Acne Spot Treatments for Laser-Focused Blemish Control

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

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

  • What makes these stand out among other acne patches is that they're truly invisiblesimply stick one on your chin and no one will be the wiser. (They also offer protection from the friction of a face mask, for those with travel plans in their future.) As it's made solely with hydrocolloid, there's no risk of irritation.
  • Burt's Bees Natural Acne Solutions spot treatment cream

  • This recently reformulated spot treatment eschews the typical all-out offensive on a zit, which tends to result in a dry patch. Rather, it offers a strategic pairing of willow barkderived salicylic acid and cica, an herbal ingredient long used in traditional Chinese medicine practices to soothe and calm skin.
  • Mario Badescu Drying Lotion acne treatment

  • The godfather of modern spot treatments, this rose-hued formula contains a blend of salicylic acid, sulfur, and calamine that works to dry up blemishes overnight. It might not have the soothing ingredients of today's spot treatments, but you can take its staying power (and legion of fans) as proof of its efficacy.
  • Paula's Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment

  • Once a staple in acne-fighting products, benzoyl peroxidewhich works by sinking into pores and killing acne-causing bacteriafell out of favor for being too harsh for most. In this formula, it makes a comeback at a low concentration of 2.5% (versus the FDA-approved maximum of 10%) alongside two notable skin- soothing agents, bisabolol and allantoin.
  • 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

  • This supremely portable stick is ideal for stealth touch-ups. The formula is powered by salicylic acid (derived from wintergreen, in keeping with the brand's clean values). Botanical extracts from Tasmanian pepper fruit and burdock root also act as a buffer against potential dryness.
  • 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

  • The spot treatment of the future, this device is the smallest of the Manhattan dermatologist's line of light-based gadgets (such as Betty Gilpin's beloved LED panel). It harnesses red and blue light technology to quell inflammation and kill bacteria, effectively clearing the blemish in question.
  • 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.

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