The Best Cleansers To Clear Up Whiteheads, According To A Dermatologist

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Prone to whiteheads? Then make sure you're washing your face with the right cleanser. According to dermatologist Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, the best face washes for whiteheads contain the acne-fighting ingredient benzoyl peroxide. "Benzoyl peroxide washes and treatments decrease the inflammation associated with pustules, while salicylic acid washes are better for clogged pores and blackheads," Dr. Skotnicki explains.

A cleanser that contains 10% benzoyl peroxide will be too strong for your face, so look for formulas with a lower concentration, like the three doctor-approved picks below. Dr. Skotnicki also suggests avoiding face washes that contain oils, as they can aggravate inflamed acne. One other tip from the expert: Don’t scrub, rub, or use a facial cleansing brush on your whiteheads, as that will make them worse.

Most over-the-counter washes can be paired with other topical acne-fighting treatments, since they usually contain low enough concentrations of benzoyl peroxide, but if you’re using a prescription-strength acne medication, the expert says it’s best to use a gentle, non-medicated cleanser to avoid irritation, unless otherwise directed by your dermatologist.

If you wish to remove a whitehead, carefully extract the pus by using a tissue and gently pressing on either side of the pustule. “If it doesn't come [out] easily, treat [it] with medication and try again the next day,” says Dr. Skotnicki. “Forcing it could disrupt the pore and damage it, leaving it enlarged.”

With those tips in mind, scroll on to shop three of the best cleansers for whiteheads, plus two other great whitehead-busting products.

1. Expert's Pick: The Overall Best Face Wash For Whiteheads

Dr. Skotnicki's top pick, CeraVe's newish Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser contains 4% benzoyl peroxide, as well as skin-calming niacinamide and glycolic acid for some gentle exfoliation. It also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid, moisturizing glycerin, and barrier-strengthening ceramides to balance out the potentially drying effects of the benzoyl peroxide. The formula is fragrance-free and satisfyingly creamy (though it lathers up into a nice foam), and the under-$15 price tag can't be beat.

2. Expert's Pick: Runner Up

Another (even more affordable!) pick from Dr. Skotnicki, Differin's Daily Deep Cleanser effectively treats whiteheads and acne with its fragrance-free, 5% benzoyl peroxide formula. This budget-friendly wash is best suited for people with oily skin, as it doesn’t contain the same moisturizing and hydrating ingredients that Dr. Skotnicki's other two picks have. Even if you have oily skin, though, don't forget to moisturize after washing your face to prevent dryness and irritation.

3. Expert's Pick: Best Prestige Face Wash

Another 5% benzoyl peroxide face wash that our dermatologist recommends, this luxe cleanser from PCA SKIN contains contains gluconolactone, an exfoliator that also works as a hydrator, and is safe for use on all skin types, including sensitive. The formula also contains soothing and calming botanicals like chamomile, aloe, algae, and cucumber, so not only does it treat breakouts, but it also helps calm and soothe inflamed, irritated skin. Plus, even though this cleanser is more expensive than the others on this list, you do get a lot more product — 7 ounces to Differin's 4 and CeraVe's 5.

Also Consider:

This Spot Treatment With Benzoyl Peroxide

La Roche-Posay's cult-favorite Effaclar Duo acne treatment is an excellent choice for spot-treating whiteheads and other types of inflamed blemishes. The formula, which is free of both oil and fragrance, contains 5.5% benzoyl peroxide, along with capryloyl salicylic acid, another blemish-busting ingredient.

Dr. Skotnicki warns that benzoyl peroxide can stain your clothes and bedding, so be sure it's fully dry before getting dressed or laying your head down on your pillow.

This Liquid Exfoliant With Salicylic Acid

If you're experiencing other forms of acne or congestion, you can use your benzoyl peroxide wash to decrease the inflammation associated with pustules, and a salicylic acid product to treat clogged pores and blackheads. Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is one of the brand's most popular products, and it's a firm cult-favorite among in-the-know beauty consumers. It uses salicylic acid to unclog congested pores, as well as green tea to soothe and calm skin and deliver a dose of antioxidants. Keep in mind that while you can use both acne-fighting ingredients together, you shouldn't layer them on top of each other.


Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, dermatologist and founder of Bay Dermatology Centre, Toronto.