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9 Best Acne Spot Treatments: Your Buyer’s Guide

acne spot treatment

When I started getting acne in the fifth grade (lucky me) I didn’t think I’d still be looking for the best acne spot treatment as I enter my thirties. I have not been blessed with a cooperative complexion and it’s taken me a long time, and buckets of products, to finally figure out the regimen my skin needs to be happy and healthy.

But acne treatments for adults can never be fully perfect and there are always times when my skin falls back into its old habits and I need to get out my acne spot treatment. Everyone is going to have a treatment that works better with their body chemistry than others. These are the best acne spot treatment on the market right now.

Our guide includes tips on how to get the most out of your acne spot treatments, learn what causes acne, and get an understanding of the active ingredients in these treatments.

What Are the Best Acne Spot Treatments?

bottle of Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Works overnight
  • One bottle will last you
  • Works on cystic acne
Price: $17.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
round tin of treeactiv cream Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Goes on clear
  • Best for sensitive skin
  • Regular and cystic acne formulas
Price: $19.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
two tubes of proactiv+ Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Fast
  • Effective on cystic acne
  • Trusted brand
Price: $46.67 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Image of white and orange acne treatment cream tube Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Less drying
  • Can be used during the day
  • Reduces swelling
Price: $22.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
light blue bottle of blemish gel Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cools inflammed skin
  • Fast
  • Easy to work with
Price: $31.79 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
purple tube of pimple cream Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Spot or full face mask
  • Works on cystic acne
  • Lightens acne scarring
Price: $50.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best acne spot treatment, spot treatment, best spot treatment, spot treatment Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Can be used during the day
  • Skin calming botanicals
  • Uses sulfur and tea tree
Price: $39.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
bottle of bpt3.1 acne cream Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Can choose your strength
  • Strong benzoyl peroxide
  • Moisturizing oils offset drying
Price: $19.95 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
small bottle of blemish gel Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Natural treatment
  • Good for sensitive skin
  • Made in America
Price: $39.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. 1. Most Powerful: Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion

    • Results overnight
    • Effective against cystic acne
    • Quadruple action with sulfur, salicylic acid, camphor, and calamine
    • Long lasting bottle
    • You will have visible pink dots
    • Some people prefer to avoid camphor
    • Complicated to apply

    This is powerful stuff for people who need results now. The Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion is so drying that it has to be kept under a liquid. What else do I need to say?

    It works great for shrinking and reducing the redness of cystic acne which is always stubborn and inflamed. It contains sulfur, salicylic acid, camphor, and calamine. Camphor is used in a lot of backache lotions because it has a cooling, pain-relieving sensation and reduces redness.

    Calamine, which is the reason the lotion is that baby pink, is a soothing and drying product. I grew up using calamine on bug bites because it soothed the pain and stopped the itching. Healing is itchy work and when you’re healing your acne, scratching it can make things worse.

    When you get your bottle of Drying Lotion, you’ll see it’s separated with clear liquid on top and thicker pink cream on the bottom. You will want to shake it. Don’t! The pink is the drying lotion that you want. The rest is rubbing alcohol that keeps the lotion from being exposed to air.

    To apply, you gently dip a cotton swab straight down into the pink lotion and then back up. That one dip should be all you need for your treatment, so it’s a small bottle but it goes a very long way.

    This is an overnight product that you don’t want to use during the day because you’ll have pink spots all over your face. The lotion will dry and shouldn’t rub off on your pillow. Wash it off in the morning and repeat as needed.

    It’s not a miracle overnight product, because that doesn’t exist, but Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion is close. Your skin won’t be totally clear overnight, but you will see a difference.

    VideoVideo related to most powerful: mario badescu’s drying lotion2018-10-25T09:51:32-04:00
  2. 2. Best For Sensitive Skin: TreeActiv’s Invisible Acne Spot Treatment

    • Goes on clear
    • Can use it as often as you want
    • Choice of regular or cystic acne formula
    • Less drying
    • Not going to be strong enough for some
    • Strong scent
    • You don't get a ton of product

    For another natural teatment, the Invisible Acne Spot Treatment by TreeActiv is a vegan, non-GMO, and cruelty-free option. It comes in an easy to carry little jar so you can apply anywhere. The treatment goes on clear and can be worn under makeup.

