We’ve all been there: Upon seeing a new pimple, you immediately fight back with the best acne spot treatment you can find — and instead, end up with a peeling, irritated, or dry skin that somehow looks even worse.
The good news is that you’re on the right track by applying a spot treatment. Unlike skin-care products that you rinse off, like cleansers, spot treatments deliver a high concentration of ingredients over a longer period of time. Speaking of ingredients: Most acne treatments contain varying percentages of either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide as active ingredients. In a nutshell, salicylic acid is an incredible chemical exfoliator: “Once it has penetrated the skin, it dissolves some of the intercellular ‘glue’ that holds skin cells together,” cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller previously told Allure. Once these bonds are dissolved, these dead skin cells can slough off. For this reason, salicylic acid is a great way to treat acne caused by clogged pores (blackheads, whiteheads — you get the picture).
On the other hand, benzoyl peroxide thwarts the bacteria that cause zits in the first place, so it’s an ideal active ingredient for treating inflammatory acne blemishes. The best spot-treatment products balance acne-fighting actives, which include the above as well as sulfur, tea tree oil, and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), with skin-soothing ingredients to prevent dryness and avoid irritation. With that in mind, scroll on for 18 products that tackle breakouts quickly — without stripping your skin in the process.
Our Top Picks:
- Best Overall: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo, $23
- Best for Hormonal Acne: Vichy Normaderm S.O.S Sulphur Paste, $23
- Best for Blackheads: Origins Super Spot Remover Acne Treatment Gel, $20
- Best for Whiteheads: Kiehl’s Truly Targeted Acne-Clearing Solution, $30
- Best for Inflammatory Acne: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare DRx Blemish Solutions Acne Eliminating Gel, $42
- Best for Cysts: Murad Deep Relief Acne Treatment with 2% Salicylic Acid, $45
- Best for Early-Stage Pimples: Hero Cosmetics Pimple Correct, $20
All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.