Cleanse your way to a clearer complexion.

By Melanie Rud
January 14, 2020
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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 us. (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


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 it remove excess oil right away, it also keeps your complexion from getting greasy throughout the day, she adds.

Buy It: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser, $15,

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Acne-Prone Skin

The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser


Knock out pesky pimples with this wash. 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.) It 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)

Buy It: The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser, $10,

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Combination Skin

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser


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 it won't dry out your skin.

Buy It: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser, $12,

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash for Adult Acne

Skinceuticals LHA Cleanser Gel


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 face wash is a one-stop-shop for addressing both skin problems. It contains salicylic acid and 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.

Buy It: Skinceuticals LHA Cleanser Gel, $41,

Best Soothing Salicylic Acid Face Wash

Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser


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 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)

Buy It: Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser, $15,

Best Foaming Salicylic Acid Face Wash

Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser


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 salicylic acid face wash option 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.

Buy It: Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser, $7,

Best Salicylic Acid Face Wash Wipes

C'est Moi Clarify Blemish Clearing Wipes


We get 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 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: The Best Makeup Remover Wipes to Stash In Your Gym Bag, Suitcase, or Purse)

Buy It: C'est Moi Clarify Blemish Clearing Wipes, $11,

Best Salicylic Acid Body Wash

Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash Pink Grapefruit


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: Tips and Products to Help You Prevent Workout-Related Acne)

Buy It: Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash Pink Grapefruit, $9,



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