    This is a good option for extremely sensitive skin because unlike some of the stronger treatments on the list, this product’s directions say it can be applied “as often as desired.” Its main active ingredient is tea tree and uses both tea tree oil and tea tree water.

    It contains an alpha hydroxy acid in the form of citric acid which is great for helping break down built up dead skin. The treatment is full of essential oils including peppermint, clove, eucalyptus, lemon, orange, grapefruit, and tamanu essential oil. These are meant to fight acne and soothe inflamed skin.

    This isn’t going to be strong enough for many people. TreeActiv does make a stronger formula called Cystic Acne Spot Treatment, which adds witch hazel, aloe, and bentonite clay into the mix. It’s a great pick if others are irritating, but many of us need to use the strong stuff.

  3. 3. Best Fast-Acting: Emergency Blemish Relief by Proactiv+

    • Effective against even large, swollen acne
    • Trusted brand
    • Non-comedogenic
    • Works fast
    • Unpronounceable ingredients
    • Drying
    • Comes in very small tubes

    You can’t talk about acne treatments without mentioning Proactiv+. They’ve been the big name in intensive acne treatment and prevention for years and for good reason.

    Their formula works for a wide range of people, and the Emergency Blemish Relief treatment is no different. It’s a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide concentration with dry up pimples fast though it does have a tendency to dry out skin. It’s non-comedogenic so it doesn’t have the type of oils that can cause blemishes later.

    The rest of the ingredients are honestly a bit of a mystery. I can’t pronounce them and don’t recognize a few at all. Whatever they are, they’re magic. So if you’re down with that and just need something to work, the Emergency Blemish Relief may be for you. This spot treatment works both alone and as part of the full Proactive+ line.

    VideoVideo related to best fast-acting: emergency blemish relief by proactiv+2018-10-25T09:35:36-04:00
  4. 4. Best for Redness: Acne Spot Relief by Georgette Klinger

    • Not as drying as others
    • Great for people whose skin is irritated by common acne treatments
    • Made in America
    • Cruelty-free, fragrance free, dye free, and paraben free
    • Not strong enough for severe acne
    • Can be drying if used too often
    • Not as great for cystic acne

    For something a little less harsh, I definitely recommend the Acne Spot Relief from Georgette Klinger. It’s my current go-to spot treatment and I’ve been really impressed with the results.

    My skin is prone to drying and many spot treatments leave me a flaky, irritated mess. This hasn’t happened with Acne Spot Relief even when I’m using it twice a day.

    The main active ingredient salicylic acid but the gel also includes witch hazel, tea tree, and extracts of chamomile, orange, lemon, and sugar maple. The treatment itself has a pleasant, bright scent to it and, while it looks a little milky in the tube, it goes on clear so I can throw it on as I’m running out the door.

    I have had red, swollen will-soon-be-zits flatten overnight with this treatment. It consistently reduces the redness and inflammation of my breakouts and I’ve found it’s great for stopping those early zits in their tracks.

    Georgette Klinger sent me a sample of this spot treatment to try out with absolutely no guarantee that I would review it at all. I’ve been using it for months and it’s my new favorite.

  5. 5. Most Cooling: Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel

    • Salicylic acid treatment
    • Clear gel is easy to work with
    • Fast-acting
    • Healing botanicals
    • Tingling or stinging sensation is common
    • Not for people sensitive to smells
    • Not strong enough for severe acne

    Clinical Clearing Gel is clear enough to be worn during the day, but it does dry a little thick so you might want to stick to this being a nighttime treatment. Its main active ingredient is 1 percent salicylic acid which absorbs deep into your skin to clean out clogged pores, reduce oil production, and kill bacteria.

    It’s a low concentration, but it can still be drying to some people so start slow. This can be used as a spot treatment or as a full face treatment for severe acne, but always do a spot check first before covering your face.

    It does contains denatured alcohol which can be very drying to people sensitive to it. For botanicals the Clinical Clearing Gel includes witch hazel, algae, and sea whip extract which reduce inflammation, regulates oil production, and speeds up healing times.

    The gel it self is easy to apply, but doesn’t have a great smell to it and has a tingling feeling when you put it on.

    I like that the tingling shows it’s working its magic but that could be unpleasant for some people. While nothing will fix problem areas overnight, you will be able to see a difference.

