If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, WWD may receive an affiliate commission.
Zits happen — but that doesn’t mean acne gets to take its sweet time to disappear. Instead of allowing a pimple to go through its multi-phase process, you can utilize an acne treatment to stop a blemish in its track. A pimple sticker, supercharged spot cream or acne-busting serums can kill a pimple as quickly as overnight. And you’re now spoiled for choice. “In this day and age, there are more acne spot treatment formulas on the market than ever before,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Geeta Yadav. “However, the format remains largely the same topical spot treatments — with the more recent inclusion of pimple patches.”
Top Acne Spot Treatments for Pimple Breakouts 2022
- Best Patches: ZitSticka Killa Kit Zit Treatment
- Best Spot-Fading Spot Treatment: Dermalogica Age Bright Spot Fader
- Best Hydrocolloid Zit Stickers: Rael Invisible Spot Cover
- Best Acne-Fighting Plus Calming Spot Treatment: Bliss Clear Genius Acne Spot Treatment
- Best Pimple Recovery Treatment: Hero Rescue Balm
- Best Dermatologist-Recommended Treatment: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
- Best Tinted Treatment: Glytone Acne Tinted Spot Treatment
- Best Green Juice-Inspired Treatment: Naturopathica Chlorophyll & Salicylic Acid Acne Spot Treatment
- Best Overnight Treatment: Kate Somerville EradiKate Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment
- Best Drugstore Treatment: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment
- Best Cystic Acne Treatment: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Gel
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment
- Best Clean Beauty Treatment: Osea Malibu Essential Corrective Complex
- Best K-Beauty Treatment: Neogen A-Clear Soothing Clear Spot Patch
- Best Gel: Renée Rouleau Daytime Blemish Gel
- Best Body Treatment: Soft Services Clearing Clay Multi-Use Breakout Treatment
- Best Drugstore Acne-Fighting Treatment: E.l.f. Cosmetics Blemish Breakthrough Acne Fighting Spot Gel
- Best Redness-Reducing Treatment: The Inkey List 2% Succinic Acid Acne Treatment
- Best Acne-Prone Skin Blemish Treatment: Environ Sebu-Spot Blemish Gel
- Best Fast-Acting Zit Treatment: Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment
What Is An Acne Spot Treatment?
A spot treatment is designed for emergency use when a pimple begins to appear. Spot treatments are usually at higher concentrations than traditional acne serums or treatments because they’re intended to work incredibly fast, some even as quickly as a few hours, on a targeted pimple or area.
And there has been a spot-treatment boom in the last decade, even within the last year. “There have been so many great developments over the years when it comes to acne spot treatments — there’s an option for everyone,” says Morgan Rackley, celebrity esthetician and owner of Luminous Skin Atlanta. From micro-dart pimple patches that flood the pores with acne-fighting ingredients to chlorophyll-boosted spot treatments that help to brighten and reduce acne scars — brands and products are getting better at treating pimples faster and more efficiently. Plus, they’re filled with hydrating ingredients so it’s easier to apply concealer and foundation to camoflauge the blemish. Another tip? Wash or change your pillowcase every other day to prevent buildup and consider a pillowcase specifically for acne reduction.
Below you’ll find the 20 best acne spot treatments, tailored for your needs and all peer- or expert-approved. That zit doesn’t stand a chance.
ZitSticka Killa Kit Zit Treatment
Best Acne Spot Treatment Patches
- Type: Ingredient-packed micro-dart sticker
- Amount: 8 pack
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, and niacinamide
- Best for: Targeting early-stage whiteheads and cystic pimples
With nearly 12,000 glowing reviews, this ZitSticka Killa Kit micro-dart patch is one of the most beloved acne treatments for early-stage zits. Each sticker comes with a kit, which contains a pre-treatment swab soaked in an exfoliating liquid to prime the zit. Next, apply the sticker, which contains ZitSticka’s signature micro-dart technology — aka self-dissolving, tiny darts that help to flood the pores deep with pimple-killing ingredients. “I can’t even describe how shocked I am with this product,” notes one reviewer. “Yes, they are pricey, but when you have a cystic pimple at the most inconvenient time, I’ll pay the price any day… In the end, it saves me pain, embarrassment, time, and no more makeup-caking to cover them. It’s a win all day long.” Rackley is a fan of ZitStika, too. “You just apply a patch onto clean dry skin and let it stay overnight.”
