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How to Pick a Face Wash for Acne

Geraldine Orentas

To have blemish-free and glowing skin is a dream for many. But when you're dealing with acne, that dream seems to fade further away. You've probably tried every product under the sun and followed a strict skincare routine in the hopes of getting it under control. A good face wash is the best first step for your skincare routine, but with the sheer number of cleansers available, it's hard to pick a face wash for acne.

We spoke with New York-based Dermatologist Thomas Brown who cautioned that “lanolin and parabens should be avoided in an acne face wash."

“While these ingredients can be a rich source of hydrating properties when applied on acne-prone skin, it can block the pores, trapped dirt, sebum, and dead cells inside, which in turn can contribute to breakouts.” 

A face wash should get rid of dirt, sweat, excess sebum, and bacteria. This is why it's so important to choose a face wash formulated for your skin type. The wrong one can clog pores, irritate the skin and cause skin damage over time. 

Get familiar with the ingredients

Acne cleansers are specifically formulated to remove bacteria and excess oil that could be the culprit of breakouts. Mild surfactants can be found in an effective acne face wash to remove all unwanted debris and oils. Surfactants bond to oil and water, helping the water rinse off the dirt that surfactants lift from the skin. Other ingredients to look for are pre- and postbiotics such as lactobacillus ferment and inulin.

However, you also want to beware of ingredients to avoid. Many acne treatments may contain ingredients that can clog pores. For example, mineral oils and certain alcohols can irritate some skin types. 

In addition, some cleansers are too good at removing excess oils from the surface of your skin. Stripping the skin from its natural oils can damage your skin's acid mantle, which acts as a natural barrier against acne-causing bacteria. While it's essential to remove some bacteria, many cleansers don't do a good job balancing the bacteria level by replenishing it with good ones. 

Consider your skin type

When you're trying to find out your skin type, you might instantly place yourself in the "Acne-prone skin" category. However, acne is a skin condition, not a skin type. People with acne can have dry, oily, or combination skin types that need different ingredients and cleansers. Here's a quick breakdown of face washes for skin types:

  • Dry skin. Your face wash should be gentle with nourishing ingredients that maintain your skin microbiome. Look for cleansers without drying ingredients and exfoliators like glycolic acid. 
  • Oily skin. Your face wash can use mild ingredients that help balance oil production and clarify the skin. Beware of cleansers with drying alcohols that can instead amplify your oil production. 
  • Combination skin. Your face wash should be very gentle and hopefully hypoallergenic to prevent irritation. Cleansers formulated to balance, comfort, and ease irritation are best. 

The more you learn about your skin type, the easier it will be to find the right cleanser. If you're not too sure about your skin type, you can try this at-home test.

Start by washing your face with a gentle cleanser and pat it dry with a clean towel, don't use more products. If after 30 minutes your skin looks shiny, you likely have oily skin; if it feels tight and matte, you likely have dry skin; if you can see shine in your forehead, nose, and cheeks, you likely have combination skin; and if your skin feels comfortable and not oily, you likely have normal skin. Always check with a dermatologist to be completely certain of your skin type.

Finding the best of cleanser for you

Facial cleansers are available in so many forms: gels, clays, oils, foam, and more. However, when it comes to finding the best type of face wash for acne, it all bottles down to the formulation, your skincare routine and preference. 

The Mother Dirt Prebiotic Foaming Cleanser uses ingredients like prebiotic inulin to help balance the skin microbiome. It's also formulated with jojoba and rose water to remove impurities while maintaining an optimal pH level. It's great for all skin types, but especially sensitive. It's formulated without harsh surfactants or synthetic fragrances to help prevent irritation. And most importantly, it can be used as part of our Active Probiotic System, which helps balance the skin microbiome. 

Because this cleanser is so gentle on the skin, we included it in The Difference: Our Active Probiotic System Acne Treatment Kit, which features the Mother Dirt Prebiotic Acne Lotion with salicylic acid and the AO+ Restorative Mist for a complete acne skincare collection. 

Acne cleansing do's and don'ts

Caring for acne-prone skin involves much more than choosing the perfect cleanser. It's important to follow good acne cleansing techniques. 


  • Choose a gentle cleanser formulated for your skin type
  • Continue to use non-comedogenic makeup and skin care products
  • Consult with a dermatologist if needed


  • Use harsh exfoliants every day
  • Over-cleanse your skin by cleansing more than twice per day
  • Use skincare products that contain irritants 
  • Use abrasive mechanic brushes that can irritate the skin

Cleansing alone might not eliminate acne, but it can help ease some symptoms and reduce the risk of breakouts. When choosing an acne cleanser, don't forget to look for one that helps balance the skin microbiome without stripping it from its natural oils.

Use your new cleanser consistently and as instructed with other treatment lotions and products. Improvements won't be immediate, but with patience and consistency, you should see an improvement in your skin. Consult with a dermatologist to determine your best treatment option if you don't. 

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Find Products Referenced in this Article

Prebiotic Foaming Cleanser

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The Difference Probiotic Acne Kit

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Prebiotic Acne Lotion with Salicylic Acid

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