She feigned death when I told her my skincare routine.
“A bar of soap?” she shouted with dramatic flair, falling backward into her seat.
I’d always found a bar of soap to be the best face wash solution for my oily skin. Sure, it dried my skin out, leaving that clean-yet-prickly feeling. But that feeling waned quickly as my skin returned to its natural state: that of an oily tarmac pocked with blackheads.
My skincare-obsessed friend wasn’t having it. With her help (read: demand), my journey to oil management and a healthier skin biome began — not without a few stops at acne town and pimples-ville first.
Everyone’s skin is different. Even among oily skin types, the solution isn’t one-size-fits-all. This guide will help you learn to manage oily skin and acne, and offer you 10 of the best blackhead-erasing face washes to keep your skin soft and acne-free.
What Causes Oily Skin?
The American Association of Dermatologists asserts that oily skin may be the result of genetics, stress, hormones, poor hygiene and the wrong face washes.
Dr. Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, MD, dermatologist and editor of DermBoard.org, added that a lack of sleep, humid environment, fatty foods and even marijuana can cause the skin to produce excess oil.
And, as you may have already realized, oily skin can lead to acne vulgaris and its telltale breakouts.
You may be thinking, “Great, now I have two problems to tackle!” But for most oily skin types, acne is just a symptom that will clear up once you tackle the root of the problem.
According to the Mayo Clinic, acne has four main causes:
- Excess oil production
- Pores being clogged by dead skin cells and oil
- Excess androgen production
The reason acne typically appears on the face, shoulders and back is because the pores in these areas are connected to more oil production glands than any other area on your body.
With a diligent daily skin care routine and a facial cleanser designed specifically for oily skin, you, too, can be on the road to hydrated, acne-free skin.
What to Look for in Face Washes
Because acne is caused by excess oil and bacteria, you need a face cleanser that fights oiliness and infection. The key is to find products with natural ingredients that accomplish this task without damaging your skin barrier or stripping it of vital nutrients. (In other words, not the bar soap you pick up at the drugstore).
The following ingredients have scientifically proven results in reducing oil and acne.
- Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) derived from willow trees that Dr. Tonkovic-Capin told us opens pores so sebum can freely discharge the skin. Exfoliating cleansers containing salicylic acid can be a useful weapon against acne. Those containing lactic acid are best for normal-to-dry skin; salicylic acid is better for oily skin.
- Tea tree oil is a powerful essential oil and a natural antiseptic. Several essential oils can help treat acne and other skin conditions; tea tree oil in particular combats a wide variety of pore-clogging bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even yeast.
- Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sugarcane. It can be hard on sensitive skin because it primarily does its work through exfoliation, removing dead skin cells that trap oil and dirt in your pores.
- Benzoyl peroxide comes in an over-the-counter and prescription form. It effectively destroys bacteria and promotes skin cell turnover. It’s anti-inflammatory, but can be irritating on sensitive skin.
- Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring acid in the body. It prevents over-drying by keeping the skin moisturized while neutralizing bacteria.
- Bentonite clay is a popular ingredient in cleansers and clarifying masks because it absorbs bacteria at a rate so fast they’re obliterated at the cellular level. Bentonite clay can overdry skin, however.
- Coconut oil may sound counterintuitive. The idea of adding oil to oily skin may make you want to go wash your hands in degreaser. However, the last thing you want to do is dry out your skin. Dry skin leads to the overproduction of sebum (your skin’s natural oil). Coconut oil balances facial cleansers by repairing the skin barrier and locking in the right amount of moisture to keep your skin from overreacting.
Because every skin type is different, do a patch test first. Apply each face wash to your forearm skin and see how it reacts. If it becomes red or itchy, try a product with different ingredients.
Dr. Tonkovic-Capin added, “Look for any cleansing product stating that it is pH balanced, which at least means that the manufacturer was paying attention to it.”
Ingredients to Avoid in Face Washes
The following ingredients are found in many face cleansers and moisturizers (both in lotion and creams) but are often added for aesthetic purposes. They initially give your skin a smooth, clean feeling, but can stimulate oil production and worsen acne over time.
- Mineral oil has received a bad reputation in recent years because it’s derived from petroleum. However, in this incredibly refined form, it’s completely safe to use. The one problem is that it forms a layer over skin to retain moisture, making it a bad choice for people with oily, acne-prone skin.
- Silicones are found in products from cosmetics to sunscreens. Like mineral oil, silicones give your skin the feeling of hydration by leaving a layer of product on your skin. This residue traps oil, grime and dirt, further clogging pores.
- Alcohol feels amazing on oily skin at first. It quickly dissolves grease and oil, but also dries out your skin. Dryness is a signal to your skin to increase sebum production, leaving you caught in a vicious cycle of moisturizing and degreasing, and with lots of excess sebum on your face.
- Makeup that is “pasty or pressed,” which Dr. Tonkovic-Capin tells us can cause acne and inflammation.
No matter what type of skin you have, always avoid synthetic fragrances and artificial dyes. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not require manufacturers to list the plethora of ingredients that go into fragrances and dyes, which are often harsh. Look for unscented products first.
If you love the fresh scent of a fragranced face wash, look for naturally fragranced products. In our list, you’ll find several options that are scented with essential oils and dyed with fruit pigments instead.
Always choose products that are parabens- and sulfate-free, and be on the lookout for those labeled “non-comedogenic,” which means they’re formulated so they don’t block skin pores.
12 Best Face Washes for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin
Without further ado, here are our favorite face washes for oily skin. We take special care to recommend natural products from responsible, cruelty-free brands.
Deeply Moisturizing Face Washes for Oily Skin
When it comes to oil control, the key is keeping your skin hydrated. For oily skin types, this goal can be quite the balancing act. Let’s take out the guesswork.