  6. 6. Best For Full Face: Ain’t Misbehaving Acne Mask & Emergency Spot Treatment by DERMAdoctor

    • Sulfur, salicylic acid, and other chemical exfoliants
    • Works on even cystic acne
    • Nourishing botanicals
    • Can be used as a spot treatment or mask
    • Can be drying if overused
    • Sulfur smell
    • Not clear to be used during the day

    If your acne tends to be an all-over issue, consider the Acne Mask & Emergency Treatment by Ain’t Misbehaving. To combat zits, kill bacteria, and reduce redness and oil, this treatment uses a 10 percent sulfur concentration along with both alpha hydroxy acids (like citric acid) and beta hydroxy acids (like salicylic acid) to work as a gentle chemical peel which lifts clogging, dead skin and helps reducing scaring.

    It’s a thick white cream so it’s not the sort of thing you’d want to keep in your bag and dab on throughout the day. 

    If your skin isn’t prone to drying, it can be worn overnight when you really need this pimple to go away. The cream can also be used as a preventive mask which you leave on for 15 minutes and then rinse.

    The Emergency Spot Treatment contains kaolin and bentonite clay which are both soothing and absorbent as well as useful to lighten acne scarring. Chamomile, witch hazel, oat, and Japanese white tea round out the botanicals with extracts that calm sensitive skin and balance sebum production.

    It is 10 percent sulfur so expect it have a smell. They did add a fragrance to cover it, but there’s only so much you can do with sulfur. It’s well worth it since the Acne Mask and Emergency Spot Treatment works on even angry, cystic acne.

    VideoVideo related to best for full face: ain’t misbehaving acne mask & emergency spot treatment by dermadoctor2018-10-25T09:38:30-04:00
  7. 7. Best Daytime Use: Spot Correction Acne Eliminating Treatment by HydroPeptide

    • Triple action with sulfur, tea tree, and lactic acid
    • Anti-wrinkle
    • Soothing botanicals
    • Paraben, phthalate, and gluten free
    • No sulfur smell
    • It can be drying
    • Pricier than others
    • Small tube

    This spot treatment uses a combination of sulfur, tea tree, and the alpha hydroxy acid lactic acid to fight acne on all fronts. It reduces redness, removes oil and bacteria with sulfur, prevents acne with tea tree, and removes dead skin with lactic acid.

    You can use the Spot Correction Acne Eliminating Treatment up to three times a day, but because the sulfur can be drying, start with just one application a day and move up from there if you even need to. It also contains peptides from sake and botanicals like radish root and rosebay willowherb to soothe and clarify skin.

    The high concentration of peptides and antioxidants have anti-aging properties as well so it works on fine lines at the same time making it the best acne spot treatment for aging skin. This spot treatment is free of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, gluten, and PEG’s.

    It has a pleasant citrus smell and that’s impressive considering the active ingredient is sulfur which tends to smell terrible. When I’ve used it, it has brought down redness and swelling overnight and takes a few days of use fully treat the blemish.

    It’s creamy and goes on clear so I feel comfortable leaving the house with it on if I need to. I was sent this spot treatment to try, but made it very clear that was not a guarantee of a positive review or even that I would review any of the polishes at all.

  8. 8. Most: Customizable Treatment: BPT 3.1 by Create Cosmetics

    • Choice of 3 percent or 10 percent benzoyl peroxide
    • Also contains witch hazel and tea tree
    • Includes moisturizing oils
    • It is drying
    • May cause oil-sensitive skin to break out
    • Can stain pillows

    With BPT3.1 by Create Cosmetics you have a choice of strengths. BPT3.1 uses the big hitter ingredient of benzoyl peroxide as its main treatment and you can choose a 3 percent concentration of benzoyl peroxide for a gentle treatment or a 10 percent concentration if you’re not messing around.

    On top of that, this spot treatment also contains tea tree and witch hazel for a multi-faceted approach. It’s very effective for all sorts of acne, but it is drying on your skin. Create Cosmetics addressed that by including jojoba oil, shea butter, and macadamia seed oil to moisturize and reduce the production of sebum.

    For most of us that’s a great way to offset the drying effect of benzoyl peroxide, but if you’re someone who has skin that needs to avoid oils at all costs, you should keep that in mind with this product.

