleansers for treating acne

For anyone with facial acne, gentle cleansing of the skin must be done before applying any topical treatment to prevent irritation, which can lead to more breakouts.

Consider the act of washing as simply prepping your skin for medication, nothing more. Washing itself does not clear breakouts since dirt doesn’t cause acne, so there is absolutely no need to scrub your face.

You can now buy face washes not only in a cream form, but as gels, lotions, drops, solutions, emulsions, liquids, foams, exfoliants and there is even a soap form which you can dissolve in warm water to wash with.

A liquid or foam cleanser is more moisturizing and hydrating than your typical face wash using soap.

Your daily routine

Wash your face twice daily to remove impurities, dead skin cells, and extra oil from your skin's surface. Washing more often than twice a day is not necessarily better, as it may cause inflammation of the skin.

Use lukewarm, not hot, water and a mild facial cleanser.

Using a harsh soap, such as a deodorant body wash, can hurt the already inflamed skin and cause more irritation.

Avoid scrubbing your skin harshly with a washcloth, an exfoliating glove or a coarse-textured sponge.

Gently wash with either a very soft cloth or just your fingertips for 10 seconds or less.

Always rinse well and then pat your face dry with a clean towel.

Use the towel once and put it in the laundry bin to avoid using it again as dirty towels spread bacteria.

Choosing a cleanser

When selecting a cleanser, you know you're on the right track when it is described as “oil-free”, "mild", "non-irritating" and "non-over-drying".

If you have inflammatory acne - the most common variety that comes with redness - you'll also want to avoid any scrubbing cleansers, which contain scrubbing agents, beads or balls.

Many acne cleansers include other medications, such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which may result in you over-medicating your skin and causing further irritation.

Once your face is properly cleansed, you are ready to apply whichever medication you and your doctor have chosen.

Other tips

Don't squeeze the spots or try to clean out blackheads as this can make acne worse or lead to scars.

If you wear make-up, be sure to remove all traces of make-up at the end of the day.

Don't use too much make-up or cosmetics - non-comedogenic, water-based products are designed to reduce the risk of blocking pores.

Use a water-based fragrance-free emollient moisturiser that's for any dry skin.

Shower after a workout or exercise to stop sweat irritating acne.

Regular hair washing and keeping hair off the face can also help.

Washing your face is very important as dirt can contribute to further infection through interaction with skin debris and particles and oil in the skin. Always use a milder face wash for your face and a different wash for your body.

Depending on your acne type, and if it is persistent, see your GP who can prescribe specially formulated face washes.

You may also be able to obtain samples of different facial washes – this is an effective way to try before you buy to ensure the product suits your skin.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence based articles are accredited by the PIF TICK, the only UK quality mark for trustworthy health information. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

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Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 13 March 2018
Next review: 13 March 2021