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These Salicylic Acid Cleansers Do More Than Fight Breakouts

Dermatologists extol the benefits of salicylic acid and share their favorite picks.

Headshot of Genesis RivasBy Genesis Rivas
keep your skin clean
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When you hear salicylic acid, does your mind immediately think acne? The ingredient is a pimple-fighting go-to, but it does more than Roto-Rooter clogged pores. All of us can benefit from incorporating this beta hydroxy acid into our routine, especially in the form of a cleanser, says Sandra Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist who is also known as Dr. Pimple Popper. "Salicylic acid cleansers are fantastic, and I think the nice thing about the ingredient is it’s safe and gentle on all skin types," she says.

Our Top Picks

  • 1
    Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser

    Best for All Types of Breakouts

    La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser

    $17 at Amazon
    Read more
  • 2
    Renewing SA Cleanser

    Best for All Skin Types

    CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

    Read more
  • 3
    Aquarius BHA + Blue Tansy Clarifying Cleanser

    Best for Congested Pores

    Herbivore Aquarius BHA + Blue Tansy Clarifying Cleanser

    Read more
  • 4
    Calming Foam Cleanser

    Best for Sensitive Skin

    CosRx Calming Foam Cleanser

    Read more
  • 5
    Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

    Best Drugstore

    Neutrogena Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

    Read more

Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble ingredient, making it great for oily and acne-prone skin types because it penetrates deep into the pores to eliminate excess dirt and oil that cause the formation of whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples, says Divya Shokeen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. "It's also suitable for anyone looking to improve the texture and tone of their skin," says Shokeen. Salicylic acid exfoliates the dead skin cells sitting on top of the skin's surface and combats hyperpigmentation, offering a smoother-looking and more even complexion, explains Lee. Note that if you have eczema or rosacea, you may find salicylic acid irritating, Shokeen says. But when it's the form of a cleanser, which you wash off quickly, most people don't have a problem, Lee says.

Bottom line: If you want smooth, bright, even, and clear skin, try incorporating a salicylic acid cleanser into your routine. Start using it as your cleanser once a week and increase frequency as tolerated. Ahead, the best dermatologist- and editor-recommended options.

1
Best for All Types of Breakouts

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser

Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser
1
Best for All Types of Breakouts

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser

$17 at Amazon$23 at Walmart$19 at Ulta Beauty
Credit: La Roche-Posay
Pros
  • Controls excess sebum production
  • Targets whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples
Cons
  • It can be drying

This is another one of Shokeen's favorite formulas because it contains 2 percent salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid (a derivative of salicylic) to exfoliate the skin, remove excess oil, and clear breakouts. It also has glycerin to counteract the potential drying effects.

2
Best for All Skin Types

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

Renewing SA Cleanser
2
Best for All Skin Types

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

Now 33% Off
Credit: CeraVe
Pros
  • Gentle formula
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Doesn't remove makeup effectively on its own

All skin types can benefit from adding this cleanser into their routine because, in addition to the salicylic acid to exfoliate, it has hydrating hyaluronic acid, niacinamide to even skin tone, and ceramides to maintain the skin's natural barrier. Over time, you'll notice softer, smoother, and more radiant skin that doesn't feel stripped or sensitized.

3
Best for Congested Pores

Herbivore Aquarius BHA + Blue Tansy Clarifying Cleanser

Aquarius BHA + Blue Tansy Clarifying Cleanser
3
Best for Congested Pores

Herbivore Aquarius BHA + Blue Tansy Clarifying Cleanser

Credit: Herbivore
Pros
  • Leaves skin matte
Cons
  • Some reviewers don't like the smell

Blue tansy oil is an ingredient that soothes redness and balances oil. When combined with salicylic acid and zinc, you have a powerful trio that leaves skin clear, smooth, and matte.

