Times have changed. According to the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, mild acne can be treated via your cleanser. But not just any cleanser. In order to experience the best results, you should be on the look out for a cleanser that has glycolic acid + one with a low pH.
In their study, they recruited patients who used the cleanser exclusively, twice a day, for 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 week trial, the "mild acne improved significantly" as judged by a doctor's assessment.
A couple of years ago, I found myself at the Nutra Bisse counter at Neiman Marcus. This was immediately after I learned that Beyonce & Kelly Rowland both enjoyed slathering Diamond Cream on their flawless skin. I walked away from the counter with samples of Diamond Cream and their Glyco Extreme Peel. I had active breakouts at the time so didn't bother trying the peel for fear that it would further aggravate my skin. I happen to stop by the counter again and let her know that I enjoyed the cream but didn't use the peel because of my breakouts.
"No," she responded "peels are good for acne." "The acids will help remove the dead layers and clear your skin." Wow. I had no idea. So I went home and did as I was told. Then there's the time I visited Lady Dee for my first ever skin peel. After hearing that flawless celebrities frequented her spa, I had to experience it for myself. I remember taking before pics just hours prior to the peel. My skin was troubled and had active breakouts. Days later, when the peel came off. Absolutely clear. Not one breakout in sight.
So perhaps using an acidic cleanser is the way to go. The abstract of the article didn't explain why the combination of glycolic acid and a low pH worked well but we can figure it out. First off, a low pH is the ideal environment for the skin. I suspect this helps keep unwanted bacteria from wreaking havoc. Then we pair the low pH with exfoliation to remove blockage & dead skin. What we're left with is clear, happy skin. I did a quick look around the internet and Glytone Mild Gel Wash seems to formulated with 4.7% glycolic acid and has a pH of 3.8. And the reviews are pretty stellar. I first stumbled on this brand while researching for skin evening body products. Since then, I've always wanted to try Glytone. Now I have even more reason to give it a shot. If you already have a favorite cleanser, you can try implementing a glycolic acid toner with low pH like this one from Derma Cosmetic and see if it works for you just a well. Thanks to the commenter below for also recommending Anthony's Glycolic cleanser.