Cleanse your way to a clearer complexion.

By Melanie Rud
Updated March 01, 2021
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Washing face with salicylic acid face wash
Credit: EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/Getty

In the quest for clear skin, few ingredients are as invaluable as salicylic acid. A beta-hydroxy acid, it's oil-soluble, meaning it's able to penetrate deeper into the skin than water-soluble acids, such as alpha-hydroxy acids, explains Devika Icecreamwala, M.D., a dermatologist in Berkeley, CA. This means that salicylic acid is the choice for getting into clogged pores and removing excess oil and other gunk, grime, and impurities, adds Dr. Icecreamwala. It's also an exfoliant; by helping to dissolve the 'glue' that holds dead skin cells together, it can help improve the tone and texture of your skin. (Related: The 11 Best Blackhead Removers, According to a Skin Expert)

And on top of all of that, "salicylic acid is chemically similar to the active component of aspirin, meaning it decreases inflammation and is beneficial for both inflammatory and noninflammatory acne," says dermatologist David Lortscher, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder and CEO of Curology.

The bottom line: For combating blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples, this should be one of your go-to ingredients. The one caveat? It is, at the end of the day, still in acid, meaning it does have the potential to cause irritation, particularly if your skin is dry or sensitive. "It can cause redness, peeling, and dryness for people with these skin types, so I suggest skipping it in this case," notes Dr. Icecreamwala. You should also avoid salicylic acid if you're pregnant, as it has a similar makeup to aspirin (an ingredient known to cause pregnancy complications), Dr. Lortscher previously told Shape. (Related: Safe Skin-Care Products for Pregnant Women.)

But if your skin can handle the ingredient, there's no better way to quickly and easily reap the benefits of this powerful acne-fighter than by using a salicylic acid face wash. Check out these eight derm-approved picks for every skin type (and some fan favorites), plus several different formulas for all your cleansing preferences.

The Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Every Skin Type

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Oily Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser
Credit: Ulta

Thanks to its oil-dissolving prowess, salicylic acid is a great pick if you have oily skin, even if you're lucky enough to not also be battling breakouts. "With a two-percent concentration of salicylic acid, this has been clinically-tested to remove more than 45 percent of oil from skin," says Dr. Icecreamwala, making this La Roche-Posay cleanser a top choice for those with perpetually slick skin. And not only does this salicylic acid cleanser remove excess oil right away, but it also keeps your complexion from getting greasy throughout the day, she adds. (Related: Jelly Skin-Care Products Are the New Trendy Texture for Oily Skin)

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Acne-Prone Skin: The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser

The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore CleanserThe Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser
Credit: Sephora

Knock out pesky pimples with this salicylic acid cleanser. Along with two-percent salicylic acid, the highest concentration you can get over-the-counter, it also has the added benefit of zinc, another powerful acne-fighter that combats oil and reduces inflammation. (There's soothing allantoin, a plant-derived moisturizer, in it as well.) The Inkey List's salicylic acid face wash foams nicely and leaves skin feeling clean, but doesn't contain sodium laurel sulfate, a potentially-irritating ingredient, like many other foaming formulas, notes Nava Greenfield, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, who likes this product. (Related: The Best Face Masks for Every Skin Type, Condition, and Concern, According to Dermatologists)

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Combination Skin: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
Credit: Walmart

If your skin can't make up its mind and you have both slick spots and dry patches, reach for this salicylic acid face wash from CeraVe, a top pick for both derms. "Because it contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides, it's much more hydrating than other salicylic acid cleansers, making it a good option for those with combination skin," explains Dr. Icecreamwala. Dr. Greenfield agrees, noting that this facial cleanser with salicylic acid won't dry out your skin.

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Adult Acne: Skinceuticals LHA Cleanser Gel

Skinceuticals LHA Cleanser Gel
Credit: Dermstore

Thanks to hormonal fluctuations, adult acne is a very real thing, leaving you with the dreaded task of having to fight both blemishes and wrinkles — joy. Happily, this salicylic acid cleanser is a one-stop-shop for addressing both skin problems. Not only does it contain salicylic acid but it also features lipo hydroxy acid (LHA), a derivative of salicylic acid with similar benefits to clean out pores and target blackheads and whiteheads, notes Dr. Icecreamwala. But this Skinceuticals salicylic acid face wash also touts glycolic acid, which is lauded for its anti-aging benefits, so this formula also promotes cell renewal and boosts overall skin tone and brightness, she adds. Sold.

Best Soothing Salicylic Acid Face Wash: Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser

Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser
Credit: Sephora

If your skin is ultra-dry or sensitive, salicylic acid isn't the ingredient for you, but if your skin sits more toward the normal range, with just some occasional irritation, you can still go for it. Just be sure to look for formulas that pair the potent ingredient with others that help soothe and calm. Case in the point: This classic salicylic acid cleanser from Mario Badescu, a celeb-loved skin-care brand. Along with salicylic acid and clarifying thyme extract, it also contains hydrating and calming aloe vera. (Related: This $22 Seaweed Night Cream Is the Affordable La Mer Moisturizing Soft Cream Copycat)

Best Foaming Salicylic Acid Face Wash: Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser

Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser
Credit: Walmart

Foaming cleansers often get a bad rap for being harsh and drying, and that can often hold true, but there's also something so satisfying about using a cleanser that suds up nicely and leaves your complexion feeling completely clean. If you need that lather, Dr. Icecreamwala advises this facial cleanser with salicylic acid from Aveeno. It's soap-free so there's no risk of it stripping your skin, touts two percent salicylic acid to clear up breakouts, and also has soy, which both improves skin tone and moisturizes, she says.

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash Wipes: C'est Moi Clarify Blemish Clearing Wipes

C'est Moi Clarify Blemish Clearing Wipes
Credit: Amazon

Let's face it: There are just some times where a full-on face wash just isn't in the cards, which is when cleansing wipes prove to be invaluable. Plus, if you have oily skin, wipes can often degrease in a way that many cleansers can not, says Dr. Greenfield. She likes these hypoallergenic, salicylic acid face (wash-ish) wipes, which contain a one percent concentration of salicylic acid, and no potentially-irritating ingredients, say says. The wipes themselves are biodegradable, a major win if you're looking to minimize the impact your beauty routine has the environment. (Related: These Innovations Are Making Your Beauty Products More Sustainable)

Best Salicylic Acid Body Wash: Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash Pink Grapefruit

Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash Pink Grapefruit
Credit: Walgreens

Breaking news: Breakouts happen on the skin below your chin, too. To ward off pimples on your back, chest, and even booty (we've all been there), stash this sudser in your shower, for a nice salicylic acid body wash. Salicylic acid whisks away oil and keeps pores clear, while vitamin C brightens skin. Bonus points for the nice lather and refreshing grapefruit scent. (Related: These 4 Products Helped Me Fight Off Sports Bra ‘Bacne’ for Good)

Comments (2)

Anonymous
January 22, 2020
It is so frustrating to see salicylic acid in so many facial cleansers. Salicylic acid needs to be left on the skin to be effective, not washed away! Yet it's so hard to find leave-on products with this ingredient (and without damaging alcohol). Please write an article about salicylic treatment products instead of cleansers. Maybe more companies will make them. Cleansers are useless and a waste.
Anonymous
January 20, 2020
As soft tissue ages, changes involving the nasolabial region are closely associated with changes in the midface. Yes, It is proven now that A yoga session for face works tremendously.