Dermalogica Age Bright Spot Fader
Best Spot-Fading Spot Treatment
- Type: Spot treatment gel
- Size: 0.5 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Salicylic acid, hexylresorcinol (kills bacteria), and niacinamide
- Best for: Fading the appearance of post-breakout marks
Skincare brands may come and go, but Dermalogica has been perfecting professional-grade skincare since 1986. This innovative, skin-first brand has finessed acne solutions that not only reduce active breakouts, but also heal the skin surrounding the pimple. This Age Bright Spot Fader is particularly useful for both reducing the appearance of active breakouts as well as post-breakout marks. The two percent salicylic acid clears acne, while niacinamide and hexylresorcinol (a known skin-brightening ingredient) will fade and heal post-breakout spots. “I’ve been using this for a year or two now and I SWEAR by it,” wrote a reviewer. “I cannot live without it. It’s the only thing that speeds up my red mark during and after a breakout. Usually within a week of using it twice a day on a new breakout, the mark is on its way out.”
Rael Invisible Spot Cover
Best Hydrocolloid Zit Stickers
- Type: Microcrystal zit sticker
- Size: 48 pack
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Hydrocolloid
- Best for: Surface whiteheads
You know the unannounced whiteheads that just pop up overnight without so much as a warning or email? These Rael hydrocolloid stickers are fantastic for those surprise surface-level pimples. The transparent patches will absorb oil, puss, and bacteria throughout the day or night, allowing the zit to heal remarkably quickly. Plus, with a sticker over the zit, it will prevent any picking or touching you might be tempted to do. But don’t just take our word for it — the stickers have over 36,000 reviews on Amazon, with users noting the product’s ability to reduce and heal zits in mere hours. “I was very skeptical, but after one try I LOVE these,” wrote one Amazon reviewer. “These patches have worked wonderfully on my less severe zits as well. They’ve taken redness away and the zits just start to heal instead of needing to come to a head and be popped.”
Bliss Clear Genius Acne Spot Treatment
Best Acne-Fighting Plus Calming Spot Treatment
- Type: Acne-fighting and calming spot treatment
- Size: 0.5 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Salicylic acid, witch hazel, niacinamide, and zinc PCA (calms redness)
- Best for: Reducing redness, size, and swelling
Rather than grabbing every single acne treatment in your bathroom and layering them atop one another, which will most likely guarantee irritation, grab a single bottle of a well-formulated treatment, like this Bliss Clear Genius option. The powerful formula includes two percent salicylic acid, witch hazel, niacinamide, zinc PCA, and cica. While salicylic deep cleans, the witch hazel will further clear out clogged pores. Even more, niacinamide reduces the appearance of blemishes, and zinc PCA calms redness. And last but not least, cica soothes skin from irritation, making these five ingredients a one-stop shop for reducing acne without over-drying skin. “I love this spot treatment,” noted one reviewer. “I really like the clear gel texture…This helps me feel like I can control my breakouts.”
Hero Rescue Balm
Best Pimple Recovery Treatment
- Type: Post-pimple recovery cream
- Size: 0.178 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Vitamin E, beta-glucan, and panthenol
- Best for: Just popped or emerged pimples to reduce size and appearance
The majority of products on this thorough list are focused on minimizing and reducing the size or a zit — but this spot treatment is designed for post-blemish marks. The Rescue Balm focuses on four post-blemish issues: stubborn dark marks, redness, bumps, and dryness. The formula is designed to heal the area and surrounding skin as quickly as possible, letting you pretend that the zit never even happened.
Hero is one of the most celebrated acne-focused skincare brands, and this intense balm is — in my honest opinion — one of their most under-appreciated products. Not to say that it’s unrecognized though: Amazon has nearly 5,000 raving reviews. “After I pop a pimple (it’s such a bad habit and always ends up in a bloody mess and looks way worse than before) I apply this stuff and know that the next morning it will be barely noticeable,” wrote one Amazon reviewer. “Hero Balm significantly helps with redness, scarring, scabbing, and speeds up the healing process SO MUCH.”
