best face washes for acne
photo: Instagram/DermaQuest;Skinceuticals

I always hoped that once puberty passed my acne would, too, but that wasn't the case. For years I've searched for the answers to putting my breakouts to rest. Constant facials, peels, an increase in water consumption... you name it, I've tried it. And yet my cystic acne still kicks into overdrive once a month, triggered by hormonal changes that come with my period. But recently, fed up with it all, I said "enough," and dedicated myself to figuring out how to have Insta-filter-level skin.

And while I'm not there yet, the progress I've seen has been remarkable — and I have two special cleansers, increased exercise, and South Carolina-based dermatologist Dr. Marguerite Germain (also the founder of Mimzi eau de parfum) to thank. I got to chat in depth with the board-certified skin specialist about what it takes to get my skin freak outs under control — and what cleansers are needed to do so. 

First thing's first: For anyone who has consistent acne, there are some key ingredients to look out for when it comes to finding your perfect cleanser. 

The no. 1 keyword is "acid," according to Germain. "Cleansers with salicylic acid and alpha hydroxy acids, like glycolic and lactic acid, are a good choice for those with acne-prone skin. They gently exfoliate to clear blocked pores and remove dead skin." 

And though most people's first instinct is to clear skin by washing away all signs of oil, that could actually cause more harm than good, she advised. "While the effect may seem good in the short term, stripping the skin of too much oil can cause a 'rebound effect.' This is where the skin senses that it is missing a lot of the natural oil and goes into over-production to replace it. This can actually lead to the skin being more oily and more breakout prone." 

In layman's terms? Your skin needs at little bit of oil, and if you get rid of it all your pores will overcompensate and you'll break out.

However, there are also some ingredients acne-prone people should avoid like the plague.

Those who experience frequent breakouts know all too well that too much oil will only make their skin condition even worse. And with the heat turning up during summer months, oil overproduction and other, bigger risks of breakouts are about to increase. 

"If you suffer from acne, your skin is irritated and inflamed. Make sure to avoid ingredients like fragrance and alcohol, which can cause further irritation. Coconut oil, waxes and petrolatum (petroleum jelly) are also a bad idea, as they are extremely comedogenic (pore clogging)," Germain emphasized.

*Editor's note: Sometimes skin-care products have fragrances you can't smell! Companies use neutral fragrances to cover chemical smells all the time, so be sure to read! Those! Labels!

But that doesn't mean all oils are bad.

And in an age when oil-based and balm cleansers are gaining popularity by the second, they're almost impossible to avoid — but not completely.

"While some acne patients may tolerate oil cleansers and enjoy using them, many will not. Some oil cleansers, depending on the individual using them can fail to remove particles and debris and leave too much residue," she says. 

However, the the safest thing to do is avoid them altogether. Still need something effective for makeup removal? Stick to micellar water!

But what's equally important for acne control is what you do after you're done cleansing.

The process doesn't stop after that wash cloth inches down your clean face. Getting rid of your acne is dedicated process.

"Immediately following cleansing of the skin is a great time to apply therapeutics," Germain instructed. "[Try] a vitamin C or hyaluronic acid serum product in the morning, followed by a mineral based, oil-free sunscreen and at night a retinoid-like retinol serum and exfoliating acids."

So what are a renowned dermatologist's two favorite acne cleansers? She has two.

The first is the Refresh Oxygen Infusion Wash by Skinbetter Science, $38. "It is gentle but still provides light exfoliation with alpha hydroxy acids," she said. The other is MD Complete’s Acne Clarifying Cleanser, $15. 'It contains soothing ingredients like green tea, ginseng, and salicylic acid to clear congested pores."

And in my journey of fighting acne, I too have two personal favorites that have recently provided my skin some serious breakout relief.

DermaQuest DermaClear Cleanser ($32, Dermstore)

This lightweight cleanser soothes and prevents blemishes while deep-cleaning pores. Mandelic acid and willow bark extract slough dead skin cells away for a smoother and more radiant complexion as tea tree oil calms irritated skin and promotes healing. I use this first thing in the morning followed my my regular toning and moisturizing routine. 

>> Get it here

SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel ($41, SkinCeuticals)

My favorite nighttime cleanser, this is a deep-digging facial wash that penetrates your pores to decongest and offer cell-by-cell exfoliation while washing away impurities. A combination of LHA, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid encourage cell renewal, resulting in more refined skin texture, even skin tone, and a brighter appearance. 

>> Get it here