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There’s nothing worse than becoming trapped in an acne cycle. A first, single blemish rears its head, then another, and another, until we're dealing with an uncontrollable breakout. Adding makeup to the mix, like concealer, only further clogs our pores and encourages our vengeful acne (depending on the formula, but you know what we mean). The struggle is real—but the cause is not lost.
We found the best acne products to tackle pesky blemishes at any stage and in any situation.
Best Spot Treatment: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
Ask any woman who’s ever struggled with acne and she’ll at least have heard of this cult acne-fighter. People swear that just one drop of Mario Badescu’s famous drying lotion can heal and dry a zit up overnight; the calamine, colloidal sulfur, and salicylic acid ensure it.
Interested in learning more about this product? Check out our Mario Badescu Drying Lotion review.
Best Serum: Evologie Intensive Blemish Acne Serum
The top-selling acne product online comes from doctor-developed brand Evologie. Its patent-pending YS3 Complex uses tea tree oil and salicylic acid to banish breakouts deep below the skin's surface, also brightening hyperpigmentation and acne scars. In other words, this might just be the miracle product you’ve been praying for.
Take a look at the best face serums you can buy.
Best Mask: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Deep Pore Cleansing
Not only is this cult product a major bargain, but it works like magic for super-oily problem skin. Mix the bentonite clay-based formula with water (or apple cider vinegar) and apply it to your face like a mask—the clay will soak up excess oils and debris, leaving your face feeling soft, fresh, and clean.
See more of the best clay masks for every budget available online.
Best Retinoid: Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
Formerly available by prescription only, Differin is now for sale over the counter, and serious skincare gurus are overjoyed. It contains a prescription-strength retinoid called Adapalene, which dermatologists recommend specifically for the treatment of acne. Long story short: It’s more than worth a try. The water-based formula is free of oil, alcohol, and fragrance, and is an essential item in anyone’s acne-fighting arsenal.
Want to take a look at other options? Read through our best over-the-counter retinol article.
Best Gel Moisturizer: Clinique Acne Solutions Clearing Gel
This salicylic acid acne treatment has been a fan-favorite for years and guess what: It's still available and still highly effective. Depending on your skin’s needs, you can apply a thin layer twice a day after you cleanse your skin, or if you already use an all-over acne treatment, you can use it as a spot treatment on particularly stubborn zits. The ultra-simple formula is hypoallergenic as well as fragrance-, oil- and paraben-free. Win, win, win.
We rounded up the best oil-free moisturizers for acne-prone skin.
Best for Acne Scars: Murad Post-Acne Spot Lightening Gel
Hydroquinone is a powerful ingredient that can help fade the look of post-acne skin discoloration. It works by blocking the production of melanin (the pigment that gives color to your skin) and over the course of a few months, it can help lighten the area you’re treating.
This 2% concentration is the highest available without a prescription, and an added combination of willow bark and tea tree oils help to soothe inflammation to reduce the overall appearance of the scar.
Check out our guide to the best face masks for acne scars.
Best for Clogged Pores: T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
This ingredient-packed serum uses a potent combination of exfoliating acids, pore cleaners, antioxidants, and moisturizers to create an overnight treatment that operates like a gentler version of a glycolic acid peel. Expect a tingling sensation when you apply—that’s this serum sloughing off dead skin cells, unclogging pores, and evening out your skin tone while you sleep to help minimize the likelihood and duration of breakouts over time.
Pro tip: Avoid using this serum in combination with other acne spot treatments.
Check out our picks of the best chemical peels you can use at home.
Best for Cystic Acne: Renee Rouleau Anti Bump Solution
Stubborn cystic acne (those painful red bumps that never quite come to a head) is particularly hard to treat, as the zit itself is hidden deep under the surface of the skin. This cult-favorite cystic acne treatment from celebrity dermatologist Renee Rouleau uses ethyl lactate to purify your pores, methyl gluceth 20, which helps with inflammation, and citric acid to help with hyperpigmentation and scarring. Apply it immediately when you feel a cyst developing, and it will help reduce the inflammation and duration of the blemish.
Read through our picks of the best over-the-counter treatments for cystic acne.
Best Patch: Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch
If you have a pimple that’s inflamed and you want to bring it down fast, these patches are a perfect overnight fix. Much like a bandage, hydrocolloid patches help the acne medication penetrate deeper into the skin by keeping it where it’s needed—no rubbing off on your pillow. The patch environment keeps the skin moist and permeable while keeping out bacteria. They have an almost magical ability to flatten even the worst zits and reduce their appearance quickly.
See more reviews of our favorite acne patches available online.