Written by Lisa Allen, MD
One of the choices that those of us with acne-prone skin have to make is whether to wash our face with a medicated acne wash, or a non-medicated gentle cleanser. In this article I’m going to make my case as to why I think non-medicated face washes are the better choice for most people, including myself.
I have 3 specific reasons for thinking this, and I’ll explain each of them. This is, of course, only my personal opinion, but I do think that I am uniquely qualified to give some insight into this issue. Not only have I been personally struggling with acne for 13+ years, but I have also used nearly every kind of over-the-counter and prescription product on the market in that time.
So let’s get right into it. Here are my 3 reasons why I think you should be using a non-medicated face wash.
The first reason is that it’s simply less irritating to the skin.I think that a lot of people who have acne really underestimate the role that skin irritation plays in the formation of acne blemishes. Many cases of moderate-to-severe acne would only be mild if it weren’t for the excessive irritation that the person places their skin under.
Now of course this is generally done with the best intentions: the person wants to clear their skin. But often it has the opposite effect and the person cannot figure out why washing three times per day and using several topicals at a time isn’t clearing them up.
By using a facial cleanser that does nothing but remove dirt, oil, cosmetics, and whatever else is on your skin, you avoid irritation enough that you can safely cleanse the face twice a day, and that leads to my next point.
There’s a few reasons why I believe that applying a topical medication after you wash is far better than simply using a cleanser with medication. First, however, I have to address the question that probably just popped into your head: why can’t you wash with medicated cleanser and also apply a topical medication?
The answer goes back to my previous point: irritation. Most medicated cleansers contain salicylic acid, which is known to be irritating to the skin. Applying a topical medication to the face after you’ve just washed it with salicylic acid is going to cause lots of irritation, no matter what the topical is. The only exception to this is if a dermatologist instructs you to do so, but that will only happen after he has determined that it will be best for your particular skin type, and you’re probably not qualified to determine that.
So why is medication after washing better than medication during washing? The first reason is that the topical medication will remain on your skin all day, as opposed to simply being rinsed away immediately. I shouldn’t need to say much more about why having an acne-fighting ingredient on your skin all day is better than having it on for 10 seconds while you wash!
The other reason is quite simply: most topicals are far better at treating acne than salicylic acid washes. While salicylic acid in a face wash can work somewhat for mild acne, even salicylic acid works better when applied as a topical. Not only that, but there are other topicals which generally work better than salicylic acid, which brings me to my final reason as to why non-medicated face washes are better.
When you leave the acne treatment for after your face is washed, it gives you more treatment options. My preferred acne treatment is a 2.5% concentration benzoyl peroxide topical. The reason for this is that it simply works better than anything else I’ve ever come across.
If you’re using a salicylic acid wash, or even a benzoyl peroxide wash, there’s no way you could apply benzoyl peroxide as a topical after washing and not cause excessive amount of irritation that will make your acne worse. Simply put: topical acne treatments work better than face washes at clearing skin. It’s just that simple.
Now that I’ve made my case as to why I feel that non-medicated face washes are better than medicated washes, here are some gentle, non-medicated cleansers that I personally recommend.
I’ve written a full review here, but to sum up this is a very gentle cleansing bar that’s going to do nothing except remove dirt, oil, and makeup from your skin and prepare is for a topical treatment. No irritation at all, highly recommended. This is the one that I’m personally using right now, partly because it works great, and partly because the large size is so economically priced.