This gentle foaming cleanser for oily skin is rich in nutrients that protect your skin’s natural barrier. Antibacterial glycerin and sodium benzoate stave off acne-inducing infections.
While many cleansers include ingredients that ultimately dry out your skin, our coconut-derived cleansing agents hydrates skin while whisking oil away and maintaining the integrity of your skin’s natural biome. The result is a fresh face with a healthy glow.
This vegan-friendly, cruelty-free facial cleanser is rich in antioxidants and contains soothing aloe. Our products are always naturally fragranced and responsibly sourced.
This gel face wash for oily skin ditches oil altogether, opting for hydrating seaweed in its place. Seaweed is rich in minerals that nourish the skin. You won’t get that “too dry” feeling from this face wash, but it will leave your skin feeling refreshed.
This Body Shop product is vegan and cruelty-free.
Formulated with natural charcoal that helps unclog pores, this cleanser from Bioré is ideal for those with naturally oily skin. It is infused with “Japanese Skin Purifying” technology that cleanses the skin without irritating it. Oil-free and dermatologist tested, this cleanser targets dirt, oil, and impurities while maintaining natural moisture.
Zit Zapping Face Washes for Acne-Prone Skin
The best acne face wash will control oil production while obliterating bacterial infections. Check out our picks of acne washes for oily skin.
Pacifica Beauty combines the healing powers of seaweed, kale and coconut water with pimple-destroying bentonite clay for a deep cleaning face wash. Pacifica Beauty boasts this product as their best defense against acne and blemishes.
Vegan and cruelty-free, Pacifica Beauty markets this clay cleanser to the green generation; it really smells like kale!
For those who aren’t messing around with their acne, Holistic Apothecary has crafted a unique blend of oil-sapping bentonite clay, alkaline-neutralizing activated charcoal and sebum-reducing tea tree oil. They top it all off with oil-melting castor oil.
Because it uses such powerful ingredients, we recommend doing a patch test of this product before applying it to your face. This product is vegan and cruelty-free.
Oil-free and non-comedogenic, Alba finds the solution to your acne woes in botanicals. Get a pore-clearing shot of salicylic acid and willow tree bark extract. Salicylic acid is readily absorbed by the skin, meaning it continues fighting acne even after you rinse.
For some, salicylic acid can leave an uncomfortably dry feeling. Combat that side effect by moisturizing after you wash.
Another brand to jump on the charcoal train, First Aid Beauty adds bentonite and kaolin clay to 2% salicylic acid to create a totally uninhabitable environment for bacteria. In a twist on the typical bacteria bloodbath many products work toward, this face wash promotes the growth of your skin’s “good” bacteria by adding probiotics via yogurt extract.
Enjoy a clear face with a conscience; this product is cruelty-free.
Face Washes for Oily, Aging Skin
All skin types are interested in preserving their healthy glow. The following face washes include wrinkle-reducing nutrients to help you sustain your youth.
Can a product marketed as an “18-in-1” soap, from laundry detergent to baby wash, be an effective face wash? Well, we’ll let you be the judge.
But we will say that Dr. Bronner’s almond extract infused tea tree oil wash soothes stressed skin – reducing fine lines and wrinkles – while combating oil.
Almond extract is rich in vitamin E, which is thought to reduce the aging effects of sun damage. Tea tree oil prevents excessive production of sebum.
A simple soap, perhaps, but it just may be a match made in heaven.
With CoQ10 and rosehip oil, Avalon Organics’s Wrinkle Therapy Milk Cleanser claims to brighten and tone aging skin while lifting dirt and oil from deep within your pores.
The key ingredient? Hyaluronic acid. As mentioned above, hyaluronic acid not only dissolves stubborn oil, it also moisturizes your skin for a youthful appearance.
Face Washes for Oily and Sensitive Skin
Think that sensitivity is reserved for dry skin? Not so. Even people with oily skin can suffer from red, aggravated skin after cleansing. That’s why we’re including a couple of the best facial cleansers for oily and sensitive skin.
Reduce the redness with Desert Essence’s gentle, nourishing face wash. This product uses soothing aloe vera, chamomile and cucumber extract to hydrate skin and reduce inflammation. It does all this while dissolving oil using coconut oil and apple juice.
Stubborn acne and inflammation leaving you with bumpy skin? Rash-alleviating Arbonne face wash calms irritated skin, smoothing rough patches caused by acne.
Another great option for oily and sensitive skin is the Effaclar line by La Roche-Posay. This gentle gel cleanser contains zinc pidolate, which eliminates dirt and oil while maintaining the pH balance of the skin, and La Roche-Posay’s own thermal spring water. It’s a non-irritating cleanser that has been allergy-tested, purifying the skin without overdrying it.
Other good brands to consider for acne facial care are:
- CeraVe: Their night cream contains niacinamide, which increases production of the ceramides that help maintain the skin’s protective barrier.
- Neutrogena: Their foaming face wash for acne is good, and their vitamin C serum capsules can improve skin’s appearance after acne outbreaks.
- Garnier SkinActive: They make a nice face wash with green tea and other vegan ingredients.
Cetaphil isn’t as effective against acne, but dermatology “experts” often recommend it because it’s one of the gentlest face washes available.
Aftercare for Cleansing Oily Skin
For people with oily skin, the battle isn’t over after using a face wash or acne “remover.”
A natural astringent and toner like witch hazel can help you keep your face fresh throughout the day. Because it’s antibacterial, witch hazel prevents infection. As a toner, it will reduce the appearance of pores.
Even if you’re using a deeply moisturizing face wash for oily skin, you should always be sure to moisturize your face, especially before bed. Choose a facial moisturizer, as it will be designed to go on light without clogging pores.
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