What I like most about these two cleansing methods is that you are using one-ingredient products. If you have a bad reaction or your skin gets worse, you know where it’s coming from. There’s no added actives, sulfates, or fragrance; making them a gentle option.
When you are in the midst of acne breakouts or any kind of inflammatory skin condition, the less products and ingredients you are using on your skin, the better.
These two cleansing methods are both gentle, yet very different.
Honey is a mild cleanser, naturally antibacterial, has wound healing properties, and is a humectant drawing moisture to the skin. Oil is also mild, but a lot more effective at removing makeup and sunscreen. It also loosens buildup of dead skin cells and sebum from pores and off the surface of the skin, and can balance oil production.
Which one should you try?
Honey face wash or oil cleansing for acne – which is better?
Both are good, and both are worth trying. But best to start with one. For active acne and acne prone skin, I recommend starting with honey as a face wash.
Out of the two cleansing methods, washing your face with honey is the gentlest because you apply it to your skin with your fingers and rinse it off. Oil cleansing method you need a wash cloth to remove the oil, which can sometimes be too rough for sensitive or broken out skin.
Also, with acne skin, some people respond really well to oil, others just don’t. It has nothing to do with your skin type if you have oily or dry skin. Some skin gets balanced from oils, other get clogged up. Sometimes trying different types of oils can help, other times not.
Honey can be better tolerated as long as you don’t have a bee allergy or a sensitivity to pollens.
The wound-healing and antibacterial properties of honey is very therapeutic for acne, and it’s a lot gentler than medicated acne washes.
But, if you regularly use a lot of makeup, especially difficult to remove makeup like longwear foundations or waterproof sunscreens; honey probably won’t be able to remove it. In this case you would need to use a makeup remover first, and then wash your face with honey. Or, try the oil cleansing method instead which removes sunscreen and makeup really well.
Also, honey is slightly astringent and antibacterial. Sometimes this can cause sensitivity for dry and sensitive skin types, especially when used as a cleanser twice a day, every day.
As you can see, as much as I’d love to give you a clear cut answer which to do, there are some additional variables to consider. I say start with honey as a cleanser, but if you wear a lot of makeup, have very sensitive skin, or hate the idea of using honey on your face, try the oil cleansing instead.
In this blog post I’ve listed out instructions for both cleansing methods, tips for getting the best results, and what bad reactions to watch out for. I also made a video demo of both cleansing methods (video is at the top of this post). If neither cleansing methods works out for you, I’ve listed some other recommended cleansers for acne prone skin at the end of this blog article.
And just a reminder – your cleanser is not going to magically wash acne and pimples away. As much as I would love a product to make acne disappear overnight, it’s not going to happen. What these cleansers will do is gently wash your face without aggravating and irritating breakouts, so that they can heal faster. Most acne products are too strong for breakouts, causing dryness and irritation resulting in an an increased production of sebum, inflammation, redness, and more clogged pores. We want to move away from that.
Honey as a facial cleanser for acne
Honey has long been used in skin care and hair care products. According to research, honey has antimicrobial properties and wound healing effects making it a therapeutic treatment for inflammatory skin conditions, dressing wounds, and treating fungal infections. It’s also a humectant, and smoothes and conditions the skin.
Benefits of honey for acne
- Anti-inflammatory (reduces redness, irritation and swelling of pimples)
- Hydrates and conditions the skin (without pore clogging residues)
- Has naturally occurring gluconic acid and enzymes that gently exfoliate the skin, dissolving surface build up and can help fade acne marks and scars.
Selecting the right honey for acne prone skin
Make sure the honey you buy is:
- Smooth honey (no texture or granules, the honey needs to be completely smooth. If it has a coarse grainy texture it could damage your skin and cause micro tears).
- 100% pure (always double check the ingredients, don’t buy honey that is diluted with sugar or syrup)
- Raw, unpasteurized, non-heated
I recommend buying your honey from a health food store, farmers market or directly from a bee keeper. It must be smooth honey, no granules or texture (usually a honey that is slightly transparent is smooth. Creamy and solid honeys usually have texture and granules).
What about Manuka Honey or Tualang Honey, should you try it for cleansing acne prone skin?
Manuka honey is great. Studies have shown it has higher antimicrobial, antiseptic and wound healing activity than regular honey making it a medical grade honey. And manuka honey is smooth. But, manuka honey is expensive. Unless you already have manuka honey available, I recommend just buying organic smooth honey and trying that first. If after a few weeks you really like it and your skin is responding well, then you can switch to the manuka. There’s no rush and regular organic raw honey already has many benefits and works really well.
If you live in Southeast Asia, according to this study, Tualang Honey has even stronger antimicrobial and wound healing properties than Manuka Honey (and if purchased locally, it could be a lot less expensive). It too is a smooth honey. If available in your area, I definitely recommend it.
