5 Best Facial Cleansers for Acne in Singapore: Dermatologist’s Guide

Looking for the best acne face wash? Acne facial cleansers are essential for acne treatment. Especially in Singapore’s humid climate, dirt, oil mixed with makeup is the perfect breeding ground for acne causing bacteria. Here is a complete guide to how the pharmacy’s microbiome skincare can help you achieve acne-free, clear skin. We cover the 5 best types of facial cleansers targeting acne prone and oily skin types, used in Singapore. These include chemical antibacterial acne cleansers, AHA/BHA acid based acne cleansers, botanical emulsifiers type of face wash, gentle face cleansers and micellar cleansers. 

We also cover those stocked by our pharmacy, facial cleansers dermatologist formulated for acne prone and sensitive skin. This article is written in conjunction with our founder board certified dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin and is vetted for scientific accuracy. Dr. Teo is the author of “The Maskne Microbiome” a peer-reviewed scientific research paper in publication with the International Journal of Dermatology in 2021.

1. Antibacterial acne face washes – chemical based

Conventional acne facial cleansers are based on triclosan or cetrimide. Triclosan is a chemical based antibacterial disinfectant incorporated in acne facial cleansers. However, the FDA issued a warning on triclosan for its possible hormone disrupting effects. In addition, we know more about the skin microbiome now. Hence, the best facial cleansers for acne are designed to help treat the skin microbiome rather than wipe it out.

Antibacterial disinfectants are not beneficial for the microbiome. Antibacterial acne face washes based on triclosan and cetrimide wipe out both the good and bad bacteria and can even lead to bacterial resistance in the long term. They can also be harsh on sensitive skin. 

2. AHA/BHA acid based acne cleansers

Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in face washes for oily and acne prone skin. This compound is a beta hydroxy acid which penetrates deeper into the dermis. Salicylic acid has additional benefits as it helps regulate oil production.

Using AHAs and BHAs for skin exfoliation

Acid based facial cleansers for acne have an additional  exfoliating effect. Salicylic acid is beneficial for individuals with oily skin types however, if you suffer from sensitive skin, or have a family history of eczema, be careful about acne facial cleansers with acids. For example, even using a mild acid like a salicylic acid face wash for acne in Singapore can cause skin dryness and irritation. This is especially when these acne facial cleansers are in use in the medium to long term. It may cause irritant contact dermatitis. This is due to disruption of the skin barrier because the acids dissolve the connections between superficial skin cells, known as corneocytes. 

If you live in Singapore,the year-long high UV exposure can cause photosensitivity for those using acid based acne facial cleansers. it is best to use a broad spectrum sunscreen always in any case. While salicylic acid and alpha hydroxy acids have both been incorporated into face washes for acne, salicylic acid can be considered gentler on sensitive skin.

Our pharmacy’s specialty: Papaya enzyme peels for acne and sensitive skin 

Exfoliating skin is a good concept, especially for those who suffer from oily acne prone skin. However, it can cause irritation if you suffer from sensitive skin. Signs of contact dermatitis from chemical peel agents in facial cleansers include stinging, burning or redness. If you have acne prone as well as sensitive skin, cleansers with conventional chemical peel agents like salicylic acid or alpha hydroxy acids are not part of dermatologist recommendations.

Our dermatologist-approved skincare pharmacy caters to those with skin problems including acne, sensitive skin and use during pregnancy.  All our products do not contain any chemical peel acids or retinols, which are not safe during pregnancy.

Also, our acne care products cater for Singapore’s sunny climate. A tropical summer climate can make one more sensitive to glycolic acids and salicylic acids. These acids are usually part of a dermatologist’s office offerings as chemical peels. It helps to exfoliate the top layer of skin cells leaving newer skin cells underneath. However, this means skin is more prone to sunburns and UV- induced damage. 

