best body soap for sensitive acne-prone skin

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Best Acne Body Washes

There are no ifs, ands, or buts (pun intended) about it—breakouts occur all over your body, not just on your face. Pimples can pop up on your back, chest, yes, even butt, and be just as difficult to treat as facial acne. As with your complexion, there are a variety of culprits behind the blemishes, and lifestyle factors play a major role. Think things like sitting around in sweaty workout clothes for hours on end, pore-clogging detergents you wash your clothes in, even the shampoo you’re using can contribute to breakouts on your body.

To eliminate below-the-neck pimples (and stubborn blackheads) calls for a body care routine that minimizes excess dirt, oil, and the resultant skin inflammation. For this, you’ll want to reach for body washes with chemical exfoliants, such as alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, says Dr. Dennis Gross, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and the founder of the eponymous skincare line. “Avoid products with heavy oils, as they can lead to further breakouts,” he adds, though is quick to note that you do still need some moisturizing ingredients—otherwise you risk overdrying your skin and ultimately exacerbating oil production. Two of his favorites to seek out? Ceramides and hyaluronic acid.

Best Overall: Proactiv Deep Cleansing Body Wash

Proactiv Deep Cleansing Acne Body Wash


  • Physical and chemical exfoliation
  • Gentle
  • Formulated for all skin types

What We Don’t Like

  • Expensive
  • Top doesn’t have applicator

This derm-developed brand is well-known for its facial offerings, but don’t miss their body wash. It gets top points from users for working to prevent pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads. Credit a combo of gently exfoliating beads combined with 2% salicylic acid, which has the ability to break up excess oil.1

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Size: 16 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Budget: Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Treatment Body Wash with Salicylic Acid

Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Body Wash


  • Dermatologists love it
  • Affordable

What We Don’t Like

  • Scent can be polarizing

A staple in our shower for years, one we reach for this cleanser time and time again. Like many of its counterparts on this list, it too boasts salicylic acid and is a favorite of New York City dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner for that very reason. “The beta-hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin to keep the pores clear.  It can dry out pimples you already have and prevent new ones from developing,”’ he says. This formula also incorporates hydrating glycerin and aloe to prevent over-drying and comes in a  yummy-scented pink grapefruit variant, both options ringing in at a super affordable price.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Size: 8.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Sensitive Skin: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser


  • Gentle
  • Affordable
  • Can be used on face and body

What We Don’t Like

  • Creamy consistency rather than foamy

This Budget Salicylic Acid Body Lotion Changed My Skin for the Better

The main drawback of many zit-zapping ingredients is that they can sometimes end up over-drying your skin. Happily, there’s no need to worry about that with this guy. Yes, it boasts salicylic acid to battle breakouts, though the addition of three ceramides (one of Dr. Gross’s top recommended moisturizing ingredients if you’re prone to body breakouts), along with hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, ensure it’s still plenty moisturizing. The fact that it’s both fragrance- and paraben-free just makes it all the more gentle, an especially great pick for anyone with sensitive skin.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: NoThese 21 Body Washes Deserve Some Real Estate in Your Shower

Best Exfoliating: Glytone Exfoliating Body Wash

Glytone Exfoliating Body Wash


  • Glycolic acid for exfoliation
  • Fragrance-free

What We Don’t Like

  • Doesn’t contain any salicylic acid

Everyone should be exfoliating the skin below their chin on the reg, but this is an even more imperative step when you’re prone to body breakouts. (It’s one of the easiest ways to both keep pores clear and ensure any leave-on treatment products penetrate better.) Sure, you could use a separate body scrub—or you could make your life easier and reach for this two-in-one exfoliating wash, a go-to for Byrdie’s Commerce Editorial Director Jessica Magherefteh. An 8.8% concentration of glycolic acid goes to town, dissolving dead skin cells and other pore-clogging grime.2

Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid | Size: 6.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: NoThe 13 Best Hydrating Body Washes to Revive Dry Skin

Best Extra Strength: Murad Acne Control Acne Body Wash

Murad Acne Control Acne Body Wash


  • Physical and chemical exfoliation
  • Higher concentration of salicylic acid than others

What We Don’t Like

  • Expensive

Yes, this formula is another option that is salicylic acid-based; what sets it apart is that it contains the ingredient in a whopping 10% concentration. We know, it sounds like a lot, but because it has a short contact time—a fancy way of saying it gets washed off—you don’t need to stress about irritation. (And even more so because it also boasts soothing green tea and licorice extracts.) Date seed powder and glycolic acid also up the exfoliation, yet this is still gentle enough to be used daily.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Size: 8.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best With Benzoyl Peroxide: Humane Acne Wash

Humane Maximum-Strength Acne Wash


  • Rare option that uses benzoyl peroxide
  • Reduces inflammation and redness

What We Don’t Like

  • Can be irritating

As you may have noticed, the majority of the products on this list use salicylic acid. But there’s another top acne-fighting ingredient that, for some reason, doesn’t make its way into body washes that often. We’re talking about benzoyl peroxide, which has the ability to specifically target the bacteria associated with acne and is an effective anti-inflammatory.3 Here, it’s in a powerful 10% concentration that can be a bit too intense for the face but is ideal for the thicker skin on your body.

