Acne Spot Treatment: How To Choose The Right One?

Acne can range anywhere from just a few occasional spots on the face, neck and back to a more severe form of the condition that can lead to disfiguring and permanent scarring. Although most people develop acne at some point in their life, especially now, with ‘maskne‘ becoming a thing, it usually resolves on its own. However, for some people, it can persist well into their adulthood. In this article you’ll find a list of some of the best acne spot treatments that you can rely on for clearing away your blemishes.

Click HERE to learn more about acne-busting ingredients, and to see which one would work best for you.

Acne Spot Treatment Guide

Acne spot treatment, but what is it?

It’s a vague term that is used for broadly describing a range of topical preparations that are used for treating mild to moderate acne. Acne spot treatments can either be used alone, or in combination with other acne treatments. As far as treatment is concerned, a well-thought and carefully selected topical formulation will not only decrease side effects, but also increase patient compliance. 

And while we’re at the topic, as a pharmacist, I’d like to emphasize that non-compliance to medical treatment is actually one of the leading contributors to treatment failure. In fact, we’ve reported this in one of my research studies, which you can find here. Therefore, it is essential to keep this in mind before committing to any skincare routine.

So, here’s our top recommendations for acne spot treatments that you should consider adding to your beauty arsenal! The list includes a range of products to suit everyone’s budget. However, ‘drying lotions’ that contain high concentration of alcohol are excluded from this list.

Benzac AC Gel

Benzac AC Spot Treatment

Why we love it?

Benzac AC is a water-based gel containing benzoyl peroxide. This is an especially recommended ingredient best known for its antimicrobial and keratolytic properties. Remember, always begin your acne treatment with either 2.5% or 5%, and check with your dermatologist or pharmacist if you can increase the concentration after a month of use.

How to use benzoyl peroxide gel?

This water-based gel contains benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is especially recommended for its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and keratolytic properties. Remember, always begin your acne treatment with either 2.5% or 5%, and check with your dermatologist or pharmacist if you can increase the concentration after a month of use.

So here’s how you add benzoyl peroxide to your skin care routine:

  • Wash your face with a cleanser, pat dry.
  • Next, apply a thin film of the gel and leave it on for two hours.
  • After that, wash off again with water, pat dry and apply a non-comedogenic moisturizer of your choice. You can check our moisturizer recommendations for acne-prone skin here.
  • Initially, and for the first week, use it only once in the evening.
  • Avoid combining this with other acne-products, unless instructed by your dermatologist.
  • Also note, benzoyl peroxide should not be applied to damaged, or irritated skin.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a benzoyl peroxide based spot treatment, you can have at a look at the options below.

Other Products with Benzoyl Peroxide
Neutrogenas On-the-Spot Acne Treatment (2.5% benzyl peroxide), Paula’s Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin-Clearing Treatment (2.5% benzoyl peroxide) and Tula Go Away Acne Spot Treatment.

La Roche-Posay Effalcar Duo

La Roche-Posay Effalcar Duo

Although there are plenty of acne treatments on the market, this one has earned its own place as one of the top dermatologist approved treatments. Efflaclar Duo works well with all types of breakouts, including cystic acne. The formula combines 5.5% benzoyl peroxide with lipo-hydroxy acid, and together, these work synergistically to spot treat your acne. While benzoyl peroxide works skin-deep and kills the existing P.acnes bacteria underneath the skin, the LHA helps to unclog the follicles and reduce inflammation and help your skin heal faster. All in all, its both effective, affordable and lasts forever. This is one of my go-to spot treatments for any pimples that pop up uninvited!
Shop here: Effaclar Duo, Amazon

When it comes to acne treatment, perseverance is the key to success. Acne treatment needs time to work. If a treatment works for you, you will notice some improvement in 4 to 6 weeks. 

Related Guides:

Differin Adapalene Gel

Why we love it?

