Let’s cut to the chase: if you struggle with blackheads and want to get rid of them, you should think about investing in a good cleanser before pretty much any other product. We all know that cleansing is one of the most important steps of any skincare routine; when dealing with blackheads, it becomes particularly important, because it will help you remove all the dirt, excess sebum, and dead skin cells which may otherwise end up clogging your pores. Come along, and we’re going to show you some of the best face washes to help you reduce blackheads.
But first, what are blackheads?
Whether you have dry, combination, or oily skin, chances are you’ve struggled with blackheads at some point in your life. Blackheads are a very common skin concern, affecting people of all genders, ethnicities, and age groups. This universality is to be expected, because blackheads are nothing extraordinary: they are just pores that got clogged with excess sebum, dead skin cells, and other impurities. As these impurities accumulate, they form a “plug” that oxidizes in contact with air and ends up turning dark. When they occur on the face, blackheads tend to appear on the nose, chin, and, occasionally, cheeks.
The best skincare ingredient to tackle blackheads
When it comes to fighting blackheads, there’s one ingredient that’s a cut above the rest: salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA, which is primarily known for its exfoliating benefits. It’s a common feature in cleansers. There are other exfoliating acids, of course–think AHAs and PHAs, such as glycolic acid or gluconolactone –but salicylic acid has a property you can’t find anywhere else. That property, which might not sound impressive at first, is being lipid-soluble.
“SA is a lipid-soluble agent, in contrast with the α-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid),” says a paper from 2015, “and is therefore miscible with epidermal lipids and sebaceous gland lipids in hair follicles.” In short, that means that salicylic acid is able to dive deep into the pores and exfoliate them from the inside out, a property that isn’t shared by any other exfoliating acids.
Knowing that blackheads are just clogged pores, you can see how this unique feature of salicylic acid comes in handy. By using this ingredient, you suddenly gain the ability to exfoliate inside your pores in order to “unclog” them once and for all.
(Or, you know, as “once and for all” as skincare will allow.)
Skin cleansers for blackheads: Our recommendations
Now that we’ve established that a cleanser is essential to stop impurities from building up in your pores, and that salicylic acid is the best ingredient to help you unclog pores from the inside out, it’s time to put it all together. Here are some of the best cleansers you can use to fight back against blackheads:
Clinique Blackhead Solutions 7-Day Deep Pore Cleanse & Scrub
The intensive treatment
What it is: a multifaceted product that helps minimize the appearance of enlarged pores and blackheads. The formula of this cleanser-scrub-mask is super complete: it features salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin, silica and Kaolin clay to absorb excess oil, and Laminaria saccharina extract to soothe and protect the skin.
Why we like it: there are people who love face scrubs and people who love clay masks, and with this product they can have both! We love versatile products, and this one can be used both as a daily cleanser and as an occasional face mask. Upon removal, the finely textured formula provides the skin with a gentle exfoliation–not too harsh, but just enough to bring results.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Peeling Purifying Gel
The BHA/PHA cocktail for sensitive skin
What it is: a cleansing gel specially formulated for acne-prone skin. The formula contains salicylic acid, LHA (which also happens to be a salicylic acid derivative), and zinc, three key ingredients for treating acne-prone skin.
Why we like it: we’re big fans of La Roche-Posay for its focus and expertise on sensitive skin, and we know this “micropeeling” has been a life-changer for many members of our community. While the salicylic acid in this formula unclogs pores, zinc helps reduce sebum. These benefits are ideal for acne-prone skin, of course, but also for anyone who struggles with blackheads. With a cleansing product like this, suitable for sensitive skin, you can combat blackheads without compromising the integrity of your skin.
CeraVe Blemish Control Cleanser
The oil-control face wash
What it is: a foaming gel, formulated by skincare powerhouse CeraVe, which reduces the appearance of blackheads and helps prevent the reappearance of imperfections. With 2% salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin, purifying clay to absorb excess sebum, and niacinamide to soothe sensitive or irritated skin, this cleanser is perfect for acne-prone skin.
Why we like it: CeraVe is a brand known for its many and varied cleansers , and this is the latest release from the brand. Within the brand, this cleanser brings a unique combination of salicylic acid and clay that offers a perfecting and oil-controlling effect at the same time. Although the product is recommended for acne-prone skin, it can be used (with the proper adjustments) by people with any skin type who are trying to combat blackheads.
Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser
The soothing cleansing gel
What it is: a daily cleansing gel designed for oily and acne-prone skin. The formula utilizes the exfoliating and pore-cleansing properties of salicylic acid and combines them with the soothing benefits of aloe vera and chamomile extracts in order to achieve a deep but comfortable cleanse.
Why we like it: it’s always comforting (literally!) to see calming ingredients in a cleanser for acne-prone skin. Those with acne-prone skin know that they are more likely, at any given time, to be dealing with active, full-blown breakouts rather than one or two little blackheads. As such, we think this cleanser’s calming benefits are a perfect match for its exfoliating action.
Just a note: if you have normal to dry skin and want to use this cleanser to fight blackheads, consider using it only a few times a week, instead of daily.
Garnier Pure Active 3-in-1 Clay Mask Scrub Wash Oily Skin
The affordable multitasker
What it is: a 3-in-1 cleansing product that can be used as a cleanser, scrub, or mask. With a formula that combines salicylic acid, eucalyptus extract, and zinc, this product deeply cleanses and purifies the skin, all the while helping unclog pores and reduce sebum production (which, in turn, helps minimize blackheads).
Why we like it: Garnier is always a safe bet for anyone looking for affordable and effective skincare. Indeed, with this product, you get a lot of skincare for your money. On the one hand, you can use it as a daily cleansing and exfoliating care; on the other, you can also use it as a mask 2-3 times a week. This versatility allows you to adapt the product to your skin condition, and use it only when you need it.
Bioderma Sébium Gel Moussant Actif Cleansing Active Foaming Gel
The skin-strengthening cleanser
What it is: a double-action cleansing gel that aims to strengthen the skin–through the action of the exclusive D.A.F. Patent–and, at the same time, refine its texture. The formula combines salicylic and glycolic acids with zinc gluconate; together, these three ingredients help unclog pores and reduce skin imperfections, including blackheads.
Why we like it: there are many cleansers for sensitive skin that focus on being “non-aggressive” to the skin, but not many that actively focus on strengthening the skin. With this cleansing gel, you get the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you benefit from the exfoliating effect of two highly effective acids; on the other, you promote the health of your skin. And the best part: you can do all this while washing your face!
Neutrogena Visibly Clear Spot Proofing Daily Wash
The simple and effective solution
What it is: a salicylic acid-based cleansing gel that helps eliminate blemishes, pimples and breakouts on oily and acne-prone skin. The balanced formula offers a gentle exfoliation action (thanks to salicylic acid), without, however, disturbing the natural balance of the skin.
Why we like it: the product ranges that Neutrogena offers for acne-prone skin are a bit of a sleeper hit. Although the brand is better known for its nourishing hand creams, our Care to Beauty community also loves this orange range for oily and acne-prone skin. This cleansing gel embodies the spirit of the range: it’s affordable, no-nonsense, and extremely effective.
Revolution Skincare Blemish Salicylic Acid Daily Facial Cleanser
The non-foaming gel
What it is: a cleansing gel for daily use, with a non-foaming formula, that cleans and purifies the skin without drying it out. Formulated with salicylic acid, this cleanser helps reduce excess sebum in combination and oily skin types; at the same time, it offers a deep cleansing effect, unclogging pores and minimizing blackheads.
Why we like it: some people prefer non-foaming cleansing gels, but it’s not always easy to find this type of formula in products for oily and acne-prone skin. With this product, you get a formula that is both non-foaming and fragrance-free: in short, it fits in perfectly with the most minimalist skincare routines. Just keep in mind that the method of applying this product is a little different from what you’re used to: you have to apply the product directly to dry skin, add a little water, and then massage it in.
With these cleansers powered by salicylic acid, you’ll be well on your way to reducing blackheads. Will you go for the simple, effective, no-nonsense options, or for the more complex formulas that offer a bunch of added benefits? Whatever you choose, we’re confident you’ll see improvements in the appearance of your blackheads.
Make sure to explore our full selection of products for acne-prone skin, and start building a routine that works perfectly for your skin!
Beauty Writer & Editor