I’m a thrifty shopper. I like to discern between true quality and reputation whenever possible. That’s why I love a good drugstore gem. There are plenty of products in the drugstore that really stack up well against pricier products. In particular, I’ve always been a fan of Neutrogena’s acne line. Now, they don’t necessarily have the serious spot treatments of my favorite masks, but for basic cleansers and moisturizers that work, I really think they’re a good option. Nonetheless, with several products formulated for acne, which one is the best? Here I have the best of Neutrogena’s acne products.
What Are the Best/Worst Facial Cleansers for Acne?
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Foam Cleanser found itself in my good graces in particular because of an inactive ingredient: Neem. Nearly all of Neutrogena’s acne-fighting cleansers contain salicylic acid, which is a beta-hydroxy acid that softens keratin, loosening dead skin cells and helping to clean out the clogged pores that cause acne (DermNet NZ). Where this particular cleanser shines is the inclusion of Neem extract, which is an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agent that’s been shown to help fight Propionibacterium acne and Staphylococcus epidermidis, the bacteria that causes most cases of acne (International Journal of Pharmaceutical Science Invention). Better yet, it’s generally been found to be non-irritating (GAB).[Read more: Spotlight On: Salicylic Acid]
Ingredients in Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Foam Cleanser: Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid 2.0%; Inactive Ingredients: Water, Sodium Laureth-13 Carboxylate, Peg-8, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium C12-15 Pareth-15 Sulfonate, Methyl Gluceth-20, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Tocopheryl Acetate, Neem Leaf Extract, Cocamidoprop
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control® Power Clear Scrub also contains salicylic acid, as well as soothing, anti-inflammatory green tea and cucumber, which are a boon to super inflamed, broken out skin. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you want to baby your skin when it has acne — since it’s tempting to just scrub away — but this is a nice balance of soothing and scrub.[Read more: Spotlight On: Green Tea]
I chose this over Neutrogena Clear Pore Daily Scrub, which contains benzoyl peroxide and kaolin, because of the use of benzoyl peroxide all over the face. Benzoyl peroxide works to kill P. acne by creating free radicals in the skin, making it a killer (literally) spot treatment. But there has been some debate about whether benzoyl peroxide’s creation of free radicals are harmful to skin in the long run (New Beauty).
Ingredients in Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control® Power Clear Scrub: Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid 2%; Inactive Ingredients: Water, Cetyl Alcohol, PPG-15 Stearyl Ether, Glycolic Acid, Glycerin, Polyethylene, Polysorbate 60, Steareth-21, C12-15 Alkyl Lactate, Cetyl Lactate, Cocamidopropyl PG-Dimonium Chloride Phosphate, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate, Disodium EDTA, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Benzotriazolyl, Butylphenol Sulfonate, Sodium Hydroxide, Tocopherol, Panthenol, Cucumus Sativus Fruit Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Butylene Glycol, Menthol, Microcrystalline Wax, Benzalkonium Chloride, Yellow 5, Green 5, Blue 1, Fragrance
Unfortunately, the Neutrogena Rapid Clear Oil-Control Foam Cleanser doesn’t have any ingredients that lessen oil production so much as they dry the bejesus out of your face (looking at you, potassium stearate). Even though your skin might have a lot of excess oil, drying it out won’t curb oil production and can really exacerbate the issues of acne.
Ingredients in Neutrogena Rapid Clear Oil-Control Foam Cleanser: Water, Potassium Stearate, Glycerin, Peg-8, Propylene Glycol, Potassium Myristate, Potassium Laurate, Stearic Acid, Beeswax, Glyceryl Stearate, Peg-100 Stearate, Fragrance
What Is the Best/Worst Moisturizer for Acne?
