Breakouts and blemishes aren't just a problem for teenagers — many adults also have their fair share of acne woes, too!
While there are tons of acne spot treatments on the market, finding one that actually works can be quite a challenge. To help you with your research, Shop TODAY asked a handful of dermatologists and an esthetician about the best acne spot treatments to help clear up your skin in a hurry. From pimple patches to drying lotions, you'll achieve a glowing complexion in no time.
Best acne spot treatments, according to experts
"Benzoyl peroxide is helpful for treating acne because it not only kills bacteria that contribute to acne but also helps to prevent and clear out clogged pores," dermatologist Dr. Hadley King said. "It also has anti-inflammatory properties and comedolytic properties, meaning that it works for all different kinds of acne: blackheads, whiteheads and larger red pimples. I recommend applying a small amount in a thin layer in order to avoid unnecessary irritation, and I would recommend using it one to three times per day."
In addition to benzoyl peroxide's pimple-banishing powers, this drugstore option is lightweight, absorbs quickly and won't dry out your face. "It’s also oil-free and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores and cause more breakouts," New Jersey-based dermatologist Dr. Shari Sperling said.
She also recommends using it up to two times daily with your morning and nighttime skin care regimen.
This cult-favorite breakout buster is another great way to get rid of all of your unforgiving blemishes. Esthetician Candace Marino swears by this drying lotion formulated with salicylic acid (a powerful acne-fighting ingredient that exfoliates and unclogs pores), calamine and sulfur.
"The calamine lotion is going to help soothe and cool the skin," she noted. "Sulfur helps to purify the pores and the salicylic acid will help exfoliate the pores and help remove oil buildup."
While it may be tempting, Marino says you should not shake this product before applying. "It’s clear on the top and pink on the bottom. So what you want to do is take a Q-tip, dip it all the way through to the bottom and remove without stirring it," she explained. "Then, dab it on and then sleep with it overnight."
Made with salicylic acid, this spot treatment also reduces blemish size in just hours, said Sperling.
She also mentioned that many users claim they see fast results with this blemish fighter. According to a study from the brand, 97 percent of test subjects agreed that the appearance of their blemish improved after just one day.
"This stuff works wonders. I noticed a huge difference shortly after I applied this to my pimples. I have pretty decent skin, just get a pimple every now and then, but this does the trick!" wrote one Sephora reviewer.
While this La Roche Posay acne treatment is definitely on the pricier side, Sperling thinks it's worth spending the extra cash. Like many of the other options on this list, this product's hero ingredient is benzoyl peroxide. It's also made with a unique lipo-hydroxy acid.
"This exfoliates the skin to remove dead skin cells and excess oil," Sperling said. "This (product) is best for people with mild to moderate acne. It can be applied in one to three thin layers to the affected areas per day. You can see a difference in your skin within a week or so."
Dermatologists agree: Differin is a must-have for anyone with acne (it also doubles as a great anti-aging product).
"Hands down my favorite over-the-counter treatment is Differin Gel, which is a prescription-strength retinoid that is the gold standard for the treatment of different types of acne, from whiteheads to blackheads to mild to moderate acne or even occasional breakouts," said Dr. Melissa Levin, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology.
Levin isn't the only one who loves this product.
"Differin is my go-to product recommendation for my patients suffering from acne," Sperling said. "It’s affordable and easy to get now that it doesn’t require a prescription."
The active ingredient in Differin is a retinoid called adapalene. "This powerhouse ingredient treats and prevents breakouts, promotes cell turnover, stimulates collagen, reduces discoloration and restores your skin’s natural texture and tone," Sperling said.
Differin also has anti-inflammatory properties and is "photo-stable," meaning you can use it during the day when the sun is out, added Levin.
As for application, a little goes a long way. "You only need a pea-sized amount to cover your whole face, so much less for spot treatment. I recommend using only once daily and integrating it into your nighttime skin care routine," she said. "Those with mild to moderate acne-prone skin will see the best results, but it can be used on all skin types."
Just keep in mind that mild irritation, dryness, and redness are normal when first starting retinol, so allow your skin time to adjust.
Best pimple patches, according to experts
Pimple patches also make convenient spot treatments. Not only do they have awesome blemish-fighting ingredients, but they'll prevent you from picking or popping your pimples, which affects inflammation and healing time.
"If someone has an inflammatory acne spot — something that’s above the surface and angry — I love these because you just slap them on and then you forget about it," Marino said. "These really help to penetrate the pores and to get to the root of the problem."
"I like these because they include salicylic acid, which helps to remove oil and keratin debris from pores. They also include aloe vera, which is soothing and has anti-inflammatory properties," King noted about Peace Out's Acne Healing Dots.
