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10 Ingredients Every Acne Cleanser Should Have

Acne Cleanser Ingredients

Your face goes through a lot of punishment during your day. Dr. Goodman of Bella Vi Spa & Aesthetics explains: “throughout the day, our skin is exposed to makeup, dirt, debris, germs, and environmental toxins. If not removed daily, this debris will build up in the pores, leading to break outs.”

This is where facial cleansers come in. A good cleanser will help to regulate oil production, prepare your skin for other acne-based medication, and break down and wash away dirt, sweat, dead skin cells, and debris that could clog pores and cause more acne.

Read next: The Best Acne Skin Care Products for Teens and Adults

topical remedies for acne


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1. Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that was first isolated from willow bark. Salicylic acid works against acne as a keratolytic agent that helps to break down dead skin cells and debris that clogs pores.1 Studies show that it works as a desmolytic agent to break down connections between skin cells to dissolve pore-clogging debris and speed up cell turnover.2

Salicylic acid also acts as an anti-inflammatory to help reduce red, irritated pimples, and it acts as a mild antibacterial to combat acne-causing bacteria. Salicylic acid is best used for common whiteheads and blackheads, though its antibacterial activity may have a minor effect on cystic acne.

2. Witch Hazel

In its topical liquid form, witch hazel extract may possess powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. When applied, witch hazel toners may help soothe irritated skin, calm breakouts, reduce redness from cystic acne, and inhibit bacteria.

Witch hazel can also act as an astringent to remove excess oil and sebum on the surface of the skin. That said, most witch hazel toners use alcohol as a base, and when used too frequently, alcohol can dry out and irritate your skin, which may result in stinging, redness, and more acne. 3 Make sure you use a witch hazel toner that is alcohol free.

3. Tea Tree Oil

Derived from the plant Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree oil possesses natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Tea tree oil contains a terpene known as terpinen-4-ol, which has been shown to help eliminate the growth of certain bacteria, including P. acnes.4 Along with its potential to inhibit bacteria, tea tree oil may help to reduce redness and irritation. At concentrations 5 percent it is as effective as the over-the-counter acne treatment benzoyl peroxide.5

4. Willow Bark Extract

Willow bark extract naturally contains salicin, a derivative of salicylic acid. Studies show that willow bark extract presents anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and contains components that may help to down-regulate inflammatory mediators.6 Along with salicin and other salicylates, willow bark extract contains a variety of polyphenols and flavonoids that may present useful therapeutic actions.6

5. Vitamin B5

Alternately known as pantothenic acid, vitamin B5 may, along with its potential to reduce acne, act as a moisturizer and support wound healing. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, subjects previously diagnosed with mild to moderate acne were provided with either a placebo or a pantothenic acid dietary supplement for a study period of 12 weeks.

Researchers primarily measured total lesion count, though secondary measures included differences in average inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions, as well as self-assessed Dermatology Life Quality Index scores. Results of the study found that those given the pantothenic acid supplement showed a significant mean reduction in total lesion counts compared to the placebo group.

Secondary analyses also showed that the study group had reduced area-specific and inflammatory blemishes. This suggests that pantothenic acid may be effective in reducing acne lesions when taken as a dietary supplement, but more research is necessary to determine effective dosage and mechanisms of action.7

6. Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3. Niacinamide may be important as a precursor to biochemical cofactors involved in hydrogen transfer, which is required for the proper function and repair of skin cells.8 Applying niacinamide topically has also been shown to stabilize epidermal barrier functions, which may improve skin’s moisture content, increase protein synthesis, and speed up cell turnover. It may also present anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties.9

7. Allantoin

Allantoin is a botanical extract of the comfrey plant that is mainly used to heal wounds and soothe irritated skin. It may also play a role in stimulating the growth of healthy tissue and promoting cell regeneration.10 It is included in acne products for its anti-irritating, keratolytic, abrasive, astringent, healing, and moisturizing properties.

8. Sage Extract

Sage extract contains high levels of a phenol known as rosmarinic acid.12 Rosmarinic acid is known to possess powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and studies also show that it may be effective in neutralizing the P. acnes bacteria.13 Other studies suggest that the roasmarinic acid in sage extract may help to regulate melanogenesis, suggesting that it can play a role in hyperpigmentation and general skin pigmentation issues.14

9. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is known to act as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial, all of which are important in reducing acne.15 In a double-blind, randomized trial, researchers gave subjects with mild to moderate acne either a combination of a topical aloe vera gel and tretinoin or tretinoin on its own. Results of the eight-week trial showed that the aloe vera/tretinoin combination was significantly more effective in reducing inflammatory, non-inflammatory, and total lesions over the control group. This suggests that aloe vera used in conjunction with tretinoin is more effective in reducing acne than tretinoin on its own.16

10. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, but when used topically, it may help to speed up wound healing. It may also prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and prevent premature skin aging caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays.17 

With the right facial, cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen, you may effectively reduce your acne and support clear, pristine skin.

Want a cleanser with all the ingredients listed above? Check out DrFormulas Acne Cleanser here.

DrFormulas Premium Acne Cleanser