Anyone with cystic acne knows how painful and embarrassing the condition can be. If you suffer from painful pimples and are struggling to find the right cleanser, start with this list of the best face washes for cystic acne!
What Is Cystic Acne?
Cystic acne is a kind of acne that develops deep within the skin and manifests in large red bumps that can be painful. These pimples typically affect teenagers and young adults most severely and can leave acne scars. Cystic acne differs from regular acne in that bacteria enter the clogged pores and cause swelling, so it’s considered the most severe kind of acne there is.
This type of acne presents as big red lumps on the skin, and they may be as large as a dime. Sometimes these bumps ooze pus and get crusty, and they are typically painful to the touch. While acne cysts most commonly appear on the face, they may also crop up on other parts of the body where oil glands are particularly active.
What Causes Cystic Acne?
Doctors have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause of cystic acne but know that it’s formed in the same way all acne is: clogged pores. When excess sebum (the natural oil your skin produces) mixes with dead skin cells in your pores, it causes pimples. For those with cystic acne, bacteria also enter the clogged pores and cause pus-filled bumps deeper in the skin.
Risk factors for cystic acne include age (teenagers are more prone than adults), genetics, and hormone changes (such as puberty, menopause, or premenstrual syndrome). The condition is also more common in men.
What Is the Treatment for Cystic Acne?
Cystic acne is diagnosed by a dermatologist after examination, and since the condition can result in long-term damage in the form of scars, it’s important to seek the opinion of a doctor if you think you may have it. This type of acne is difficult to treat, but some treatments include antibiotic creams or pills and benzoyl peroxide to cut down on bacteria, oral retinoids, or even steroid injections.
How Face Wash Can Help Cystic Acne
While using targeted face washes won’t cure cystic acne, it can certainly help to create conditions that make it difficult for acne-causing bacteria to thrive. To keep all forms of acne at bay, it’s a good idea to wash your face with a face wash for your skin type twice a day. This will help get rid of excess oils, sweat, and buildup to prevent pores from clogging.
What to Look for in a Cystic Acne Face Wash
When looking for the best face washes for cystic acne, avoid these ingredients that may irritate skin further:
Instead, search for products that are formulated specifically for acne-prone or oily skin and contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and alpha hydroxy acids to keep your skin’s sebum levels in check, gently get rid of dead skin cells, and prevent bacteria from entering the pores.
1. Blu Atlas Volcanic Ash Face Cleanser
With a clean formula made up of ingredients that absorb excess oil and prevent inflammation, Blu Atlas Volcanic Ash Face Cleanser is definitely one of the best face washes for cystic acne! The most important ingredient in this formula for those dealing with painful pimples is bentonite clay, a kind of volcanic ash that sops up sebum and helps clarify your pores. Lactobacillus ferment filtrate is another important additive, which soothes inflammation and contributes to a well-balanced skin microbiome.
This stellar wash also contains pomegranate seed oil for all of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory goodness—plus glycerin to ensure that your skin doesn’t dry out. With all of these naturally derived ingredients, it’s no wonder that Blu Atlas users rave about this face wash and its ability to clear up acne!
Best For: People of all skin types who want a clean formula made up of premium ingredients.
What the Reviews Say: Users love how straightforward and effective this cleanser is, with one saying “the ingredients are real things that you can understand without a biology degree, although the products were formulated by people who really know what they’re doing.” Another claims, “The breakout I was having faded to nothing!”
2. La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Face Wash
La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar anti-acne line is a favorite among dermatologists for its potent active ingredients and formulas that don’t dry out skin. In clinical tests, this face wash cut down on excess face oil by 47%, so you can trust it to get rid of any sheen while preventing pores from clogging.
To achieve this effect, the Effaclar face wash turns to 2% salicylic acid, a prized exfoliant that cuts down on grease. This ingredient works alongside lipo-hydroxy acid, another chemical exfoliant to clear up your complexion. Then glycerin acts as a humectant, sealing your skin’s moisture barrier to keep your face hydrated.
Best For: Those with severe cystic acne and oily complexions whose skin can stand up to some serious absorbent power.
What the Reviews Say: Many reviews label this wash “great for cystic acne,” and there are before and after pictures to prove it. One cystic acne sufferer even claimed, “I am so happy to report that my skin has never looked so beautiful and clear.”
3. PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
Benzoyl peroxide is an important ally to have in your fight against cystic acne, and this face wash contains the maximum concentration allowed in over-the-counter products. With that much benzoyl peroxide in the formula, this face wash can kill 99% of acne-causing bacteria in just a few seconds! While this important active ingredient is great for fighting cystic acne, it may irritate dry or sensitive skin, so it’s not suitable for everyone.
Best For: Those with cystic acne who haven’t had luck with gentler cleansers and want a last-ditch effort before trying prescription-strength products.
What the Reviews Say: The overwhelming consensus about this product is that it works wonders on cystic face and body acne, with reviewers rejoicing “IT WORKS!” Some users claim the effect was almost instant, while others said it took a week or so of regular use to fade acne and scars.
4. CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
Salicylic acid is the star of this best face wash for cystic acne. It uses gentle chemical exfoliation power to rid your skin of buildup to cut down on blackheads and pimples. Once your pores are clean, this drugstore favorite hydrates skin with ceramides and hyaluronic acid and then busts inflammation with niacinamide. This cleanser works best on normal skin and is a great option for daily use.
Best For: Anyone on a budget and those whose skin responds well to salicylic acid. Also best for daily use, as it’s gentle enough to become a staple in your skincare routine.
What the Reviews Say: One reviewer says, “I love how clean it makes my skin feel without being abrasive,” and others agree, saying, “does not dry out my skin and keeps breakouts at bay.”
5. Cetaphil Dermacontrol Oil Removing Foam Wash
Sometimes it feels like you have to pull out all the stops to get your cystic acne under control, but all of the strong products you use can have a negative effect on your skin. If your skin is particularly sensitive and you’re prone to irritation, opt for a mild cleanser built for an oily complexion, like Cetaphil’s Dermacontrol Oil Removing Foam Wash.
This cleanser is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t cause buildup in your pores, and contains ingredients to zap excess oil without any harsh side effects like zinc oxide and castor oil. Plus, this face wash is great for any budget!
Best For: People with oily skin types who get cystic acne and want to zap their excess oil without irritating.
What the Reviews Say: Reviewers love how this product uses natural ingredients to get the same effect as harsher additives like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. One user claims, “I have very sensitive, acne prone skin and could never find any products that did not have salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide in it that I could afford. I decided to give this a shot and it is unreal.”
6. Starface Space Wash
Starface Space Wash looks and sounds lighthearted and fun, but the formula inside means business. This plant-based wash is free of oil and can cut down on sebum thanks to the inclusion of willow bark, a natural ingredient that acts like salicylic acid. You’ll also find sage leaf and holy basil to calm skin, chamomilla flower to block acne-causing bacteria, and calendula to rejuvenate your face with moisture.
Best For: Anyone looking for acne-busting natural ingredients and those with oily skin types will get the most out of this wash.
What the Reviews Say: “My skin is usually rough and greasy,” explains one reviewer, “but using this has certainly changed my life!” Another says that Space Wash “instantly cleared my acne” with just a small amount of the wash for each application.
7. Kiehl’s Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment
Kiehl’s is one of the top skincare brands out there thanks to its apothecary roots and dermatologist approved formulas, and this acne-fighting wash is no exception. Blue Herbal relies on salicylic acid for deep cleaning your pores, ginger root for antioxidants, witch hazel and peumus boldus leaf to naturally lower sebum production, and menthol for a refreshing cooling sensation upon application.
The only potential downside of this wash is that it contains so many oil-absorbing agents that it may cause dryness, so cut down on the number of times a week you use it if your skin starts to flake.
Best For: If you deal with constant grease on your skin and want to do whatever it takes to cut down on sebum production, this is one of the best options out there for you.
What the Reviews Say: In general, the reviews rave about this product’s ability to stop breakouts in their tracks and prevent new ones from surfacing. One user says, “Before I used this, I would get those giant zits that lasted for weeks and then would leave a dark spot. When I started using this, those giant zits stopped. I ran out and they came back.” Lots of reviews mention using this as needed rather than every day because of its strength.
8. Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser
If you’re looking for a cleanser that’s gentle enough for daily use yet still contains some ingredients that can prevent acne, Aveeno’s Clear Complexion foaming wash is a great choice. It contains just .5% salicylic acid, which is enough to clear breakouts without a drying effect.
Another important ingredient in this cleanser is soy, which works to even out your skin’s tone and texture, citric acid for gentle exfoliation, and glycerin for hydration. The anti-acne wash is formulated without soap or oil, so it won’t irritate your skin or leave a glossy coat on your face.
Best For: People with cystic acne who are just getting started experimenting with face washes and want to start with a gentle one that can be used every day.
What the Reviews Say: Reviewers agree—this product is “great for acne control.” Many also mention how satisfying the foaming clean is, and some claim that they’ve been using this product for years without straying. The consensus among reviews is that users trust this product and brand to keep their complexion clear.
9. Dr. Jar+ Teatreetment Cleansing Foam
Tea tree is a multi-tasking ingredient that works wonders on acne-prone skin thanks to its antimicrobial and antifungal properties that help keep acne-causing particles away. In this wash, tea tree plays a starring role, but it gets help from all kinds of natural ingredients that work together to fight cystic acne.
These ingredients include witch hazel for absorption, fig fruit to prevent water loss, licorice to stop redness and inflammation, cinnamon extract for antimicrobial power and increased circulation, and aloe to calm and hydrate. Green tea extract is another important anti-inflammatory, which can soothe skin in the wake of salicylic acid to clean pores.
Best For: If you’ve had success with tea tree products in the past, definitely give this cleanser a shot. It’s also great for those whose cystic acne turns into inflamed welts or people who struggle with skin inflammation and irritation in general.
What the Reviews Say: “I have struggled with acne since I was a teenager and this is one of the most effective products I have ever used. I would recommend this product to anyone that suffers with acne.” Lots of reviews also mention the refreshing tingling sensation this face wash produces and love how the product brightens their complexion while evening it out.
10. Humane Maximum Strength 10% Acne Wash
Choose from 10% or 5% benzoyl peroxide strength depending on your skin’s sensitivity and the severity of your cystic acne with Human’s acne wash line. This non-foaming cleanser works on the face and the body to bust the bacteria and acne behind those painful red bumps. The formula is free from parabens, sulfates, mineral oils, and fragrance, so it’s suitable for those with sensitive skin as well.
Best For: Those who have both cystic acne and very sensitive skin who want a strong solution to their breakouts without irritating skin.
What the Reviews Say: One reviewer says “I have been using it for 3 weeks and my skin has cleared remarkably.” Several reviews suggest following with a moisturizer to prevent dryness.
11. Sunday Riley’s Ceramic Slip Cleanser
Sunday Riley’s Ceramic Slip is one of the best face washes for cystic acne thanks to its plant-based formula chock full of clays to draw oil and impurities from your pores. There are three types of clay included in this formula: bentonite, green clay, and kaolin. Those with sensitive skin will also be happy to learn that there are rice and olive oil esters in this cleanser to soothe irritated skin and bitter orange to detoxify and reduce inflammation.
Sunday Riley doesn’t just create excellent skincare products—they give back, too! It’s a Certified B Corporation that supports reforestation and has partnered with Clean Hub to prevent plastic in the oceans.
Best For: Those looking for a cleanser that has the same effect as a leave-on mask. Anyone with oily skin will surely see a difference!
What the Reviews Stay: A few reviews claim “this is the best cleanser I’ve ever used,” and many say that their pores look immediately smaller after use. Many cite that it “removes the dirt and oil from your pores without taking all the healthy stuff too,” and are grateful that Ceramic Slip doesn’t leave skin tight or dry.
12. Murad Acne Control Clarifying Cleanser
Skincare powerhouse Murad has developed an effective gel cleanser to get oil under control with this clarifying cleanser. An independent clinical study showed that 97% of users claimed they saw less oil on their skin after using, while 94% reported skin that felt cleaner and clearer, so you know this stuff works!
The key to this formula’s success is two different types of salicylic acid—one to attack current acne and the other to keep cleansing pores to prevent future breakouts. To ensure that the cleanser is safe on sensitive skin, Murad has also included green tea extract to tackle irritation, tangerine leaf to rid the face of harmful microbes, lemon peel to fight off free-radical damage, and apricot kernel oil to boost your skin’s tone and leave it soft and dewy.
