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Which salicylic acid face wash is the best?

If you experience breakouts and acne-related redness, you might be looking for a new product to help prevent these issues. One way to keep your complexion looking its best is to incorporate salicylic acid face wash into your skincare routine.

The salicylic acid face wash is formulated to slough away dead skin and penetrate pores to keep acne-causing dirt and debris at bay. With unclogged pores, your skin can breathe and embrace even texture and tone. Best of all, your skin feels refreshed and rejuvenated after each use.

If you’re wondering whether salicylic acid face wash is right for your skin, give our buying guide a read. We’re sharing an overview of product benefits, as well as a few recommendations. Our top choice, La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser, diminishes acne quickly and is safe for those with rosacea.

Considerations when choosing salicylic acid face washes

How salicylic acid works

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) whose compound is soluble enough to penetrate pores and remove impurities. For this reason, it’s a popular choice among those who experience whiteheads and blackheads, which are often the result of clogged pores. Salicylic acid helps slough away dead skin, so it also functions as an exfoliator.

Treating different types of acne

People with different types of acne use salicylic acid face wash, but that’s not to say it’s a universal solution to acne. Those with mild acne can benefit, especially if they don’t have sensitive skin. If you have sensitive skin, think twice about using salicylic acid, as it’s often too harsh.

For more serious acne conditions, such as hormonal or cystic acne, results can be hit or miss. In some cases, salicylic acid may either help dramatically or aggravate breakouts to the point of redness, swelling, or burning sensations.

Type of cleanser

Gel salicylic acid cleansers are best for oil-prone skin, but if you have sensitive skin, stick with foaming cleansers. They’re gentler on the face, as they typically don’t contain exfoliators. Cream cleansers work well on dry or aging skin, as they’re effective at moisturizing while they remove impurities.

Salicylic acid face wash features

Textured exfoliators

Salicylic acid face washes with textured exfoliators are in a league of their own, but they have different types of exfoliators. Some formulas use tiny beads that are effective at removing dead skin but may cause skin reactions. Others use naturally derived exfoliators, including ground peach pits, baking soda, or ground seed particles.


Many salicylic acid face washes come with pleasant fragrances inspired by natural scents, such as fruit extracts, herbs, or essential oils. If you have sensitive skin, stick to fragrance-free varieties.


Packaging for salicylic acid face washes is largely determined by the formula. Foaming and cream cleansers are generally available in pump bottles, where gel cleansers come in flip-top or twist-off tubes.

Salicylic acid face wash price

Most drugstore salicylic acid face washes cost $15 or less. If you prefer a more specialized formula that includes moisturizers or serums, be prepared to spend up to $30. High-end formulas from top beauty brands, many of which include alpha-hydroxy acids, can cost between $30-$100.

Salicylic acid face wash FAQ

Q. Are salicylic acid face washes good for removing makeup?

A. Yes, as they’re effective at removing product buildup around your face — but avoid your eyes. Salicylic acid irritates eyes, and it’s better to remove your eye makeup with a gentle remover or cleanser instead.

Q. Should I use salicylic acid face wash on a daily basis?

A. It depends on your skin. Some people with ongoing acne issues do best with daily use as it keeps future breakouts to a minimum. If you have sensitive or dry skin, however, daily use could be too harsh. As a result, many skin care experts recommend limiting use to one to three times a week.

Salicylic acid face washes we recommend

Best of the best

La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser

La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser

Our take: Creamy, luxurious formula that targets excess oil in the T-zone.

What we like: Acne diminishes quickly with use. Can be used by those with rosacea.

What we dislike: With 2% salicylic acid, concentration may be too strong for some people.

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta

Best bang for your buck

Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Cream Cleanser

Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Cream Cleanser

Our take: Affordable formula from a reputable brand well liked for its refreshing scent.

What we like: Removes makeup on the surface and penetrates pores. Won’t cause skin to flake.

What we dislike: Highly textured for exfoliating, and intense rubbing may cause redness.

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta

Worth checking out

Image Skincare’s Clear Cell Salicylic Gel Cleanser

Image Skincare’s Clear Cell Salicylic Gel Cleanser

Our take: Effective cleanser that’s trusted by experts in the industry.

What we like: Heals all types of acne. Works fast; some may even notice results the first time they try it. Tightens pores.

What we dislike: Not everyone will appreciate its strong scent.

Where to buy: Sold by Dermstore


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Sian Babish writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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