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Best face washes and toners for acne-prone skin

Kristin Chessman is a freelance writer, editor and mom from Southern California with a passion for travel, fashion, Disney, the beach, Italian food and all-things celebrity. Follow Kristin on Twitter @KristinChessman.

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If you’re prone to acne, you know how difficult it can be to find a face wash and toner for your sensitive skin. They’re either too harsh, stripping your skin of moisture, or too light, not getting to the root of the problem. Find out which ingredients skin care pros suggest to keep your acne-prone skin in the clear.

Woman washing face

Step 1: Be gentle

For starters, it’s important to keep your face clean without altering your skin’s chemistry. Spa owner Lidya Wati explains how to do just that: “Prevent a breeding ground for bacteria and wash the face daily using a gentle cleanser and toner. Products that are suited for sensitive skin will be good.”

Dermatologic surgeon, Dr. W. Patrick Davey, recommends avoiding an alcohol-based astringent, which can be too harsh for the skin, stripping your skin of natural moisture.

Step 2: Don’t scrub

When you have acne-prone skin, you may be tempted to scrub your face to rid it of bacteria. Don’t do it!

“Vigorous washing and scrubbing can irritate your skin and make acne worse,” Dr. Davey says. “Acne is not caused by poor hygiene.”

Wati agrees. “Do not scrub the skin. Keep the skin hydrated and do not damage the protective barrier. Scrubbing will also irritate the skin and cause the skin to be more inflamed.”

Step 3: Look for salicylic acid

Shopping for the perfect face wash and toner for your pimple-prone skin? Read the labels carefully to find the right product for you. According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman, salicylic acid and glycolic acid are good choices for ingredients in acne washes and toners. Dr. Jaliman also recommends the gel form of benzoyl peroxide or retinol for use in the evening.

According to Wati, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can help remove dead skin cells and kill bacteria. “If these ingredients are too harsh for your skin, try a milder product containing tea tree oil.”

Another benefit of salicylic acid? It’s lipophilic, meaning it penetrates oil. “So, it can get in to those cloggy pores and break up blackheads,” explains licensed esthetician Laurie Neronha.

Skin care expert Sarah Neumann also suggests looking for products containing vitamin A or glycolic acid. “These are great to reduce pore size, bacteria and oil to the skin, the main culprits that create acne blemishes and pimples.”

Step 4: Tool time

In addition to using the right face wash and toner for acne-prone skin, Dr. Jaliman suggests using a cleansing system, which is a key tool for exfoliation.

According to Neumann, a cleansing system aids in reducing oily skin, enlarged pores, dry patches and blemishes. “Users can also maximize the absorption of their topical anti-acne medications, normalize the pH and repair inflamed, acne-prone skin.”

Step 5: Keep it light

After washing and toning your acne-prone skin, Wati suggests opting for a lightweight or water-based moisturizer. “Avoid oily [moisturizers]. The goal is to keep the skin hydrated without clogging it further.”

Expert tips

Becky Sturm, CEO and founder of StormSister Spatique, recommends following this simple skin care regimen in the morning and evening for acne-prone skin: Cleanse, tone and moisturize.

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