And here’s our friend salicylic acid again, popping up to clear out those pores! But that’s not the only reason I plucked the Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne Defense Face Lotion from the three that Neutrogena has to target acne. This one has the inclusion of cinnamomum zeylancium bark extract or cinnamon extract. Much like neem oil, cinnamon extract has been shown to kill Propionibacterium acne and Staphylococcus epidermidis to help eliminate acne. In fact, of the oils tested, this one showed the maximum antibacterial benefits, beating out much-loved tea tree oil and rosemary oil (International Journal of Pharmaceutical Science Invention).
Ingredients in Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne Defense Face Lotion: Active Ingredient: Salicylic Acid 2% Inactive Ingredients: Water, C12 15 Alkyl Benzoate, Butylene Glycol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethiconol Beeswax, Dimethicone, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG 100 Stearate, Hydrogenated Palm Glycerides, Capryloyl Glycine, Sarcosine, Cinnamomum Zeylancium Bark Extarct, Hexylene Glycol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Cedrus Atlantica Bark Extract, Bisabolol, Allantoin, Propylene Glycol, Xanthan Gum, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Sodium Hydroxide, Fragrance
Worst: Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Blemish Cream
*Editor’s Note: After this article was published, the Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Blemish Cream was discontinued.
There’s a reason that treating acne and aging at the same time is a tough gig — and that’s because some of the best ingredients don’t mesh well. Generally, we advise not using retinoids and BHAs (i.e. salicylic acid) at the same time. That’s because retinol conversion is optimal at a neutral pH and BHAs create an acidic pH in the skin temporarily (Journal of Investigative Dermatology). Using basic products can change the skin’s pH, so salicylic acid will temporarily lower the skin’s pH and so the retinol won’t have optimal conditions in the skin (Dermatologic Therapy). Essentially, they’ll still work, but not nearly as effectively as if they’d been used separately. So if you want these products to be the most effective on skin, you don’t want to use them at the same time. We generally recommend using AHAs, BHAs, and other acids during the day and retinoids at night. Unfortunately, this product doesn’t give you the option of using them separately, so it’s not your best choice for acne + aging care.
Ingredients in: Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid 2% Inactive Ingredients: Water, Peg-32, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Cetearyl Alcohol, Retinol, Erythorbic Acid, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopherol, Piper Methysticum Extract, Panthenol, Allantoin, Steareth-21, Coco-glucoside, Steareth-2, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Peg-8, Bht, Peg-8/Smdi Copolymer, Disodium Edta, Ammonium Hydroxide, Polysorbate 20, Methylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Propylparaben, Fragrance
What About Toners and Spot Treatments?
After looking at Neutrogena’s lineup, I think their toners and spot treatments leave something to be desired. The two toners, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control® Triple Action Toner and Neutrogena Rapid Clear 2-in-1 Fight & Fade Toner, and single spot treatment, Rapid Clear Acne-Eliminating Spot Gel, all contain quite a lot of alcohol. While some alcohol can benefit a formula in various ways, the percentages in these (40%, 38%, and 38%, respectively) will dry skin out way too much, and leave you with a miserable combination of dry and acne-inflammed skin. Ouch!
Neutrogena has some great products for clearing acne, though I’d recommend adding on top of them. You’ll want a sunscreen, and Neutrogena has a great one in Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock with Helioplex ($11.99, Amazon.com). You’ll also want a spot treatment, something like ZapZyt($6.64, Amazon.com) with benzoyl peroxide and Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment ($22, Amazon.com) with sulfur. Sulfur and benzoyl peroxide work well together — so, well, in fact, that the pair actually increase each other’s efficacy. But overall, while some of Neutrogena’s products aren’t winners, many of them are. They contain great acne-fighting ingredients and they’re formulated to limit irritation. Overall, Neutrogena is definitely a drugstore gem.
Looking for the best skin care? FutureDerm is committed to having its customers find — and create — the best skin care for their individual skin type, concern, and based on your ingredient preferences. Learn more by visiting the FutureDerm shop!
*Editor’s Note: This post contains affiliate links.