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4
Best for Sensitive Skin

CosRx Calming Foam Cleanser

Calming Foam Cleanser
4
Best for Sensitive Skin

CosRx Calming Foam Cleanser

Credit: CosRx
Pros
  • Doesn't strip skin of moisture
Cons
  • Not available at popular retailers like Ulta and Sephora

One of the biggest concerns about salicylic acid cleansers is that they can make skin too dry. But this formula pairs salicylic acid with three types of centella asiatica, a soothing plant that helps calm and repair the skin. Most find that it's gentle enough to use daily.

5
Best Drugstore

Neutrogena Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
5
Best Drugstore

Neutrogena Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

Credit: Neutrogena
Pros
  • Affordable
Cons
  • It can be drying

Shokeen likes this formula because it's oil-free, doesn't break the bank, and is easily accessible at your local drugstore. It's great for clearing and preventing blackheads and breakouts.

6
Best Budget-Friendly

The INKEY List Salicylic Acid Cleanser

Salicylic Acid Cleanser
6
Best Budget-Friendly

The INKEY List Salicylic Acid Cleanser

Credit: The INKEY List
Pros
  • Affordable
Cons
  • It can be drying

This lightweight foaming cleanser effectively removes dirt, oil, and makeup. It contains 2 percent salicylic acid to exfoliate and clear pores, zinc to help with excess sebum production, and allantoin to soothe irritation.

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7
Best for Fungal Acne

Skinfix 2% BHA + Azelaic Acid + Niacinamide + AHA Cleanser

2% BHA + Azelaic Acid + Niacinamide + AHA Cleanser
7
Best for Fungal Acne

Skinfix 2% BHA + Azelaic Acid + Niacinamide + AHA Cleanser

Credit: Skinfix
Pros
  • Fights bacteria
Cons
  • May be strong for sensitive skin

While this formula targets all forms of acne, it's also effective against fungal acne, which is when there is an overgrowth of yeast on the hair follicles. Salicylic acid decongests clogged pores, niacinamide helps even out the skin tone and reduces oil production, and azelaic acid fights bacteria.

8
Best for Oily Skin

Tata Harper Clarifying Blemish & Oil Control Cleanser

Clarifying Blemish & Oil Control Cleanser
8
Best for Oily Skin

Tata Harper Clarifying Blemish & Oil Control Cleanser

Credit: Tata Harper
Pros
  • Controls excess oil production
Cons
  • It's expensive compared to other options on this list

While it may be a splurge compared to other cleansers, this clean and fresh scent brings spa-like serenity to your bathroom. It's great for those looking to keep oil production in check, thanks to wild juniper fruit. Salicylic acid helps target blemishes, while chlorella soothes redness and inflammation.

9
Best Mattifying

Kate Somerville EradiKate Clarifying Acne Gel Cleanser

EradiKate Clarifying Acne Gel Cleanser
9
Best Mattifying

Kate Somerville EradiKate Clarifying Acne Gel Cleanser

Credit: Kate Somerville
Pros
  • Can use it daily
Cons
  • Some reviewers don't like the smell

The best part of this cleanser is it's gentle enough for daily use. Even though salicylic acid effectively decongests pores and helps smooth texture, a prebiotic complex keeps the skin balanced so it doesn't feel stripped or dry.

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10
Best Exfoliating

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
10
Best Exfoliating

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

Credit: SkinMedica
Pros
  • Brightening
Cons
  • It's expensive compared to other options on this list

If you love the feeling of a deep clean, you'll love this formula, which chemically and physically exfoliates your skin. It has a blend of AHAs (lactic, glycolic, citric, and malic acids) to provide gentle exfoliation that helps improve skin texture, salicylic acid to keep pores clear, and soft jojoba spheres to slough dead skin. It also contains citrus oils to help brighten.

Headshot of Genesis Rivas
Genesis Rivas

Genesis Rivas is the Beauty Editor at Oprah Daily, where she covers hair, makeup, skin, nails, and more. Before joining the Oprah Daily team, she wrote for several publications, including InStyle, Real Simple, and Shape. When she’s not testing, researching, and writing fun and educational beauty content, you can find her dancing and eating her way through New York City. Follow her on Instagram or TikTok

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