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Best Acne Face Wash

By: Lisa Maloney on May 01, 2017

There are good choices to help dry up acne

There are few skin conditions more frustrating than acne. Teenagers are especially prone to breakouts, thanks to their rapidly changing hormones; but this condition affects adults too, and should be treated with the same care no matter what your age.

Because many skin care products marketed for blemish-prone skin contain ingredients that can also cause drying, choosing the right acne cleanser for your skin needs to balance those two concerns. Your cleanser should be gentle enough to use frequently -- if not daily -- but still strong enough to deal with any breakouts. Some users opt to alternate between a strong acne face wash and a moisturizing cleanser to counteract the stronger cleanser's drying effects.

Dedicated acne face washes don't seem to be as prevalent as they once were, but there is one clear favorite in the acne department, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash (Est. $19 for 9.1 oz.), which costs just over $2 per ounce. It gets a nod from editors with Allure.com, who say it's one of the best face washes for oily skin. About.com's beauty expert, Julyne Derrick says her readers love it for the aloe and chamomile that help soothe some of the salicylic acid's drying effects. Still, we see many user reviews saying that this cleanser can dry your skin out, and it also contains artificial fragrance (a detergent-like scent) and sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate, which has the potential to dry or irritate your skin.

The solution, for many, is alternating the strength of Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash with a gentler cleanser, such as our best-reviewed sensitive-skin product, CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser (Est. $11 for 12 oz.), which we review in our section on facial cleansers for sensitive skin.

Overall, the reviews for the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash are a mixed bag; the experts say it'll dry existing blemishes, while some users insist that it only helps prevent future blemishes. But if you suffer from acne that other skin cleansers won't keep in check, it's worth a try.

A new, improved alpha hydroxy cleanser

Recently, cleansers with alpha or beta hydroxy acids and topical disinfectants like benzoyl peroxide have been all the rage. But experts say these ingredients are actually not all that useful, because they get rinsed down the drain before they really have a chance to work on your skin. (Facial cleansers usually have a pH that renders those ingredients ineffective, anyway.)

However, a cleanser that uses glycolic acid -- the smallest molecule in the alpha hydroxy family, which means it penetrates your cells more easily -- has picked up quite a following since our last report. The Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser (Est. $16 for 6 oz.) draws expert picks from StyleCaster.com and Elle.com, where one of the editors writes that it helps trick her skin into "acting its age" by reducing breakouts and leaving her with a youthful glow. Users note that they can really feel dead skin being exfoliated away, which leaves some feeling satisfied while others are a little unnerved.

Obviously, this face wash should be used sparingly; most users say they limit it to a couple of times a week, or when they feel a breakout coming on, and even then, it might still cause redness for those with really sensitive skin. But it's still ranked as the ninth best facial cleanser for all skin types in a massive reader survey at TotalBeauty.com. Users say it really gets makeup and dirt out of their pores, leaving their skin feeling refreshed but not over-dry. The Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser costs a little more than $2.50 per ounce.

Facial cleansing brushes may help treat acne, too

Motorized skin brushes serve quadruple duty: deep-cleaning pores, exfoliating dead skin cells to give your skin a healthy glow, helping serums and moisturizers better penetrate your skin, and giving you a soothing facial massage at the same time. The jury's out on how well they serve to reduce breakouts. Many users say they're ultimately helpful, but some say they go through a period of about a month where the breakouts are worse until their skin adapts to the new treatment, so this definitely isn't for everybody.

Heads up: Although a few say they got immediate results and clearer skin from adding a facial washing brush to their skincare routine, usually they had to go through that short customization period -- about a month, especially if you have acne -- and in fact, many were about to give up on the brush before they turned the corner and found themselves enjoying markedly softer, smoother skin. So if you decide to try one, make sure you give yourself enough time to see if it'll really work for you or not.

Clarisonic skin brushes earn by far the most positive buzz from users who stuck it out and found themselves enjoying glowing, clear skin. The latest model, the four-speed Clarisonic Smart Profile (Est. $300) is a true beauty splurge; however, in return for your hard-earned money you get top-end features like a smart mode that automatically adjusts power and speed, a "replace brush head" indicator and battery charge indicator light. Reviewers say the improvements to the complexion are head and shoulders above any other skin brush.

Users who buy the Clarisonic Smart Profile are thrilled with the way the brush leaves their skin smooth and soft, with noticeably smaller pores, and they love the way the brush bristles vibrate rapidly back and forth, as opposed to the rotating "scouring" you get from most competitors. It gets a nod from the InStyle.com editors as the best exfoliating brush of 2015, and testers with the Good Housekeeping research lab, working under a blind-label test, found that it offered noticeable benefits in both the short term and the long term.

Another high point for experts and users alike is being able to use just one tool on their face, body and feet, thanks to interchangeable brush heads for each body part and a "turbo" mode for cleaning your body.

The experts at BeautyPedia.com give the Clarisonic Smart Profile five stars -- their highest possible rating --  and say the "delicate" speed setting may be a good fit for most people with sensitive skin, especially because the brushes on the Clarisonic Smart Profile are made from the same super-soft filaments used in toothbrush bristles. However, those with conditions like rosacea or eczema should avoid skin brushes altogether.

For a bargain take on the skin brush, many users are happy with the Olay Professional Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System (Est. $25) as an inexpensive choice. This handheld brush has a two-speed rotating head, and it's water-resistant so you can use it in the shower.  It's also noticeable weaker than the Clarisonic Smart Profile, a fact that some users are happy to disregard because of its affordable price. However, the Clarisonic's brush head rotates instead of vibrating, and its bristles are so soft that they may end up bent and used up within weeks. But users still love the gentle feel of it while it lasts.

Users agree that the durability on this product isn't great -- the motorized handle itself often only lasts a couple of years -- and they're not as enthusiastic about its acne-busting or pore-minimizing abilities as they are for the Clarisonic model. But if your primary interest is in making an inexpensive beauty splurge or deep-cleaning your skin, this is a great choice.

If you're grossed out by the idea of reusable brush heads, you might prefer the Neutrogena Microdermabrasion System (Est. $18), which uses disposable "puffs" that are embedded with ultra-fine crystals for exfoliation. Users generally find this facial brush to leave their skin feeling refreshed and clean, but there are a few caveats. One is that some users feel the brush's vibrations are too harsh, and the puffs too abrasive, for sensitive skin. Most see visible improvement within a couple of weeks, but a few do say it actually makes their breakouts worse; maybe they missed the manufacturer's warning that this skin treatment should only be used once or twice a week. Also, the manufacturer markets this as a treatment for fine lines and wrinkles in addition to blemishes, but users are most interested in its performance for acne, pore size and brown spots.

How well this tool works for you appears to be luck of the draw, and you must carefully manage the wetness of the puffs to avoid having the liquid splatter down the handle and make a big mess. But in general, users are happy with the tool's performance for its price. The brush comes with 12 single-use puffs and runs on two AA batteries; it uses Neutrogena Microdermabrasion Puff Refills (Est. $12 for 24).

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