Differin 0.1% is a prescription-strength retinoid that is FDA approved for use in acne treatment. Luckily, it is now available over-the-counter and I always keep one tube of this in my beauty cabinet for any breakout emergencies. Although we’re adding it here, consider this more like a full-face treatment, rather than just a quick fix for your spots. Retinoids, a subject that we’ve touched on before, have several benefits and are considered a skin care staple. You can read all about it here. Make sure you don’t forget your sunscreen!
Shop here: Differin gel, Amazon

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2%

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2%

Why we love it?

This can be used all over your face or directly on blemishes as a spot treatment. Aside from being super affordable, it helps speed up your cellular turnover rate to prevent trapped sebum, bacteria and dirt from clogging your pores. All the more reasons to add this salicylic acid serum to your anti-acne arsenal.

Dermalogica Overnight Clearing Gel

Why we love it?

I re-discovered this in my vanity stash and found it worthy of a mention here. This transparent gel works best with mild to moderate acne. Featuring a 2% concentration of zit-blasting salicylic acid with niacinamide together with tea tree oil, biotin and zinc gluconate, this spot gel works on all frontiers. It reduces redness and swelling associated with acne, prevent further breakouts and promotes better skin healing.

First Aid Beauty FAB Pharma BHA Acne Spot Treatment

First Aid Beauty FAB Pharma BHA Acne Spot Treatment

Why we love it?

This newly launched gel helps clear up not just your breakouts, but also works on all the non-inflammatory acne (blackheads and whiteheads). The formula features 2% salicylic acid — which is known to decongest pores and treat breakouts. Additionally, it combines soothing ingredients like aloe, bisabalol, and oatmeal to minimize redness associated with acne. But it doesn’t stop there: there’s also glycolic acid in the formula which chemically exfoliates your skin and papaya fruit extract.

Dermalogica Age Bright Spot Fader

Dermalogica Age Bright Spot Fader Cream

Why we love it?

This treatment cream from Dermalogica helps stop cystic acne in its tracks before they have the chance to fully develop. Works both ways, to reduce the appearance of active breakouts and minimize the pigmentation that presents post-breakout. The formula contains salicylic acid, niacinamide and hexylresorcinol (to improve uneven skin tone and reduce the redness/irritation associated with acne). Though the price tag is a bit steep, it is still considered a great option for those with blemish-prone skin.
Shop here: Dermalogica Age Bright Spot Fader, Amazon

We’ve all heard about the acne patch trend. In fact, these blemish-fighting patches are great add-ons for spot treating mild acne. These typically are round in shape, semi-transparent and are used as stick-on bandages. The hydrocolloid dressing helps draws out the moisture from within pores, without drying out the surrounding skin.

Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots

Why we love it?

Skyn Iceland patches contain salicylic acid and volcanic ash. Together, this duo work like a sponge on your face to remove toxins and help keep your skin clear of impurities. If you’re on a tight budget, you could also use COSRX Acne Patches — the only difference is that the blemish patches in the latter are not medicated.
Shop here: $22, Amazon

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10%

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid

Why we love it?

Another holy grail right here. You can either use this on the entire face (just a pea sized amount would do), or target blemished areas in particular. Click here to read more about azelaic acid and its uses. Or if you’re in a rush, know that this ingredient is often used in acne and rosacea to lighten hyperpigmentation and improve skin texture. Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster is another good option. Make sure you use a broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30) during the day.

Honorable mention, but not pictured here is the Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment. On the other hand, ‘drying’ lotions that contain alcohol didn’t make it our list.

Alcohols like ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat are very harsh and their use in acne and oily skin is counterintuitive.

These ‘drying’ lotions can in fact, worsen your acne and cause tissue damage and scarring. So, irrespective of how popular the product is, or heavily marketed in the PR circuit, I’d recommend that you avoid using those in your skin care routines.

** Disclaimer**
For best advice, always consult your dermatologist. They will gather your medical history to determine whether you’re genetically predisposed to acne, or identify if there’s an underlying condition, such as PCOS, or if you are overweight, allergic, etc.

Sahar x

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