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
Best Dermatologist-Recommended Acne Spot Treatment
- Type: Sulfur-based acne drying treatment
- Size: 1 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Calamine, sulfur, camphor, glycerin, and salicylic acid
- Best for: Minimizing the appearance of zits overnight
“I like Mario Badescu Drying Lotion,” says Dr. Yadav. “It’s a classic formula that uses sulfur and salicylic acid to help treat a blemish overnight.” And classic it is, indeed. The formula was created in the ‘60s by Badescu himself as a quick solution for absorbing surface blemishes overnight. All these decades later, the pink sulfur, salicylic acid, and zinc oxide formula is still as effective as ever. The award-winning solution is fast-acting, particularly for surface blemishes, but if you are experiencing painful, under-the-surface blemishes, try the brand’s Buffering Lotion.
Glytone Acne Tinted Spot Treatment
Best Tinted Acne Spot Treatment
- Type: Blendable, tinted acne-fighting formula
- Size: 1 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: 8 percent sulfur, resorcinol
- Best for: Mild to moderate whiteheads and blackheads
Packed with eight percent sulfur and two percent resorcinol, this spot treatment is perfect for daytime usage because the formula is tinted and blendable. Designed to help conceal the redness and irritation of a blemish, you can use it alone, under makeup, or on-the-go touch-ups. Not only does it conceal pimples, but the treatment is designed to dry and clear whiteheads and blackheads, too. “This spot treatment is phenomenal,” praised one user. “It clears blemishes fast and takes away inflammation almost immediately. I’ve never had anything work better.”
Naturopathica Chlorophyll & Salicylic Acid Acne Spot Treatment
Best Green Juice-Inspired Acne Treatment
- Type: Spot treatment
- Size: 0.5 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Salicylic acid, chlorophyll, and bixa orellana seed powder
- Best for: Rapidly targeting and clearing existing blemishes and preventing new breakouts
If you love a green juice at some point during the day, try out this chlorophyll-boosted spot treatment. The green superfood helps reduce acne scars for healthier-looking skin. In addition to chlorophyll, the treatment has two percent salicylic acid to clear blemishes quickly. “I absolutely love this spot treatment,” wrote one reviewer. “The smell is slightly invigorating. Any pimple I treat with it goes away within a day or two. Sometimes I use a thin layer of it all over my face like a mask even when I don’t have a blemish. It makes my skin look even brighter.”
Kate Somerville EradiKate Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment
Best Acne Overnight Spot Treatment
- Type: Overnight spot treatment
- Size: 1 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Salicylic acid, retinol, sodium PCA, and rice bran extract
- Best for: Minimizing active whiteheads and smooth texture with retinol
Not only does this unique treatment from Kate Somerville have two percent salicylic acid, but it’s also infused with retinol to even out skin’s texture and tone. The one-two punch of salicylic acid and retinol will rapidly clear impurities, as well as prevent future breakouts. The brand notes that even within just 24 hours, you’ll see an improvement in a pimple’s size, color and shape, plus overall skin texture. “I have tried everything,” noted one reviewer. “Nothing works like this!! Also, it works overnight, you will see a big difference in the amount of acne on your face, as well as the clarity of your skin!”
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment
Best Drugstore Acne Spot Treatment
- Type: Overnight spot treatment
- Size: 1.35 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycerin
- Best for: Blackheads and whiteheads
If 10 percent benzoyl is too much for your skin to handle and 2.5 is too little to make a difference, try this 5.5 percentage. In addition to the ideal benzoyl peroxide amount, this formula is micronized, designed to penetrate deeper into pores for a more effective treatment. It’s particularly ideal for targeting red, inflamed pimples that traditionally are more difficult to treat. In addition to benzoyl, the ingredients list includes LHA, a derivative of salicylic acid, to help further reduce stubborn zits. The focused formula can visibly minimize pimples in less than three days. “It works absolutely amazing,” wrote one reviewer. “No joke, it gets rid of the majority of the pimple in one night and then I put it on again and the pimple is gone in two days… I’ve never had something work like that for me.”
Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment
Best Acne Spot Treatment For Sensitive Skin
- Type: Acne spot treatment
- Size: 0.75 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide
- Best for: Sensitive skin
This classic formula contains just 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, which is the lowest percentage that can still clinically clear out a zit (as quickly as overnight). And not only does benzoyl heal a pimple quickly, the proven ingredient diminishes without over-drying, burning, or stinging skin. This makes this On-the-Spot treatment ideal for sensitive skin for those who struggle with either frequent acne pr sporadic zits. “LOVE this product,” wrote one reviewer. “I’ve tried EVERYTHING and it’s amazing and insane that this $8 cream was what did the trick!”
Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Gel
Best Cystic Acne Spot Treatment
- Type: Stubborn spot treatment
- Size: 1 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: 10 percent benzoyl peroxide
- Best for: Minimizing active whiteheads
If you’re experiencing stubborn cystic acne, grab this spot treatment. The formula has 10 percent benzoyl peroxide — one of the highest percentages you’ll find. The max strength treatment gel from Neutrogena has the power to visibly reduce acne in just hours. In times of desperate need, apply the gel up to three times a day on top of stubborn zits. “I have been battling painful hormonal acne since getting pregnant almost two years ago,” wrote one reviewer. “I tried different creams including a 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide cream but didn’t see much improvement. This product with 10 percent benzoyl peroxide has been a game-changer. My skin is finally clearing up and blemishes are fading.”
Osea Malibu Essential Corrective Complex
Best Clean Beauty Acne Treatment
- Type: Roll-on spot treatment
- Size: 0.34 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Tea tree oil, rosemary oil, and white thyme oil
- Best for: Gentle, daily acne-fighting treatment
If your acne is more consistent, a gentle, a daily roll-on treatment like Osea Malibu’s may be your new best friend. The purifying blend of natural ingredients like tea tree oil, white thyme, rosemary, and juniper deliver a non-drying, acne-fighting formula that’s gentle enough for everyday use. Not only does it deliver blemish-reducing oils, but the combo also eases and calms red, inflamed skin. It’s worth noting that if you have sensitivities to citrus oil, spot test in a small, hidden area beforehand. “I have been breaking out on my chin for months and months,” said one reviewer. “Finally got this product and it’s been about two weeks and my breakouts have calmed down SO much!! It’s helped with my scarring too.”
Neogen A-Clear Soothing Clear Spot Patch
Best K-Beauty Acne Spot Treatment
- Type: Hydrocolloid patches
- Size: 24 patches: 12 12mm and 12 10mm
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Absorbing hydrocolloid
- Best for: Whiteheads
Korean skincare pioneered hydrocolloid patches and these gentle, budge-proof, and transparent stickers from Neogen are some of the most effective on the market. “They do two things: Provide some healing to draw out stubborn breakouts. Secondly, because the patch stays in place covering the breakout, these keep me from messing with the breakout,” wrote one reviewer. “If I have an active breakout, these patches really calm things down, especially when left on overnight or all day.” Hydrocolloid is uniquely positioned to absorb sebum, dirt, and bacteria from a blemish, while also providing a moist environment for the pimple, which helps to prevent acne scars. Plus, they’re consistently non-irritating, making them safe for sensitive skin types.
Renée Rouleau Daytime Blemish Gel
Best Daytime Blemish Gel
- Type: Daytime-focused treatment gel
- Size: 0.5 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Salicylic acid, tea tree oil, beta-glucan, and licorice
- Best for: Providing a protective seal over whiteheads and popped zits
Renée Rouleau is practically the Queen of Acne — and her Daytime Blemish Gel is her crowning glory. The daytime-approved gel is not only effective, but it’s one of the rare acne treatments that’s ideal for daytime use. The acne-fighting gel not only reduces the size and appearance of a pimple throughout the day, but the gel itself forms an invisible seal (much like a liquid bandaid) over the zit.
I’ve personally relied upon it countless times throughout my adult acne journey and I’m pleased to report that not only does it help to clear up the acne during the day, but it also reduces the redness and irritation of the zit. And as a bonus, makeup applies flawlessly over it as well, should you want to dab a touch of concealer on top.
