Last Updated on October 12th, 2020
One of the most popular products for treating acne is the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash. But just because something is popular, that doesn’t automatically mean it works. We wanted to review this widely-used cleanser in order to determine whether it can really help treat acne long-term, or if it’s just another quick fix letdown.
We investigated its formula, how well it lines up with dermatologist recommendations for acne treatment, why people gave it 1-star reviews on multiple reviewing platforms, and how the company operates overall. This review should help you decide if the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash is the right choice for your skin. But first you’ll need to know why acne is so hard to treat in the first place.
Article Table of Contents
Acne is a multifactorial condition, meaning it is caused by several interconnected factors. These factors work together to create acne, and without treating all of them, you are guaranteed to have continued future breakouts.
The four main contributing factors to acne are:
Excess oil production, clogged pores, and inflammation are all related to the formation of blackheads and whiteheads, while acne-causing bacteria are linked directly to pimples and cysts, but the truth is, these factors all influence each other to create acne. For instance, if your skin is extra oily, you are more likely to experience clogged pores which leads to blackheads and whiteheads, but acne-causing bacteria actually feed off of the oil our skin produces, so excess oil can actually lead to pimples and cysts as well.
So to review, our skin is a complex system, and treating it can be tricky. If a company isn’t truly dedicated to understanding their product, there’s a good chance it won’t really work.
As you can see, the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash doesn’t actually do anything to get rid of your acne, and that’s a major problem. If you’re ready for your skin to be free from acne, this is probably not the product for you.
While writing this review, we found two main problems with the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash formula that prevent it from effectively treating acne. The first is the active ingredient: salicylic acid. Normally, it’s a very good thing when an acne treatment product contains salicylic acid because it’s a great ingredient for acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid gets into the pores, breaks up clogs, and removes excess oil and dead skin which can cause breakouts. So what’s the problem?
The issue is, this oil-free acne wash contains 2% salicylic acid, which is a very high concentration for this particular type of acid.
At such a high concentration, it could definitely cause irritation or inflammation. Salicylic acid is also far less effective when used in a cleanser because the acid is often washed away before it gets a chance to sink into the pores and do its job. Unless you are careful to wash your face for a full minute twice a day before you rinse thoroughly, the salicylic acid is basically wasted and does nothing at all.
The other issue with this particular face wash Neutrogena designed is the inclusion of several very harsh surfactants, like cocamidopropyl betaine, benzalkonium chloride, sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate. Surfactants are chemicals that cling to particles to help remove them, so they are often used in cleansers and face washes to help remove excess oil and dead skin cells, but they are often much too harsh. Several of the surfactant ingredients found in this face wash are known to potentially cause dermatitis (an inflammatory rash) and their use has been restricted in skincare products in countries like Canada and Japan.
Before buying something, you probably check out all the 5-star reviews on various review sites to make sure it’s really as good as it sounds. But this strategy is flawed. First, large companies can easily manipulate their 5-star reviews so more and better reviews come up if you are considering buying their product. Second, if you only look at positive reviews, you may be missing out on patterns that show major problems with the product.
We know sifting through 1-star reviews isn’t fun, so we’ve saved you the trouble. We looked at 58 1-star reviews from Amazon, Influenster, and Acne.org to find the 3 main complaints people had about this cleanser, and we’ve compiled all the information here for you in one brief review.
The first and most common problem people had with this face cleanser is excessively dry skin. Out of 58 reviews, a whopping 31 of them complained of incredibly dry, tight, flaky skin after using this cleanser. Dry skin is very easily inflamed, which means this product could definitely lead to increased breakouts as well, which was another major complaint. 15 reviewers said that this wash actually left them with more acne than when they started. Finally, 12 users reported a more serious problem with this cleanser: a horrible rash. For some, the rash went away once they stopped using the product or took some antihistamines, but for others, it took their skin weeks to recover.
Real 1-Star Reviews:
worst product i have ever used. within 24 hours of me using it- my face broke out into a rash, caused lots of tiny pimples, made my face BURN and ITCH and now has made my skin so dry that it’s flaking off of my face. i wish i could give it a 0 stars. wouldn’t recommend this to my worst enemy.
This was my very first face cleanser. I tried using it again to hash our my hormonal acne and let me tell you. This stuff really dries your skin. It was so harsh my skin started to crack and I felt like all the good oils in my skin were sucked out. Even with my usual extra hydrating moisturizer it didn’t help the harshness of the product.
I bought this product less than a week.. Didn’t like it at all.. Didn’t see any results, and after using it for 4 days it made my face itchy, red, irritated, & my skin started to peel off real bad around my mouth & around my nose.. Also noticed black spots around my mouth! I DONT RECOMMEND IT AT ALL!!
I have very sensitive skin, and chronic acne. This was quite highly rated on multiple sites, so I decided to try it out. Within three uses spaced over 6 days, my skin was back to being extremely dry, itchy, and breaking out twice as badly as normal. I hadn’t changed anything else in my routine or diet. This product will be thrown away. I’m extremely disappointed, as it took months to rebuild my moisture barrier from the last time it was removed by harsh treatments.
This product dried out my skin and irritated it! Now my skin is even worst than before.
While writing this review, we found that this particular Neutrogena face wash is not the exception, it’s the rule. The vast majority of their products do not actually address all of the causes of acne and as a result, they often don’t work. This is because the company itself is not invested in helping you get rid of your acne, which is clear once you investigate their business practices.
One of the first things we look for when writing a review for a product is a solid return policy and product guarantee. If a company doesn’t put their money where their mouth is, then they clearly don’t believe in their own product, which is a huge red flag. This is exactly the case with Neutrogena. If you buy their products on their online store, they offer a 30-day return policy, but if you buy them from one of their many authorized retailers like Amazon or Walmart, the products are only protected by that store’s particular return policy. Plus, they don’t offer any kind of guarantee that their product will actually work. If it doesn’t, or if you get the horrible rash described above, you’re out of luck.
Another red flag is the fact that they aren’t accredited by the Better Businesses Bureau (BBB).
The BBB helps resolve disputes between customers and companies, and they provide a rating to help consumers determine whether a business is trustworthy or not. For such a large company to not be accredited is very strange, and signals to us that they may be hiding some shady business practices.
Acne is complicated, but it is possible to get clear skin as long as you address all of the contributing factors and avoid using excessively harsh ingredients. Instead of trying to get rid of all of your acne right away using the strongest methods possible, it’s far more effective to focus on preventing future breakouts through gentle, consistent care.
As you might have already guessed, one cleanser isn’t going to be able to free you from acne all by itself, and certainly not this particular cleanser. If you have acne-prone skin, what you really need is a kit of acne-treatment products like a face wash, a toner, and a treatment cream that work together to address all of the various causes of acne.
Our top recommendation for this kind of kit is Exposed Skin Care. They are accredited by the BBB with an A+ rating, and they don’t use any ingredients that could give you dermatitis. Instead, they combine the best scientific ingredients with the best natural ingredients to create formulas that actually work. Their products include benzoyl peroxide to kill acne bacteria, salicylic acid to unclog pores, green tea extract to prevent inflammation, and tea tree extract to reduce excessive oil production.
Best of all, they really believe in their product. If your skin hasn’t cleared up after a year of using Exposed products, all you have to do is reach out and they will provide you with a full refund.