Dermatologist Tools Beauty Bar for Facial Cleansing
Universal Skin Types – Oily, Combination, Sensitive, Troubled Skin

A UNIVERSAL BEAUTY BAR – Papain Enzyme Peels for the Skin Microbiome

Our specialty prescriptive service compounds papain enzyme peels in a micronutrient-rich formula suitable for sensitive skin. It delivers with our Universal Beauty Bar, a skin peeling device using hydro microdermabrasion. This is currently the standard of care for our clients suffering from acne, and replaces chemical peels based on glycolic and salicylic acid traditionally use for acne. Papain is a derivative from papaya enzymes, a powerhouse of skin micronutrients that also helps strengthen skin immunity.

The best acne facial washes target multiple acne pathways

An ideal acne face wash has antibacterial functions to stabilise the skin microbiome. All facial cleansers should have moisturising ingredients to protect the skin barrier. This helps to optimise local skin immune function and prevent excessively dry skin from cleansing. The best acne face cleanser should also have anti-inflammatory ingredients to reduce comedone (whitehead) formation. 

Why chemical peel-only face cleansers for acne do not work

Dermatologist’s PRO TIP on acne cleansers: Acne itself is not just a problem of dead skin cells in retention at the surface of the skin. It is also related to hormonal fluctuations, as well as imbalances in the skin microbiome, which is why your skin care should address these things. 

3. Acne face wash based on botanical/nature derived emulsifiers

A botanical emulsifier is currently our pharmacy’s primary choice for an ideal acne facial cleanser. An acne face wash, besides restoring a healthy microbiome, can help to strengthen the skin’s resilience with botanical antioxidants. The honey cleanser is contains purified medical grade honey, stabilised with botanical antioxidants like artemisia vulgaris and arnica montana. Purified medical grade honey has a natural antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effect on skin. Unlike chemical antibacterial agents, it does not disrupt the delicate skin microbiome. 

Honey Cleanser amongst the Best Facial Cleansers
Miel Honey Cleanser provides thorough cleansing of skin with botanical emulsifiers leaving a clean yet moisturised feel. Arnica Montana Extract stabilizes skin and reduces flaking.

In fact, medical grade honey is used in wound dressings for surgery. This is because honey is able to inhibit the growth of bacteria. This is preferable over a chemical disinfectant, which kills all the harmful and good bacteria, destroying the skin microbiome. For example, medical grade honey can be considered a bacteriostatic agent. This means when used in an acne face wash, it slows down the growth of bacteria, enabling healthy bacteria to thrive. Bacteriostatic agents are the primary choice in our pharmacy as it encourages a healthy skin microbiome. 

Soy-based cleansers are also an alternative form of botanical cleansers. These form a lather naturally and can help to cleanse skin gently. At the same time, it provides sufficient surfactant activity to remove dirt, oil and grime. 

4. Generic dermatologist recommended gentle face cleansers

Sodium Laureth Sulfate Facial Cleansers 

The other type of acne face wash recommended by dermatologists are universal gentle facial cleansers suitable for all skin types including acne prone skin. These traditional gentle cleansing formulas are based on surfactants such as sodium laureth sulfate (SLS). SLS has a bad name because it can deplete the skin barrier. However, one may be surprised to find it in a number of dermatologist recommended facial cleansers. The key here is that concentration matters. The gentle dermatologist recommended cleansers have lower concentration of SLS than traditional soaps. However, a foaming agent is still required for a cleansing function. These types of acne facial cleansers do not fare well in Singapore because they do not foam well. When the concentration of SLS is low, there is hardly any foam. Users with oily acne prone skin are usually not comfortable using a cleanser that does not leave their skin feeling cleansed. 

Other Gentle Facial Cleansers

Several other dermatologist recommended brands of gentle facial cleansers can be used together with active acne treatment. There may be alternative amino acid cleansers which are lower in pH and hence less likely to disrupt the skin barrier. The other disadvantage of dermatologist recommended generic gentle cleansers is that these do not have direct antibacterial activity. Hence, they do not treat acne directly. They are likely to be less effective for long term treatment and maintenance. 