Marino pointed out that you shouldn't leave one on for longer than eight hours at a time, but they're gentle enough to use continuously until the blemish clears up.
While Levin typically prefers full-face treatments to spot treatments, she does like these pimple patches from ZitSticka.
"If you are in a bind and unable to see a dermatologist, I recommend applying a specialized hydrocolloid acne patch from ZitSticka," she said. "It's a 24 freeze-dried micro darts bandage that self dissolves over two hours in order to deliver acne-fighting ingredients with oligopeptide-76, a new novel peptide shown to be as effective as a traditional anti-inflammatory ingredient."
These patches also contain acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and anti-inflammatory vitamin B3. King also likes this as a spot treatment option because it's formulated with moisturizing hyaluronic acid.
Top-rated acne spot treatments shoppers love
For an affordable option, you can't go wrong with e.l.f. Cosmetics. Key ingredients include salicylic acid, witch hazel and aloe to soothe the skin while working hard to get rid of blemishes. Reviewers on the brand's site rave about how quickly they saw a difference after their first use.
Mineral sulfur and niacinamide are the star ingredients in this spot treatment from cult-classic skin care brand Kiehl's. "I just bought a back up tube in case something catastrophic happens, like Kiehl's stops making it or an asteroid hits the earth and I can't order it. It's that good," one Ulta reviewer raved.
Five percent concentrations of benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid work side by side in this spot treatment to diminish breakouts and post-acne scarring. It even boasts the ability to prevent new breakouts from occurring. One verified five-star reviewer on Amazon said that, after struggling with acne for over four years and trying almost two dozen different products, this spot treatment cleared her skin up after just four days of daily use.
The 10 in this product's name represents the 10 percent benzoyl peroxide concentrate that's included in the formula to deeply and rapidly penetrate acne. Not only does it help manage current acne but it can also help prevent new breakouts. It's a top Amazon pick with over 8,000 verified five-star ratings.
"I don’t know what magic is in these, but they work like a charm," one verified Amazon shopper exclaimed about Peach Slice's Acne Spot Dots. The magic they're referring to lies in the clean hydrocolloid formulation that aids in reducing the size and inflammation around your zit in less than 24 hours, according to the brand.
Who knew an acne treatment could be equally strong and soothing? While you may immediately feel relief coming from the mint and sage blend, other ingredients like niacinamide and salicylic acid are working behind the scenes to dry out your pimples.
"These little suckers truly work," one Shop TODAY editor said about Hero Cosmetics's award-winning pimple patches back in 2020. The sentiment still holds true today, with over 60,000 verified Amazon shoppers rating these hydrocolloid patches a glowing five stars since its release.
Salicylic acid, witch hazel and niacinamide work harmoniously in Bliss's exclusive Clarity 5 Complex to calm irritated skin while cleaning and diminishing pores. The results, according to the brand and many thrilled customers, is a clearer, calmer complexion in little to no time.
Shop TODAY readers are already familiar with CeraVe's fast-acting moisturizers, cleansers and serums, but they also make an effective spot treatment, too. Developed with dermatologists, it's formulated with buzzy ingredients like ceramides, salicylic and lactic acids and niacinamide to even skin texture, prevent new breakouts and restore your skin barrier.
When it comes to abrupt breakouts, this spot treatment from Urban Skin Rx is right up your alley. Soothing ingredients like arnica and echinacea aid in fighting inflammation and scarring (especially in those dealing with cystic acne), plus other actives like benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid help reduce blemishes overnight.
Its bottle may be little, but Origins's treatment gel packs a huge punch, according to beauty lovers. All you'll need of this blemish-fighting formula is just a dab, thanks to key ingredients like salicylic acid and toning witch hazel. Several shoppers noted how quickly and effectively it works, with one Ulta consumer chiming, "I use it primarily to dry out any pimples that pop up. It quickly dries — and I mean like a DESERT — any blemish within 12 hours, and they're usually gone completely within 24-48 hours."
Brighter, blemish-free days are ahead, thanks to these daily treatment pads from First Aid Beauty. Not only is it sensitive skin friendly thanks to its alcohol- and fragrance-free formulation, but key ingredients like salicylic acid and kaolin clay works overtime to absorb impurities without drying out your dermis.
"In the past I've noticed spot treatments tend to burn at least a little bit and would take several applications to work. I noticed clearer skin immediately with this treatment, and had absolutely no issue with stinging or burning. It also applies quite thinly, so a little bit can go a long way," added one Ulta shopper who enthusiastically gave this option a perfect five stars.
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