If you have blemishes and breakouts, try one of these brilliantly formulated face washes as your first skincare step


Cleansing – it’s a skincare cornerstone. However, for those who have spot or acne-prone skin, finding the ultimate cleansing companion can take time and a lot of trial and error.


Understanding your skin type and using the right formulation for it is key, and contrary to what some may think, it’s not just those with oily skin that can experience breakouts or a skin condition such as acne. Those who have dry, dehydrated, combination and sensitive skin can also be affected and so finding the right cleanser, to help prevent breakouts before they happen, can end up saving you a lot of time and money in the long run.

The more stripped skin is, the more oil it produces too which can clog pores and lead to more spots

It’s also important to consider whether you have regular acne or occasional spots. While the two are very different, they can be commonly confused. If you’re using cleansers specifically formulated for acne-prone skin when you don’t need them, they can dry out skin, causing it to become more sensitive and prone to irritation. The more stripped skin is, the more oil it produces too which can clog pores and lead to more spots.


As vital as skincare is though, it is only part of the puzzle. First up, it’s worth identifying why you’re getting spots in the first place. There can be a whole host of causes for acne – genetics, hormones, allergies, bacterial imbalances in the skin and inflammation can all be potential triggers. For mild cases, the NHS recommends speaking to a pharmacist for advice – pop in store for a chat with your Boots Pharmacy Team.


If you’ve tried over the counter treatments without success, it could be worth talking to your GP or a dermatologist. You might also want to visit Boots’ Online Doctor Acne Treatment Service, a new private health service that is all about giving you convenient and confidential access to pro advice from the comfort of your own home.

First, you’ll be asked to fill in a quick online consultation (it takes just five minutes to complete)*, which will then be assessed by a clinician. You’ll then receive advice on appropriate treatments within two to 24 hours. Where appropriate, they will also prescribe medication for you to collect from your local Boots pharmacy or have delivered straight to your door (Charges apply for any treatments provided). Plus, you will also receive some handy tips on how to help your skin – bonus!

Are your spots more sporadic? It could be worth keeping a log of when your breakouts flare-up to see if they’re tied to everyday stress, certain skincare products, when your period is due or something in your diet.

As far as cleansers go though, here’s how to choose one that won’t make your breakouts worse and can help create the perfect canvas for the rest of your skincare.

What is the best cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin?


Look for gentle cleansers over harsh ones. The aim is to remove the day’s dirt and grime without stripping skin of oil and moisture. If you do, it can lead to the skin producing more sebum to overcompensate which as a result, can cause more spots. 


When looking at ingredients lists, avoid cleansers that have too much alcohol in them as they can be drying and can cause disruption to the skin’s barrier function (the skin’s first line of defence against environmental aggressors). Also, steer clear of ones that contain mineral oils which can be clogging. 


Instead, try gentle, soft-foaming or even non-foaming gel, cream or balm cleansers that provide a cleanse that’s thorough but not overly so. Don’t get too bogged down with actives – particularly exfoliating acids – leave those for your more targeted leave-on treatments as over-exfoliating can damage the skin barrier and increase sensitivity. However, using a cleanser with small doses of salicylic acid a couple of times a week can be useful for unclogging pores. 

What is the best cleanser for dry and acne-prone skin? 


If your skin feels tight but still looks shiny, it’s more likely that it’s dehydrated rather than dry. Dehydration is a skin condition (rather than a skin type like dry skin) and is due to a lack of water in the skin. It can be caused by anything from harsh skincare products to environmental aggressors such as sun exposure and air conditioning, stress and/or diet. When skin is dehydrated, it produces more sebum to try and address it which can clog pores and lead to spots.


Using harsh products may strip skin and cause it to produce more oil. So instead, use gentle cleansers that contain moisturising agents such as humectants to draw water into the skin. Ones that are SLS-free can help avoid drying out skin further. Creams, balms and cleansing milks work great here. 

If your skin feels tight but still looks shiny, it’s more likely that it’s dehydrated rather than dry

What is the best cleanser for sensitive and acne-prone skin?


Sensitivity is thought to sit between skin type and condition. Genetics, age, environment and lifestyle (such as overuse of products or using harsh skincare) can be behind it.


When skin is sensitised, its barrier function is compromised and its hyperreactivity to the environment can result in irritation. If skin’s also dry or dehydrated (which is often the case for sensitive skin) it may produce more oil, which could be clogging pores.


Finding a cleanser that targets spots without further aggravating skin is the goal. Opting for SLS-free, non-foaming products can help avoid depleting barrier function further, as can choosing fragrance-free formulas. It can also be beneficial to avoid essential oils as well as scrubs and cleansing brushes which can make sensitivity worse. Try doing a patch test first if you’re particularly worried about a reaction though.

What is the best cleanser for sensitive and acne-prone skin?


Sensitivity is thought to sit between skin type and condition. Genetics, age, environment and lifestyle (such as overuse of products or using harsh skincare) can be behind it.