  9. 9. Best All Natural: Act! Acne & Blemish Gel by Bauana Naturals

    • Natural and organic ingrediants
    • Great for people whose skin is irritated by common acne treatments
    • Made in America
    • Cruelty-free
    • Not strong enough for severe acne
    • May still be drying for some
    • Check botanicals list for allergens

    If you’re looking for more natural alternative, ACT! is a great option. ACT! uses a mild concentration of salicylic acid, witch hazel, arginine, and aloe vera.

    The salicylic acid sinks deep into pores to fight bacteria, reduce oils, and remove dead skin. Witch hazel reduces inflammation, speeds up healing, kills bacteria, and reduces the size of pores. Arginine also speeds up healing time and aloe soothes the inflammation.

    Apply twice a day and no need to wash this one off because it dries clear. ACT! contains a bunch of other botanticals to nourish your skin including gotu kola, dandelion, and geranium extracts.

General tips for getting the most out of your acne spot treatments.

Less is more. I know you want that zit gone now but dabbing at it with a spot treatment every few hours will only dry out your skin and make it feel and look worse. Stick to the instructions and start slow.

Don't double up spot treatments with harsh cleansers and retinol. You're more likely to irritate and dry out your skin. It can also make you extra sun-sensitive and end up with a nasty sunburn.

For deep nodule acne, spot treatments probably aren't going to be much help. Spot treatments are great for acne at the surface of the skin, but for nodules, you're best off seeing a dermatologist or trying a chemical peel.

And lastly, seriously, don't touch it. I know, I know. You want to. It's right there and, in your mind, flashing like a big red sign to everyone you pass. It's not. I know it seems impossible, but try to leave it alone. Let the spot treatment do its thing.

What causes acne?

Our skin is covered in thousands of tiny openings for sweat glands and tiny hairs. With all these microscopic divots, it's inevitable that some of these are going to end up accidentally plugged up. That's acne.

It's all your hair follicles' fault, too. Your sweat glands are off the hook for your breakouts. Hair follicles produce sebum, which is a natural oil that keeps your skin from drying out. Sometimes your body makes too much sebum and it gets stuck in your pores.

Dead skin that should have flaked off but didn't can also block up your pores. Once that happens, you've got perfect conditions for bacteria to collect and grow. How that manifests depends on the person, but this combination leads to comedomes (blackheads and whiteheads,) pimples, pustules, and cysts.

Lots of factors contribute to acne. Hormones are a major player and can mess with the skin of all genders. Androgens, the hormones responsible for traditionally male traits, are the main culprits because they increase sebum production. PMS breakouts are largely caused by a spike of androgens.

Stress, genetics, and certain medications can also cause or make acne worse. Contrary to myth, there is no real research that proves eating greasy foods causes acne, so if you're feeling lousy, eat that pizza. No one can stop you.

What can we do about it?

Lots, which is pretty great. There are tons of treatments out there for both preventative measures and spot treatments for when the preventatives don't quite cut it. Preventative measures include moisturizers to reduce sebum production, cleansers to remove oil and bacteria, and chemical peels to remove dead skin and reduce acne scars.

Okay, but you want these zits gone now. 

Avoid home remedies like garlic, toothpaste, and window cleaner because don't work and are likely to make the situation worse. Here are the ingredients you want to look for that are proven to zap zits when it counts.

Benzoyl peroxide. This is probably the most effective treatment we've got. It kills acne-causing bacteria and helps clear the excess oil out of your pores while reducing inflammation.

Using it too often can dry your skin out so you always want to start slow and see how your skin responds. It will also bleach your fabrics so keep it off the towels and pillowcases you like.

Salicylic acid. This is a beta hydroxy acid that comes from willow and birch trees. Salicylic acid is absorbed deep into your pores and clears out oils and built up dead skin, while creating an inhospitable environment for future zits. It can cause stinging to those with sensitive skin.

Alpha hydroxy acids. These are food-derived acids that can't soak deep into your pores and work on the surface of your skin. They clear away dead skin and are the main ingredients of most peels. Examples are lactic acid from milk, citric acid from citrus fruits, and malic acid from apples.

Sulfur. Sounds weird but it works. Sulfur kills bacteria and cleans out oil and dead skin. It can be drying and normally isn't used alone. Just be aware that it isn't always easy to hide the sulfur smell (think boiled eggs) but some products do better than others.

Tea tree. Tea tree oil is one of the natural spot treatments that dries up pimples and kills bacteria. It is gentler on skin than some of the others, but not as effective.

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