Deep Cleanse Shampoo for Scalp Cleansers
For those suffering from “fungal acne” which really isn’t acne at all but a form of yeast-induced folliculitis, our Deep Cleanse Shampoo helps to treat the scalp first with an amino acid surfactant combined with zinc pyrithone and salicylic acid. This reduces the host of fungi living on the scalp, eventually improving forehead “fungal acne”. If you have persistent acne on the forehead, around the hairline area, it may not just be acne. Fungal acne also known as pityrosporum folliculitis can cause acne-like breakouts on the forehead and jawline area. 

5. Micellar cleansers

Micellar face washes are popular for makeup removal. What many do not realise is that micellar facial cleansers can actually dehydrate skin compared to milk or oil based makeup removers. Micellar cleansers are usually advertised as for quick and easy makeup removal in one step. How do micellar cleansers work? Micellar cleansing utilises hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties of micellar molecules in cleansing.

The principle is this, repel the water-phobic or rather hydrophobic components such as dirt, oil and grime in the process of cleansing in order to remove dirt. The disadvantage of micellar face washes is that it does not have any residual bacteriostatic activity. Also, it can be quite drying on skin. If using a washcloth, the rubbing action required to get makeup pigments off can abrade skin. Cleansing oils and milks are better for makeup removal for all skin types for this reason. It hydrates and leaves a moisturising layer on skin as the makeup pigments are dissolved. 

#ASKDRTWL Frequently Asked Questions about best acne cleansing methods

Ask a Dermatologist: Science of Skin Cleansing

How does cleansing affect the skin microbiome?

Cleansing is an important part of the skin microbiome because it helps to restore the natural balance of good and bad bacteria. In acne prone individuals, we consider propionibacterium acnes as a pathogenic bacteria. P acnes otherwise doesn’t cause problems in other individuals. The reason is because excessive growth of p acnes occurs in individuals who produce a certain type of oil- defined by its physical and chemical composition. P. acnes has been identified in acne prone individuals which drives a vicious cycle of inflammation and comedone formation. 

What are the best acne face washes for the Singapore climate?

The best acne face washes for Singapore’s climate is one that can effectively quickly and efficiently dissolve oil makeup dirt and grime without excessive rubbing of friction on skin. This is why for those who wear makeup, an effective cleansing makeup remover pad is recommended such as what we use which utilises micellar textiles. Essentially, it is the same concept as Micellar Water cleansing, except that it is using a textile which is much gentler on skin as it does not have a drying effect. 

Is cleansing part of acne treatment? 

Cleansing is an important part of acne treatment because acne is due to an imbalance of the skin microbiome. Effective cleansing helps to restore the balance of the microbiome. As excessive oil production also drives acne, using a cleanser that removes excess oil while rebalancing moisture levels is ideal. 

How does cleansing affect oil production?

Proper cleansing can regulate oil production. Over cleansing, however, is discouraged. This because it can lead to reactive seborrhoea, a case where there is more oil production because the skin undergoes excessive dehydration. 

How often should I wash my face? The dangers of over cleansing 

The dangers of over cleansing are obvious if you notice stinging, burning or tight skin sensation after using a cleanser. This cleanser is too strong for you. It is good hygiene to cleanse your face after a workout. We do not recommend to cleanse your face more often than twice a day as that can disrupt the skin barrier. 

Every cleanser causes my face to sting and burn! 

If your cleanser causes your skin to sting and to burn, this is not normal. Stinging and burning sensations are a sign that you may have developed contact dermatitis.  Even if you have been using the same cleanser for a long time, you can develop skin irritation. You may not be allergic to it, however over time excessive use of a particular ingredient in the cleanser can sensitise your skin. 

