Even the most radiant among us aren't exempt from the shifts in hormones, inadvertent clogged pores, and genetic predispositions that set the stage for occasional acne. Whether you have a single blemish or are looking at a constellation, a spot treatment can helpdelivering potent skin-clearing ingredients directly to the zit in question.
The goal for an acne spot treatment is to reduce damage by shortening the duration of the lesion and reducing the risk for long-term effects, such as discoloration or scarring, says dermatologist Terrence Keaney, M.D., based in Alexandria, Virginia. The precision-minded approach means that the rest of your skin avoids contact with the strategic cocktail of ingredients, thereby sidestepping unnecessary irritation.
Getting the best results from your spot treatment can be a matter of timing namely, the earlier you use it, the better. If you can apply a spot treatment at the first sign of a blemish, the ingredients can sometimes penetrate deep enough to minimize the growth of that breakout, says Los Angeles aesthetician Cynthia Franco, who counts Salma Hayek and The Weeknd among her clients.
Salicylic acid is often (though not always) the headliner in these formulas; it's an oil-soluble ingredient unique in its ability to penetrate the clogged pore while gently exfoliating at the surface. However, it needs to be combined with a hydrating ingredient so it does not dry out the skin, adds Keaney. He recommends seeking out ingredients that can also calm the inflammation behind the blemish, such as niacinamide.
While liquid spot treatments are most common, you can also find patches and stickers often made from hydrocolloid dressingthe same material used to promote wound-healing. It works double-duty to both protect the blemish in question, as well as to trap acne-fighting ingredients within skin. In fact, says Keaney, the hydrocolloid enhances penetration of the active ingredients into the skin.
Whichever format you choose, your acne spot treatment should be last in the routine. I always think it's best to continue a full skin-care regimen, which includes cleansing, toning, and moisturizing, before the spot treatment, says Franco, who also recommends using it twice a day. Adhering to your usual routine, moisturizer included, prevents the affected area from becoming too dry or potentially irritatedwhich only fuels further inflammation.
For your next errant breakout, these treatments can help you reach clarity more quickly.
Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Invisible+ acne patches
Burt's Bees Natural Acne Solutions spot treatment cream
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion acne treatment
Paula's Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment
Aurelia Probiotic Blemish Hero targeted purifying paste
Recent research has unveiled a link between acne and the skin's microbiomethe ecosystem of good and bad bacteria on skin's surface. Those learnings are wisely put to good use in this spot treatment: It offers acne-fighting mainstays, such as salicylic acid and clay, alongside the brand's proprietary probiotic complex, which helps balance and replenish the microbiome.
Indie Lee Banish Stick acne treatment
Peach & Lily Transparen-C Pro spot treatment
For those prone to hyperpigmentationparticularly the post-inflammatory kind that appears after a blemish resolvesthis antioxidant-rich spot treatment is a smart option. It delivers a potent 20% concentration of stabilized vitamin C, which inhibits the pigment production process to brighten and even skin tone.
Inkey List Succinic Acid acne treatment
This outside-the-box solution pairs the requisite salicylic acid with succinic acid, a lesser-known ingredient that can supposedly help control the C. Acnes bacteriawhich, as the name implies, is the strain responsible for breakouts. Its sage-green color makes it best suited for nighttime use.
Dr. Barbara Sturm Clarifying Spot Treatment
Created by the doctor who dreamed up the Vampire Facial, this invisible spot treatment takes a more granular approach to blemishes. It targets the various factors that lead to zit formation, with tea tree oil and niacinamide to reduce inflammation. Zinc oxide, meanwhile, works overtime to both regulate sebum production and control bacteria.
Dr. Dennis Gross Rx Spotlite acne treatment device
Kate Somerville EradiKate acne treatment
A newer riff on the Mario Badescu spot treatment, this version contains the maximum amount of sulfur in an over-the-counter formula, and for good reason: It's clinically proven to reduce the size of pimples within an hour. That makes it ideal for doing damage control before a big event.
Zitsticka Killa microdart patch kit
Designed to address blind or emerging pimples deep beneath skin, these stickers have tiny microdarts that lightly pierce and dissolve in skin, releasing ingredients like salicylic acid and niacinamide over the course of several hours. The kit also contains swabs that prime the area beforehand with the same lineup of ingredients found in the stickers.
Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots blemish treatment
Looking for a gentler option? These transparent acne stickers are more light- handed, but no less effective. They contain 0.5% salicylic acidwell beneath the 2% permitted by the FDAfor a subtler exfoliating effect, as well as tea tree oil, which targets both inflammation and bacteria. Hyaluronic acid lends built- in hydration.