When skin is sensitised, its barrier function is compromised and its hyperreactivity to the environment can result in irritation. If skin’s also dry or dehydrated (which is often the case for sensitive skin) it may produce more oil, which could be clogging pores.


Finding a cleanser that targets spots without further aggravating skin is the goal. Opting for SLS-free, non-foaming products can help avoid depleting barrier function further, as can choosing fragrance-free formulas. It can also be beneficial to avoid essential oils as well as scrubs and cleansing brushes which can make sensitivity worse. Try doing a patch test first if you’re particularly worried about a reaction though.


How do you clean acne-prone skin?


Avoid scrubbing at all costs. Be gentle and massage your cleanser into skin lightly with your fingertips before rinsing it off with lukewarm water. 


Aim to wash your face no more than twice a day as overdoing it can increase irritation. That being said though, try to shower as soon as you can after exercise as sweat can anger acne and make symptoms worse.

10 OF THE BEST CLEANSERS FOR ACNE-PRONE SKIN


Whether you’re looking for a cleanser for acne-prone skin that is dry, sensitive or oily, here are 10 of the best to try. You’ll love these other great options, too.

Best cleanser for normal and oily acne-prone skin


Try: CeraVe Foaming Cleanser for Normal to Oily Skin (£7.60)


• Size: 236ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic (formulated in a way that they is not likely to cause pore blockages (comedones) and breakouts)

Containing three ceramides and hyaluronic acid, this refreshing gel face wash is noticeably less harsh than many other foaming cleansers. Hyaluronic acid, a humectant that can hold up to 1000-times its weight in water, and niacinamide help soothe and calm irritated skin. It’s fragrance-free, too.

Best micellar water for sensitive and acne-prone skin


Try: Garnier Micellar Water Facial Cleanser Sensitive Skin (£5.99)


• Size: 400ml

• Fragrance-free

Ideal as a pre-cleanse step, this fragrance-free micellar water swiftly removes makeup with ease to perfectly prep skin before using your face wash.

Best cream cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin made fragile by over-drying treatments


Try: La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Cleanser Dry Skin (£9.37)


• Size: 200ml

• Non-comedogenic

If your skin has been made drier or weakened by acne medication, this soap-free and non-comedogenic cleansing cream could help. Enriched with niacinamide to strengthen the skin barrier and other skin soothers, it seeks to restore and rebalance.

Best cleanser for dehydrated, dry and acne-prone skin


Try: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser for Normal to Dry Skin (£7.60)


• Size: 236ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic

As well as being non-foaming, this gentle face wash is non-comedogenic and fragrance-free to make it suitable for breakout and acne-prone complexions. It also contains three essential ceramides to protect the skin barrier and hyaluronic acid to help maintain skin’s moisture levels.

Best foaming cleanser for combination, oily and acne-prone skin


Try: Bioderma Sébium Purifying Cleansing Foaming Gel (£11)


• Size: 200ml

• Non-comedogenic

This soap-free cleanser transforms into a luxe, non-stripping lather that gently cuts through makeup and end-of-day grease. Gentler than other foaming face washes out there, it leaves skin feeling softer and smoother.

Best cleansing balm for dry, sensitive and breakout-prone skin


Try: Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm (£27)


• Size: 125ml

• Fragrance-free

Fragrance-free and non-clogging, this cleansing balm has been formulated to suit pretty much every skin type. Transforming from balm to oil when massaged into skin, it thoroughly melts away makeup, dirt and grime, and hydrates without leaving a greasy film behind.

Best salicylic acid cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin


Try: CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser with Salicylic Acid (£9.60)


• Size: 236ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic

This gel cleanser enriched with the beta-hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, as well as niacinamidehyaluronic acid and ceramides provides a deeper clean for oily skin without leaving it feeling tight. Try using it a couple of times a week in order to avoid over-exfoliating.

Best cleanser for acne-prone skin on the face and body


Try: Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel (£12)


• Size: 200ml

As well as the face, this soap-free cleansing gel has been designed to help rebalance oil production on the chest and back too. It is particularly effective for oily and combination skin types.

Best foaming cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin


Try: Vichy Normaderm Phytosolution Purifying Gel Face Wash (£13)


• Size: 200ml

Actives salicylic acid and zinc gluconate work as a power team against excess oil in this intensive face wash. Its gel texture feels light and refreshing too, ideal for helping you feel reinvigorated after a busy day.  

Best cleanser for oily to very oily skin


Try: Clinique Liquid Facial Soap (£18)


• Size: 200ml

Soft-foaming and non-drying, this pick’s deep cleansing formula has been formulated to help remove all traces of dirt and debris without leaving your face feeling taut.

*Consultations consist of an online questionnaire filled out by the patient that is reviewed by a clinician to assess suitability for prescription-only medicine. Charges for Online Dr services apply

All prices correct on date of publication

Photography: Stocksy