Soft Services Clearing Clay Multi-Use Breakout Treatment
Best Body Acne Spot Treatment
- Type: Soft clay paste to minimize body breakouts quickly
- Size: 8 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Sulfur, kaolin clay, bentonite clay, aloe, and zinc PCA
- Best for: Blackheads and whiteheads on the body
This maximum strength body treatment is superb. The soft clay paste features 10 percent sulfur, the highest percentage used to treat acne. The antibacterial super-ingredient is also paired with kaolin and bentonite clay for further acne absorption, as well as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and natural tea tree oil. You can use it as a daily wash in the shower, as a mask, or as an overnight spot treatment. If you have any body acne or other common body skin concerns, Soft Services is for you. Founded in 2019, the brand focuses on clever, bespoke formulas and sustainable packaging for foolproof, feel-good results.
E.l.f. Cosmetics Blemish Breakthrough Acne Fighting Spot Gel
Best Drugstore Acne Fighting Spot Treatment
- Type: Roll-on spot treatment
- Size: 0.25 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Salicylic acid, witch hazel, and aloe
- Best for: Minimizing just-emerged zits
This recently launched E.l.f. Cosmetics rollerball spot treatment is fab for on-the-go reapplication. The intense formula includes one percent salicylic acid, witch hazel, and aloe to shrink zits, while also healing the surrounding skin. And the roll-on application is perfect to ensure you don’t touch the delicate area with potentially dirty hands. Roll on up to three times a day to minimize zits — all for $4. “I have sensitive skin and it hasn’t irritated it at all,” wrote one user. “You need this!”
The Inkey List 2% Succinic Acid Acne Treatment
Best Redness-Reducing Acne Treatment
- Type: Redness-concealing and acne-reducing treatment
- Size: 0.5 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Succinic acid (reduces blemish size), sulfur, chlorophyll, salicylic acid, and hyaluronic acid
- Best for: Sensitive and irritated skin
This acne treatment utilizes the relatively unknown ingredient of succinic acid. More studies need to be conducted to further showcase its benefits, but early research has shown promising results in antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits, both of which are super helpful when it comes to reducing acne. In addition to the rising star of succinic acid, the treatment also includes two percent sulfur powder to absorb excess oil, along with salicylic acid to unclog pores, and hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin around the zit. “It has noticeably cleared my blemishes in about half the time that it usually takes and without them looking like they’re about to explode,” noted one reviewer. “I’ve found that using it has also lessened the dark scaring I get after a breakout.”
Environ Sebu-Spot Blemish Gel
Best Acne-Prone Skin Blemish Treatment
- Type: Targeted blemish gel
- Size: 0.34 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Tea tree oil, niacinamide, and sebacic acid
- Best for: Treat individual zits, as well as reduce skin’s redness and sensitivity
Environ is the spot treatment that Kristyn Brodersen-Smith, owner of Practise NYC and celebrity facialist, recommends to her clients. “It utilizes niacinamide (vitamin B3), panthenol, and melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil) to reduce inflammation and redness,” she says. “In most cases, blemishes are eliminated in under three days.” The formula is especially wonderful because it was designed to kill acne bacteria, while keeping the skin hydrating to prevent scarring.
Never heard of Environ? The underground brand is a favorite for editors, dermatologists, and facialists because of its incredibly powerful active ingredients that penetrate deep into skin. Fun fact: The brand, founded by plastic surgeon Des Fernandes, pioneered the topical use of vitamin A — aka retinol.
Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment
Best Fast-Acting Zit Treatment
- Type: Targeted acne treatment
- Size: 0.5 fl oz
- Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Salicylic acid, witch hazel, and oat extract (to soothe)
- Best for: Rapid reduction in whiteheads in mere hours
“Murad is an incredible product,” said one Sephora reviewer. “I see the best results when I apply this after a serum at night, by the morning my pimple has mostly if not completely disappeared! I have rosacea and this doesn’t negatively affect my skin, just gets rid of pesky breakouts! This tiny bottle lasts forever, and I’ll keep buying whenever I run out!”
