Washing Your Face With Antibacterial Hand Soap for Acne

Man cleansing hands -- does anitbacterial hand soap clear acne?
Photo: JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

You use antibacterial hand soap to get your skin squeaky clean and reduce bacteria. So, you start thinking, maybe this would help clear up your skin?

Does antibacterial hand soap make a good acne treatment cleanser?

Antibacterial Hand Soap Won't Clear Acne

Antibacterial hand soap isn't a great choice if you're looking for a facial cleanser to treat acne.

It's true that the bacterium Propioni acnes is one factor linked to acne development.

Reducing acne-causing bacteria can have a positive effect on your skin.

But bacteria is only one piece of the acne-causing puzzle. There are other factors at work too—hormones, abnormal shedding of skin cells, and overactive sebaceous glands.

These factors contribute to the development of comedones, which is a fancy name for plugged pore.  These pore blockages start off so tiny that you can't see them with the naked eye. But as they grow they can progress into blackheads or inflamed blemishes like papules and pustules

Antibacterial soap can't stop pore blockages from forming. To improve acne you have to get all of these factors under control, not just bacteria.

"Squeaky Clean" Isn't Good for Your Skin (and Won't Clear Breakouts Either)

Remember also that antibacterial hand soaps are made for, well, your hands. The skin on your hands is tougher and can generally tolerate stronger cleansers than the delicate skin on your face.

Using hand soap on the face can easily over-dry and irritate your skin. Squeaky clean isn't what you're going for here. Over-drying and irritating your skin can actually make acne breakouts worse.

A cleanser designed for the face, not the hands, is a much better way to clean delicate facial skin. So keep the hand soap for your hands.

There are better antibacterial cleansing options for your face.

As far as for body breakouts, antibacterial hand soap doesn't make the best body wash either. While it may not dry your skin out (depending on how oily your skin is naturally, of course) it's unlikely to do much to clear breakouts. These products just aren't formulated to treat acne.

Instead of Antibacterial Hand Soap, Try an OTC Acne Treatment Product

Products designed to clear pimples simply are going to work better than antibacterial hand soap. If you're keen on using a cleanser or wash, there are plenty of acne facial cleanser options.

The ingredients you should look for in your OTC acne cleanser are benzoyl peroxide and/or salicylic acid.  Benzoyl peroxide not only will help reduce bacteria, but can also reduce oiliness and keep pores from becoming plugged. It's the most effective acne-fighting ingredient that you can get over the counter.

Salicylic acid isn't quite the powerhouse as benzoyl peroxide, but it has its benefits too. Salicylic acid helps speed up cell turnover and keeps pores from becoming plugged, so it's a good fit for comedonal acne. It also helps boost the effectiveness of benzoyl peroxide when they're used together.

You needn't spend a lot of money on an acne cleanser either. A drugstore brand can work just as well as a fancy salon product. Just make sure you check for either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid in the active ingredients.

Keep in mind, cleansers aren't the only OTC acne treatment options. Toners, medicated cleansing pads, and lotions containing the aforementioned ingredients are also great choices.

If OTC Acne Products Aren't Working, Move Up to a Prescription Acne Medication

Of course, there are plenty of prescription acne medications available too. If you've already tried an over-the-counter acne product with no improvement, prescription acne medications are the next step.

This is also the route you should take if your acne is moderate to severe.  Over-the-counter treatments just won't be strong enough to get your acne under control.

In any case, if you need help getting your acne cleared up, ask your physician or dermatologist.

A Word from Verywell

Getting acne under control can be trying. And, with all the products on the market and conflicting info you come across, it can seem overwhelming too.

The most important thing to remember is that proven treatments, both OTC and prescription, will net you the best results. Most of those acne treatment hacks involving odd ingredients just aren't grounded in science and won't get you the results you're looking for. That means antibacterial hand soap is out.

If you need help choosing the right acne treatment for you, your dermatologist is just a phone call away.

Sources:

"Acne." AAD.org. American Academy of Dermatology, n.d. Web. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne-and-rosacea/acne

Choi YS, Suh HS, Yoon MY, Min SU, Kim JS, Jung JY, Lee DH, Suh DH. "A study of the efficacy of cleanser for acne vulgaris." J Dermatolog Treat. 2010 May; 21(3):201-5.

"Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Jan 2006. National Institutes of Health.

Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5): 945-73.

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