Active Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Scent: Mario Badescu A.H.A. Botanical Body Soap

Mario Badescu A.H.A. Botanical Body Soap


  • Smells good
  • Gentle

What We Don’t Like

  • Fragrance isn’t naturally-derived

One wash was all it took to get Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould hooked on this formula, which she relies on to ward off breakouts on her chest. The refreshing citrus scent makes every morning more pleasant, according to her, though those ingredients do more than just smell good. Papaya and grapefruit enzymes act as gentle exfoliants, and there’s also soothing oat protein in the mix.

Active Ingredients: Alpha hydroxy acids | Size: 16 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: NoThese Are the 16 Best Acne Products We Tried in 2021

Best Gel: Kosas Good Body Skin AHA + Enzyme Exfoliating Body Wash

Kosas Good Body Skin AHA + Enzyme Exfoliating Body Wash


  • Clean and natural formula
  • Lathers nicely
  • Gentle

What We Don’t Like

  • Doesn’t contain any salicylic acid

The star(s) of the show in this newbie are four different alpha hydroxy acids: lactic, mandelic, glycolic, and citric. According to Dr. Gross, AHAs are one of the top ingredients he recommends looking for in an acne body wash: “They give you an even exfoliation while also clearing pores,” he says. Here, there are also gently exfoliating natural fruit enzymes in the mix. Still, everything from the luscious lather (the gel formula suds up surprisingly well) to the clean, spa-like scent (which is naturally derived) makes this feel more like a luxurious bath product than any kind of acne treatment. 

Active Ingredients: Alpha-hydroxy acids | Size: 9 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Bar: DermaHarmony 5% Sulfur & 2% Salicylic Acid Body Bar Soap

DermaHarmony 5% Sulfur & 2% Salicylic Acid Body Bar Soap


  • Rare option that contains sulfur
  • Can be used on face or body

What We Don’t Like

  • Sulfur has a very particular smell

We get it—some people just prefer the experience of washing with a solid soap rather than a sudsy liquid wash. If that sounds like you, try this bar. Not only does it contain salicylic acid, but it also combines that with 5% sulfur (a great, anti-inflammatory acne-fighting ingredient) to give even the most stubborn of blemishes a one-two knock-out punch.

Active Ingredients: Sulfur, salicylic acid | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Scrub: First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub

First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub


  • Physical and chemical exfoliation
  • No artificial fragrance

What We Don’t Like

  • Can be intense

If you love the body wash you’re currently using, but still need to incorporate some extra blemish-busting into your routine, consider adding this scrub into the mix once or twice per week. While technically it’s meant to help treat keratosis pilaris (AKA KP AKA the red bumps that tend to pop up on the backs of your arms and thighs), it has many of the same ingredients that are good for addressing pimples, too. Namely, glycolic and lactic acid for gentle chemical exfoliation, plus pumice buffing beads to help mechanically slough off dead skin. Just FYI, this is best for those who don’t have sensitive skin; scrubs can be too harsh and irritating for those that do, cautions Dr. Gross.

What Our Editors Say

“This stuff is intense. I’ve never tried anything else like it. After one use, my skin was smooth and my blemishes were smaller—but I have to be careful not to use it more than twice a week, otherwise, my skin gets irritated.” —Kathryn Vandervalk, Editorial & Strategy Director

Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, lactic acid | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: YesThe Best Chemical Exfoliators, According to Byrdie Editors

Best Spray: Paula’s Choice Clear Acne Body Spray

Paula’s Choice Clear Acne Body Spray


  • Easy to reach tough spots
  • Effective leave-in

What We Don’t Like

  • Adds a step to body care routine

While this is technically a leave-in product and not a wash, we think it deserves a spot in your body breakout-fighting arsenal. Let’s face it, those pesky pimples in the middle of your back or top of your butt can be hard to reach, which is where this spray comes up huge. It’s easy to mist on anywhere, even those touch-to-tackle spots, delivering a 2% concentration of salicylic acid to help zap zits. Spray, let it dry for a few seconds, and go; there’s no need to rinse. If acne body washes alone don’t seem to be cutting it (or you just have a body wash you’re super loyal to), consider picking up this guy.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Subscription: Curology Acne Body Wash

curology acne body wash


  • Subscription model
  • Lathers nicely and rinses cleanly

What We Don’t Like

  • Can be hard to dispense

Never run out of body wash again. This subscription-based brand recently moved into the bod category, launching this standout sudser we love. This formula helps keep pores clear, and the wash lathers beautifully and rinses completely cleanly.