Brodersen-Smith is a fan, too. She recommends it when a pimple needs to disappear quickly. The two percent salicylic acid and witch hazel will exfoliate and absorb excess oil, while oat extract relieves skin. The maximum strength formula is so powerful that it’s worth doing a small spot test before applying to ensure it doesn’t irritate or sting.
The Different Types of Acne Spot Treatments
As Dr. Yadav hinted at above, the format of acne spot treatments has remained fairly consistent: topical spot treatment and pimple patches. But within those two categories is a world of variety, depending on the severity of your acne and skin type.
- Topical Spot Treatment
These topical formulas can come in several formats, including creams, gels, liquids, and even portable pens. They typically contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, or a combination of all three. “This type of treatment is best for deeper acne breakouts, like whiteheads and blackheads, because they work well at getting deep down into blockages to clear out pores and kill bacteria,” says Rackley.
While Rackley recommends topical treatments for pretty much all skin types, it’s important to note the strength of ingredients — the higher the percentage of active ingredients, the more drying it will be. “If you do have very dry or sensitive skin, I would recommend starting with a gentler formula. Look for something with nourishing ingredients, like hyaluronic acid you always see in serums, and avoiding any other potentially aggravating treatments, like face washes with salicylic acid, serums with benzoyl peroxide, or retinol creams,” says Rackley. Topical spot treatments are best used overnight — or on a work-from-home day — on freshly cleansed skin.
- Pimple Patches
Patches have gained wild popularity in the last decade — and for good reason. “I love these because they not only treat breakouts by extracting dirt, bacteria, and dead skin from clogged pores, but they’re also one of the best ways to prevent the picking that only makes things worse,” says Rackley. She often uses hydrocolloid patches on her celebrity clients before a big event. “After I treat them in my spa, I will slap these on as needed for that nice boost of targeted blemish-fighting ingredients — and to stop them from popping and making things worse,” advises Rackley. “I love these for almost all skin types, and they work best on breakouts that have already popped up to the surface. She notes that some sensitive skin users can find the adhesive irritating, so test the patch in a hidden spot first.
Some pimple patches contain active ingredients, as well as micro-dart technology that helps administer the ingredients more effectively. “The most important aspect of the pimple patch is the material, which is usually hydrocolloid,” says Dr. Yadav.
A simple solution may be in your freezer right now: ice. “I also love using ice. It’s a very underutilized free resource,” says Rackley. Cleanse the skin, then grab a cube of ice and circle over the pimple for a minute or two — being sure to keep the ice moving. “This helps to immediately lower inflammation, which can lower the pain and chance of it leaving a dark spot,” she notes.
What to Look For In the Best Acne Spot Treatment
Want an acne treatment that actually eradicates your woes? Zero-in on the ingredient list, recommends Dr. Yadav. Each active, key ingredient will accomplish a specific goal, whether that is easing under-the-skin cyst or absorbing swollen pustules. Here are the ingredients to look for in your spot treatment.
- Benzoyl peroxide: “This treatment works by killing bacteria deep within the skin as well as helping to slough away dead skin cells and tame excess oil,” notes Dr. Yadav. Because it’s an antibacterial agent, it’s best used on pimples that have pus inside them, such as papules, pustules, and cysts.
- Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is a type of exfoliant. “Rather than working at the surface level, it goes deep within the pore to exfoliate dead skin cells and excess oil, which leads to congestion and blemishes,” says Dr. Yadav. It’s best for whiteheads and blackheads.
- Retinoids and adapalene: Retinoids and adapalene are vitamin A derivatives and have historically been used for treating more advanced acne, says Dr. Yadav. They’re preventative treatments, but because they work by speeding up cellular turnover, they can help you get through a breakout faster. These can be used on any blemish, but might be slightly irritating for sensitive skin.
- Sulfur: “Sulfur targets both dead skin cells and sebum, two of the main factors that cause pore congestion,” says Dr. Yadav. This makes it an effective treatment for both whiteheads and blackheads.
- Plant-based ingredients: For those who have blemish-prone skin, but are easily sensitized by the more active ingredients, these options can be effective without causing irritation, says Dr. Yadav. These can include ingredients like niacinamide, willow bark, and clay.