Best For: Anyone with an oily skin type who also wants some anti-aging benefits and more even skin overall.
What the Reviews Say: “I’ve been using this product for over three years and don’t see myself ever switching cleansers! I used to get cystic acne and it has completely stopped ever since.” Other customers praise the wash’s ability to shrink pores and help them feel refreshed.
13. Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser
If cystic acne, and all blemished in general, are caused by clogged pores, it follows that your cleanser should prevent pores from clogging. That’s exactly what this wash from Paula’s Choice does, which means that it can help you fight off breakouts and maybe even improve your cystic acne.
It’s thanks to cleansing ingredients like salicylic acid and sodium lauroyl sarcosinate that this wash sucks all the gunk out of your pores. But it’s the gel-like consistency and inclusion of other powerful ingredients that makes the cleanser stand out such as panthenol to ensure deep hydration, citric acid for a balanced pH, castor oil to tame oil production, and glycerin to keep your skin silky smooth.
Best For: Those who work in environments that are harsh on skin or do frequent workouts that cause sweat to build up in pores. This is a great cleanser to get your skin back on track. While it won’t necessarily treat cystic acne, it keeps pores clean to help avoid buildup that can lead to cystic acne.
What the Reviews Say: One user claims “I have struggled for YEARS with severe acne, have tried every product you can think of. After just two uses, my pores have shrunk significantly, my red spots look less frightening and red and I didn’t wake up with a fresh round of tiny little bumps/whiteheads all over like I usually do!” Reviewers recommend leaving the product on for two minutes before rinsing it off to get the best results.
14. Derma-E Brightening Cleanser
While cystic acne is one of the main culprits behind acne scarring, sometimes redness and dark spots (easily mistaken for scars) are actually caused by inflammation and can be treated with products like this one. The key is to find cleansers with ingredients like vitamin C that are high in antioxidants and have brightening properties.
Derma-E’s daily brightening cleanser is a perfect example and includes vitamin C along with niacinamide and green tea to reduce the effects of inflammation. The pH-balanced formula can even out your complexion while deep cleaning to ensure clear pores.
Best For: Anyone hoping to clear up both cystic acne and dark spots will get the most out of this wash.
What the Reviews Say: Several reviews mention that this face wash is “good for sensitive skin,” and others tout its ability to help them feel “squeaky clean.” Another says “Feels great, and has made my skin so much clearer.”
15. Bioderma Sébium Foaming Gel
The goal of this face wash is to work with your skin to cleanse your pores of impurities and improve your skin’s resilience. Its formula relies on zinc to cut down on your skin’s sebum production over time—a clinical study showed that it cut sebum production down by over 37% after 28 days of use.
The star ingredient of Bioderma’s popular foaming gel is a patented complex that makes skin more tolerant and less reactive. This works to calm inflamed complexions with cystic acne alongside ginkgo biloba while lactic acid gently buffs dead skin. The result is stronger, healthier skin. Plus, this wash can also be used on the back and bust to fight acne there!
Best For: Skin that’s both oily and sensitive.
What the Reviews Say: One reviewer calls this a “gentle acne and oily skin savior,” and another says that it reduced their acne by around 25% after just a few days! Users are obsessed with this product, and one even says “Bioderma Sebium Foaming Gel is unmatched in how it controls oils on your face without the feeling of being completely dried out!”
16. InstaNatural Glycolic Cleanser
If you like to recognize the ingredients you apply to your skin, InstaNatural’s Glycolic Cleanser is a great option. It contains key active ingredients like glycolic acid (a chemical exfoliant), arginine to stimulate collagen production, and then naturally calming ingredients like cucumber, chamomile, willow bark, and green tea to prevent future flare-ups.
This face wash won’t just help keep pores clean so cystic acne doesn’t crop up—it also contains all kinds of natural ingredients that support healthy, soft, glowing skin so you can improve your complexion’s overall tone and texture.
Best For: Those who like to choose natural skincare products and want to see results beyond just subduing their acne.
What the Reviews Say: The sentiment that this wash helps keep skin clear from breakouts is echoed throughout the reviews with one saying it “helps with acne without being too harsh.” Another claims that they notice a difference in their skin after just two weeks!