For example alpha hydroxy acids and laureth sulfates can disrupt the skin barrier over time. Some individuals eventually report sensitivity and stinging even with just washing their face with water. In this case, it would be necessary to visit a dermatologist. A rare condition known as  cosmetic intolerance syndrome can result in sensitivities to multiple skincare products or even with washing with water alone. 

Does Singapore’s humid climate worsen acne ?

Singapore’s climate unfortunately does worsen acne because increased humidity can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria. Especially in the era of mask wearing and maskne. The humid Singapore climate encourages the production of oil, a problem in acne prone individuals. This can be due to higher humidity – as a response to the environment, the skin can have difficulty regulating sebum. Hence, acne prone individuals must adhere to best  practices for effective cleansing to minimise flare ups. 

Dermatologist PRO tips on best cleansing tips for acne prone skin

Benefits of using a makeup remover pad with double cleansing method

Double cleansing for makeup removal

Double cleansing is part of the recommendations for makeup removal, cleansing first with a cleansing oil or cleansing milk then follow by a lathering cleanser. 

Removing sunscreen 

The above method is also applicable for those removing sunscreen as sunscreen usually uses an oil vehicle formulation in order to be effective. 

Best cleansing technique for those with acne

Those with acne should cleanse their face efficiently. This means using the right products to remove makeup without exerting excessive friction or pressure on inflamed skin. For example, the micellar textile makeup remover pad uses microfibre technology to physically remove all dirt, grime and makeup pigments with just water alone. This minimises friction on skin. Used with the Cleansing Essence or the Le Lait Milk Cleanser, the calming ingredients infuse skin while makeup pigments are thoroughly dissolved and efficiently removed with the wiping action. Unlike normal cotton pads which exert friction on skin, the ultra soft textile ensures there is zero skin irritation. Follow with the Miel Honey Cleanser for a thorough cleanse. 

Milk Cleanser with Microfibre Cleansing Pad

“The benefits of using a microfibre makeup remover pad are that it can help to utilise textiles to physically remove dirt, oil and grime. Especially for heavily pigmented waterproof makeup like mascara and eyeliner, using the Micellar Makeup Remover pad first ensures the larger makeup pigments and particles are efficiently removed, in a gentle way before water cleansing. Otherwise, one may end up using excessive amounts of cleanser and friction to remove residual makeup,” dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin.

Use a cleansing device that helps with acne treatment

The best cleansing devices for acne are microdermabrasion and sonic cleansing. These are the technologies we recommend in our pharmacy.  

Microdermabrasion cleansing for acne prone skin

Microdermabrasion can be with a physical abrasive tip or with vacuum microdermabrasion.

The SilkPeel is fitted with the CUIONS nanoparticle microdermabrasion tip. The tip consists of copper oxide that is less abrasive than a diamond tip but still effectively removes the top layer of skin without any acids. Microdermabrasion helps to renew the skin cells at the surface and also helps to increase penetration of active acne ingredients.  This is a critical part of acne treatment. Follicular plugging or “clogged pores” in acne is caused by retention of dead skin cells at the pores, causing whiteheads to form. 

For those interested in a clinical medi-facial at home, our 2022 launch Universal Beauty Bar is a must-have countertop beauty machine. It delivers a medical grade facial with our proprietary solutions. Infused with papain enzymes from papaya extract, it is suitable for daily use even for sensitive skin types. 

Papain Enzyme Peel with Universal Beauty Bar

The pharmacy compounds our signature fruit peel with papain enzyme, a gentle enzyme peel suitable for sensitive skin. Request for it under our prescriptives booking function. The papain peel is designed for use with our home peeling machines, the SilkPeel and the Universal Beauty Bar

Sonic cleansing for removing microparticulate air pollutants 

Sonic cleanser is also useful for acne sufferers as an optimal cleansing device. Used together with an effective cleanser, sonic technology helps to create ultrasonic wave vibrations for thorough cleansing. It can dislodge micro particulate matter such as airborne PM2.5 pollutants, all of which interact negatively with the skin microbiome. 

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