Instructions for using honey to wash your face
- Splash your face a few times with warm water to dampen your skin.
- Using a clean spoon, dispense a dollop of honey onto the palm of your hand and gently apply to your face. Using light circular motion (like you would a regular cleanser), lightly massage it into your skin.
- Rinse thoroughly with warm water.
- If needed, follow with moisturizer.
What to expect
Using honey to wash your face is similar to using a gel cleanser, but without the lather and suds.
If you are used to have a squeaky clean feeling after cleansing, you won’t get that same sensation from using honey. But that doesn’t mean your skin isn’t clean. It’s a different clean, a clean without stripping your skin of its natural oils. It’s still a powerful cleanser with antibacterial and antimicrobial activity – so don’t underestimate it.
Unlike an oil, balm or milk cleanser, honey doesn’t leave any residues behind, which is one strong reason I prefer it for acne prone skin. There’s nothing left on the skin that can potentially clog pores or cause irritation.
You will also notice after a few uses that your skin will become softer, smoother and brighter. Over time, old acne marks will start fading too. Honey has exfoliating properties without being a scrub. This too can help keep your skin clear by preventing buildup in pores and on the surface of the skin.
- Don’t use honey on your skin if you have a bee allergy
- If your skin feels itchy or become reds, raw or irritated after using honey, discontinue use.
- If you develop a rash, discontinue use.
- Always use a clean spoon to dispense the honey. Honey never goes rancid as long as the spoon you put in the jar is clean.
Oil Cleansing Method for acne
Believe it or not, oil can actually be very balancing and healing for acne prone skin. It’s also a great cleanser.
Not everyone gets clogged and congested skin from oils. In fact, the reverse can happen. Using oils as a cleanser or moisturizer can actually balance excessive oil production in the skin and help loosen the buildup of sebum that’s clogging pores.
It’s one of those things you need to try in order to know if your skin responds well to it or not. It has nothing to do with your skin type, but more to do with the unique chemistry of your skin.
Research has shown that acne prone skin can sometimes have low levels of linoleic acid making sebum sticky and leading to clogged pores. Oils applied to the skin high in linoleic acid can help balance that out. Over time, the skin’s sebum no longer congests the skin or causes breakouts.
Benefits of oil cleansing method for acne
- Oil is one of the best ingredients to breakdown and remove makeup, sunscreen, and buildup of dead skin cells and sebum from the skin.
- Oil can loosen the buildup of sebum that’s clogging pores.
- Oil cleansing doesn’t strip the skin.
- Oil used in oil cleansing can help balance and regulate oil production in the skin, resulting in less oily skin.
- Oil cleansing softens and conditions the skin, supporting a healthy skin barrier.
- Oil cleansing method gently exfoliates the skin resulting in smoother skin and helps gradually fade old acne marks and scars.
Selecting the right oil for acne prone skin
There’s a lot of oils you can try. For acne prone skin, I recommend either getting an oil that is closest to our skin’s natural sebum (like jojoba oil or squalane oil), or getting an oil high in linoleic acid (grapeseed oil, sunflower or safflower oil).
You want to get an oil that is:
- Cold pressed
Some oils have a longer shelf life than others. If you are trying oil cleansing for the first time, buy a fresh bottle of oil. Don’t use something that’s been sitting in your closet for months or years. Using a rancid oil could clog pores.
Best oils for oil cleansing acne prone skin
Oils closest to your skin’s natural sebum:
Oils high in linoleic acid:
Oils high in linoleic acid (like grapeseed, safflower, sunflower oils) go rancid quickly. Best to buy small bottles and use them up in less than 6 months after opening.
Oils like jojoba and squalane oil that have a chemical composition closer to your skin’s natural sebum, have a much longer shelf life (2-5+ years).
Oils not to use for oil cleansing acne prone skin
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
I don’t recommend using coconut oil or olive oil when first trying the oil cleansing method, especially for acne prone skin.
A lot of people with acne prone skin can’t tolerate coconut oil, it clogs their pores. It’s not to say this happens to everyone. But, if you are trying oil cleansing for the first time and you have acne, we want to give it a fair shot and not take risks. Better to use one of the other oils I’ve listed that are better tolerated. Later on, if oil cleansing works out for you and you want to try coconut oil, go ahead.
Olive Oil which is in most people’s kitchens can be quite drying for the skin. I don’t recommend using pure olive oil on your face. Using anything that’s going to dry out your skin will swing it off balance and cause your skin to get oilier. We want to avoid that.
Can you use an oil blend for acne prone skin?
When trying oil cleansing for the first time, I recommend using a plain oil. This way if you have a bad reaction, you know what oil is causing it.
What I do like about oil blends is they’re less concentrated. An oil blend is made up of a few carrier oils that end up diluting each other. Sometimes that can be better tolerated than using one single plain oil.