What Our Editors Say

“My back and shoulders are prone to awful cystic breakouts. It’s tough to spot-treat these areas, but a body wash makes things immensely easier. This refreshing cleanser is thick and rich and is supposed to sit on the skin for a minute before rinsing off to let it do its thing and sweep out congestion. I can see visible results from consistently using this wash.” — Lindsey Metrus, Editorial Project Director

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Size: 6.8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Final Verdict

Breakouts can happen all over your body, making an acne-fighting body wash an important part of your skin-clearing regimen. The Proactiv Deep Cleansing Body Wash (view at Amazon) earns first place in our book, containing both a 2% concentration of blemish-busting salicylic acid and exfoliating beads. Salicylic acid is also the star of the show in the classic Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Treatment Body Wash with Salicylic Acid (view at Rite Aid), a drugstore fan favorite. On the flip side, the Humane Acne Wash (view at Amazon) relies on anti-inflammatory benzoyl peroxide, at an effective 10% concentration that’s great for use on the body. And if you’re all about scent, you’ll appreciate that the Mario Badescu A.H.A. Botanical Body Soap (view at Nordstrom), a favorite among Byrdie editors, smells refreshingly citrusy (but still gently exfoliates skin to help combat clogged pores).

What to Look for in an Acne Body Wash

Salicylic Acid

Zeichner recommends reaching for a formula with salicylic acid, which is a beta-hydroxy acid if you have congested skin. It’s oil-soluble, meaning it’s great for helping to unclog pores and combat blackheads and whiteheads specifically.1

Benzoyl Peroxide

Another ingredient Zeichner recommends looking for in an acne body wash is benzoyl peroxide, which is ideal to use if your blemishes are larger, red, and/or inflamed. “Benzoyl peroxide lowers levels of acne-causing bacteria to reduce inflammation,” he says. “It can also help open up pimples themselves. I typically recommend cleansers that contain the maximum strength of 10% benzoyl peroxide to allow for the best chance of penetration into the skin.”

Foaming or Exfoliating Formulas

For those dealing with body breakouts who are generally oily or are already using other acne treatments, Zeichner recommends opting for a foaming or exfoliating formula. “These remove certain oils and keep the pores clear,” he says. This will not only help to address current blemishes but can prevent future breakouts.FAQ

  • How do you use acne body wash?Zeichner stresses the importance of treating acne body wash as an actual treatment and not just a traditional body wash that you quickly lather up and wash away. “No matter what cleanser you’re using, think of it more like a short contact treatment rather than just a cleanser,” he says. “It needs enough contact time on the skin to allow for penetration of the active ingredient for it to do its job.”
  • Can you use acne body wash on your face?According to Zeichner, in most cases, you can use your acne body wash on your face. “The active ingredients in acne washes are the same, whether they’re made for your body or your face, so you can use an acne body wash effectively on your face,” he says. “My only caution comes to body scrubs, which may be a bit too harsh for the face.” In addition to scrubs, be cautious of anything that’s heavily scented, as that can potentially cause irritation or trigger a breakout.
  • Can body wash cause acne?Some body washes—even those formulated to specifically target acne—can actually trigger acne or exacerbate existing breakouts. Zeichner says that body washes with heavy oils or fragrances can also lead to skin irritation, and in some cases, cause breakouts. That said, look for hydrating products formulated without heavy soaps or fragrances to keep your skin happy.

Why Trust Byrdie?

Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. An avid exerciser (who likes to sit around in sweaty workout clothes after the fact, oops), she’s always battling backne and uses an acne body wash every time she showers. Neutrogena’s is a long-time favorite, but she recently got hooked on the Curology option.


  • Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, is an associate professor of dermatology and the Director of Clinical and Cosmetic Research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He specializes in multiple areas of cosmetic and medical dermatology, including acne.
  • Dr. Dennis Gross is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and the founder of the Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare line, which focuses, among other things, on acne treatment and prevention.

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