Niacinamide is an anti-inflammatory ingredient works to refine pores, and can help control oil production, making it great for overall congestion. While it’s mostly found in serums, it can also be found in spot treatments to soften the potentially irritating effects while supporting other ingredients.
“Willow bark is actually the precursor to salicylic acid and is both an effective anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agent,” says Dr. Yadav. It’s effective for clearing out pores and soothing inflammation. She notes that these natural ingredients are best for whiteheads that have visible “heads” to them.
Clays like kaolin and bentonite (often found in masks, but also found in spot treatments) are ideal for drawing oil and impurities out of the skin. “Clays can be used on papules, pustules, and cysts to help pull the congestion up and out of the skin to expedite the blemish’s lifespan,” notes Dr. Yadav.
- Hydrocolloid: This material protects the pimple while absorbing excess fluids, sebum, and oil, to flatten a pimple faster and block out further bacteria that could exacerbate the pimple. “It also has the added benefit of helping to block you from your pimple. Keeping your hands off your zit allows your pimple to heal faster,” says Dr. Yadav.
When Should I Use an Acne Spot Treatment?
Brodersen-Smith utilizes this specific, multi-tiered approach with her clients (which include Gigi and Bella Hadid) when they experience a stubborn pimple.
- Eliminate bacteria: Kill the bacteria commonly found in acne with a blue light (she loves the Lightstim for Acne) or a high-frequency wand.
- Apply a topical acne treatment: This is ideally applied in the evening, based on your specific pimple and skin needs. Brodersen-Smith recommends utilizing not too harsh of a treatment.
- Ice in the AM: Start the day off by icing the acne-prone area, which can address inflammation without drying it out, says Brodersen-Smith.
- Pimple Patch: She also loves applying an acne patch during the daytime. “I find that patches are a great way to avoid picking, over-thinking, and also to just hide the blemish,” she says.
Brodersen-Smith usually finds that this daily routine can provide a visible reduction in pimple size within three days — but deeper, cystic acne can take up to six days to eliminate. She repeats the above cycle for about a week straight. In the healing phase (usually around day seven), she also recommends a light facial scrub on the spot to help lift pigmentation.
How Long Does It Usually Take for A Treatment to Get Rid of Acne?
The timeline to zap pimples matters less than using the right formula for the right type of blemish. “The frustrating truth is that most acne treatments can take up to six weeks to work and fully clear a blemish, but many of the below treatments can help quell a blemish and make it less painful or noticeable, making them easier to manage and conceal with makeup, if desired,” says Dr. Yadav.
It’s easy to view acne spot treatments as a quick fix — but that doesn’t mean you should go rogue and apply as frequently as you’d like. Follow the instructions on the packaging or you may inadvertently inflict unnecessary irritation. “It’s not recommended to apply most benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoid/adapalene formulas more than twice a day at most, as these ingredients can be quite irritating to the skin,” advises Dr. Yadav. “Depending on the type of blemish, willow bark, clay, or pimple patches may be your best bet for a constant treatment, which can be helpful ahead of a major event,” she notes.
Struggling with more cystic acne? “Those struggling with cystic acne should consider more professional solutions, as they require more dedicated and long-term attention,” says Rackley.
Meet the Experts
- Dr. Geeta Yadav is a board-certified dermatologist based in Toronto. She’s an expert in both medical and cosmetic dermatology at her practice Facet Dermatology. She holds a master’s degree in International Health from Johns Hopkins and completed her dermatology training at the University of Toronto, where she still teaches today.
- Morgan Rackley is a celebrity esthetician as well as the owner of Luminous Skin Atlanta. She’s been licensed for over 10 years.
- Kristyn Brodersen-Smith is an in-demand celebrity facialist and founder of Practise, which has just opened a new studio in Tribeca, New York. Her client list is as long as it is enviable, and includes Bella and Gigi Hadid, Jacquelyn Jablonski and makeup artist Erin Parsons.
Meet the Author
Kristin Limoges is a New York-based beauty and wellness freelance editor. Previously, she created the beauty and wellness vertical for Domino Magazine where she served as the lifestyle editor for both print and digital content. In addition to all things beauty, she also covers travel and wellness. She can usually be found hair masking, face masking, and body masking simultaneously in her Chinatown apartment.