I feel this is a detail that is better explored after you’ve tried oil cleansing for at least a few weeks and know for sure using oils on your skin isn’t causing any breakouts or bad reactions.
Later you can explore the world of oil blends and try something new.
Recommended oil blends safe for acne prone skin:
- LOA SKIN Botanical Beauty Elixir
- LEAHLANI Pamplemousse Tropical Enzyme Cleansing Oil
- MARA Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil
- LIVING LIBATIONS Sandalwood Best Skin Ever
Selecting the right wash cloth for oil cleansing
This detail is just as important as the oil you are going to use for oil cleansing.
It’s really important you use a gentle and soft wash cloth, and always a fresh clean wash cloth every time you cleanse your skin.
If the wash cloth you are using feels a little rough, it probably is. Overtime it will end up hurting your skin (whatever you use twice a day, every day on your skin needs to be gentle).
I know for myself I had to try a lot of wash cloths before I found something that worked well for my skin. Most wash cloths make my skin red and irritated. If it’s too abrasive, it’ll become problematic.
My favourite wash cloths are GroVia Cloth Wipes. These are from a baby diapering company. Yes, they’re made for babies. But they’re really good because they aren’t rough, no harsh texture. They have a way of lifting and removing everything off the skin effortlessly, including cleanser, makeup, sunscreen and debris. No scratching, no harsh feeling. I also really like the size. They’re not huge, heavy or bulky. They’re basically the perfect oil cleansing wash cloths. (Watch today’s video to see me use them).
You can go ahead and try these or something else. If you prefer an all-natural wash cloth, I will warn you, majority are usually too rough. I’m still looking but I have yet to find a 100% natural fiber wash cloth that is gentle enough for acne skin. You have to remember that acne breakouts cause inflammation in the skin, your skin is sensitive and fragile. You need to be gentle.
Another option is a microfibre cloth. This is a gentler option than an all natural fiber cloth, but sometimes they can be too soft and slick, not really lifting anything from your skin (just kind of move everything around!).
Just make sure whatever you decide on getting, you get a bunch so you use a clean wash cloth every time you cleanse, and you have enough to last you in-between laundry days.
I also recommend using a fragrance-free laundry detergent to wash your wash cloths. And don’t use bleach or fabric softener. Any perfume, bleach, softener or strong detergent residues left on your wash cloths can irritate your skin and make acne worse. Best to switch laundry detergents to a Free & Clear or eco detergent.
Instructions for oil cleansing acne prone skin
There’s a lot of different oil cleansing methods. I don’t recommend putting oil on a damp wash cloth and rubbing your face with it. That method is too abrasive for acne prone skin, and it’s not washing your face properly.
You need to put the oil directly on your dry skin, gently massage and work it into your skin to breakup the buildup of dead skin cells, sebum, makeup and sunscreen. Then, using a damp wash cloth, you gently swipe the cloth over the skin to lift and remove the oil, debris and makeup from your skin.
This will thoroughly cleanse and condition your skin all at the same time.
- Apply the cleansing oil to dry skin and gently massage the oil into your skin.
- Dampen a clean wash cloth with warm water, and gently remove the oil, makeup and debris using a light swiping motion.
- As you are lifting and removing the oil cleanser and makeup from your skin, rinse the cloth as needed. Continue until all oil is removed and face is clean.
- Follow with a moisturizer (if needed).
What to expect
The nice things about oil cleansing is it cleanses AND moisturizes your skin all at the same time. You might not even need a moisturizer after cleansing, the oil cleansing might be nourishing enough (and if so, skip the moisturizer).
Using less products and ingredients on the skin is always much better for acne skin.
Over time your skin will become softer and more supple. The added nourishment will help reduce redness and irritation. Breakouts and blemishes will also heal better because your skin is more balanced. The oil cleansing will also gradually help fade old acne marks and scars, and skin will become brighter and smoother.
Because you are introducing oils into your skin care routine for the first time, and oil cleansing is much richer than regular face washes, you might have an initial oil cleansing method purge or adaptation period.
There’s certain signs and symptoms that can tell you whether you are having a bad reaction to the oil cleansing, or your skin is just getting used to the richer oil and will eventually balance out.
In the first 2 weeks, this is normal:
- Tiny pustules or white heads that come to the surface of the skin and heal quickly
- Skins feel extra moist and oilier than usual
- Can have a few breakouts in areas of the face you are prone to congestion or pimples
This is not normal, and probably a bad reaction:
- Rash or skin irritation
- Clusters of tiny colourless bumps on forehead, cheeks, around mouth or jawline.
- Pimples on areas of your face you normally never get breakouts.
- A lot of clogged pores and blackheads you normally never have.
- Your skin appears to be getting dry.
If within a few days of starting the oil cleansing method you are having bad breakouts or seeing changes in the texture of your skin (getting tiny raised bumps or clogged pores), majority of the time it is a bad reaction and not a purge. If it continues to get worse and worse, it’s definitely a bad reaction and you need to discontinue use.
Sometimes it’s the oil you are using that’s causing problems, other times it’s oil cleansing itself that doesn’t work for your skin.
You can certainly try another oil to see if you get better results, but I would allow your skin some time to heal and balance out before attempting it again. I also would only try one more oil, and if that doesn’t work, I would move on.
Other cleansers to try
If honey or oil cleansing method doesn’t work for you, not to worry, you can use a regular mild cleanser.
When selecting a cleanser for acne prone skin, there’s certain things you need to avoid (which could clog pores or irritate breakouts.
Ingredients in cleansers to avoid for acne prone skin
- Sodium lauryl sulfate / SLS (too drying and irritating for acne prone skin)
- Added synthetic fragrance or perfume (can be a big trigger for acne and can cause redness and irritation)
- Medicated cleansers (best to use products with strong active ingredients as a spot treatment just on pimples and breakouts. Using cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can be too strong and drying for your entire face, especially when used twice a day, every day).
- If a cleanser makes your skin feel dry, tight or achy; stop using it. This means the cleanser is “too cleansing” and removing too much of your skin’s natural oils, which it needs. If a cleanser removes too much natural oils, your skin will produce more, resulting in overly oily skin and clogged pores.
- Avoid cleansers that leave a residue on your skin, especially waxy residues which can clog pores. If you use a cleansing balm or cream cleanser to remove makeup in the evening, better to follow it with a gel cleanser to ensure all residues are removed.
Recommended cleansers for acne prone skin
Here’s a bunch of cleansers I really like and recommend for acne prone skin. All of them are gentle, balancing, and wash off clean without residues.
VERDURA naturalternatives – Bamboo Diva Facial Cleanser
This is a very mild gel cleanser. It’s formulated to balance oily and combination skin without stripping it. It’s so gentle. It has a way of diminishing the appearance of texture and pores, and has a slight matte / skin perfecting finish. This is a great wash-and-go cleanser, especially good for oily and combination skin that is also sensitive.
Indie Lee – Purifying Face Wash
This cleanser builds into a rich lather that removes everything including makeup, sunscreen and sebum without being drying or stripping. Formulated to dissolve excess sebum, this is a great choice for oily, combination, and blemish prone skin that needs a thorough daily cleanse. Skin is always left fresh and clean, never tight or dry.
Indie Lee – Brightening Cleanser
Like the Purifying Face Wash, the Brightening Cleanser builds into a nice lather that cleanses the skin of makeup and impurities. The big difference between the two cleansers, this one is a little milder. If you’re dealing with breakouts but your skin isn’t oily, but instead more normal, dry, sensitive or maturing, I recommend trying this one.
Oskia – Renaissance Cleansing Gel
This is a longtime favourite of mine. It cleanses and brightens the skin beautifully. Suitable for all skin types, the gel turns into a milky cleanser that gently dissolve makeup and impurities. It has pumpkin enzymes to dissolve surface buildup, MSM to reduce inflammation and even skin tone, and vitamins A, C, E to brighten and strengthen the skin.
Drunk Elephant – Beste No.9 Jelly Cleanser
Out of all the cleanser I’ve recommended here, this one is the strongest. I would only recommend this for very oily skin types or to use as a second step cleanser for double cleansing. If you need a cleanser strong enough to remove all residues from cleansing balms and oils, this is a good one. It’s also completely unscented making it a good option if you are sensitive to scents.
Have you tried cleansing with honey or the oil cleansing method for acne?
Have you tried using honey as a face wash or oil cleansing for acne prone skin? I would love to know if either worked for you and your results (please post in the comments below). And if they didn’t work, what cleanser are you currently using?
References for this article
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Mandal, Manisha Deb, and Shyamapada Mandal. Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity. Asian Pacific journal of tropical biomedicine vol. 1,2 (2011): 154-60. doi:10.1016/S2221-1691(11)60016-6
Johnston M, McBride M, Dahiya D, Owusu-Apenten R, Nigam PS. Antibacterial activity of Manuka honey and its components: An overview. AIMS Microbiol. 2018;4(4):655-664. Published 2018 Nov 27. doi:10.3934/microbiol.2018.4.655
Ahmed S, Othman NH. Review of the medicinal effects of tualang honey and a comparison with manuka honey. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences : MJMS vol. 20,3 (2013): 6-13. 2013;20(3):6-13.
Ottaviani M, Camera E, Picardo M. Lipid mediators in acne. Mediators Inflamm. 2010;2010:858176. doi:10.1155/2010/858176