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The best acne creams vary widely depending on your acne type, your skin, and even your climate. So how do you decide? The good news is, there are more great acne creams out there than ever before. If you suffer from chronic acne, some of these treatments can be incorporated into your regular skincare routine to promote overall skin health and prevent your pores from getting clogged. If your spots only appear occasionally or pop up thanks to fluctuations in your hormones, the best acne creams may have an entirely different formula. We’ve also selected acne creams suited for different times of day—the night treatment you swear by might look a little out of place if you wear it to the office.
An important part of using acne creams is making sure that you don’t have too many active ingredients competing with each other, as they can be hard on the skin surrounding your pimples, so try testing one at a time to find the perfect product for your skin.
Best Overall: Clinique Acne Solutions Clearing Gel
If you didn’t have a trio of Clinique products sitting in your bathroom at some point in the last several decades, were you even a teenager? Even if your teen years are far behind you, that same simple, salicylic-acid-based treatment is 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. Some reviewers find the product overly drying, which can itself cause breakouts as your skin increases oil production to counteract dryness, so make sure to pair it with a rich, non-comedogenic moisturizer to keep your skin supple and happy. The ultra-simple formula is hypoallergenic as well as fragrance-, oil- and paraben-free, so you’ll be able to solve one skin problem at a time.
Best Budget: 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. This active ingredient is the first new acne-fighter that’s been made available over the counter in over 30 years, so 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.
Best for Acne Scars: Murad Post-Acne Spot Lightening Gel
If you’re worried about acne scars, the term to know is "hydroquinone." This ingredient fades post-acne skin discoloration after healing by blocking the production of melanin (the pigment that gives color to your skin). It works over the course of a few months to lighten the area you’re treating—just be sure to apply it carefully and avoid non-hyperpigmented skin around the spot. The 2% concentration is the highest available without a prescription, and an added combination of willow bark and tea tree oils help to soothe inflammation and cleanse the spot to reduce the overall appearance of the scar.
Best BB Cream: IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better
Rather than staying inside and hiding during a bad breakout (although sometimes we wish we could), there’s a perfect solution for both covering the most noticeable aspects of your acne and treating it at the same time. Surprisingly full-coverage for a BB cream, thanks to the SPF 50+ broad-spectrum physical sunscreen, it hydrates your skin and helps to brighten your complexion. Best of all, if you’re at the pimples-and-wrinkles stage of life, this formula is infused with an anti-aging serum made of hydrolyzed collagen, peptides, niacin, hyaluronic acid, vitamins, and antioxidants that shrink wrinkles and pores to improve your overall skin texture.
Best Overnight: 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. Avoid using this serum in combination with other acne spot treatment. It’s best used only a few times a week to improve overall skin health.
Best Daytime: Dermalogica Breakout Control
When you’re getting ready to go for the day and you’ve got a pimple you’re trying to nip in the bud, you don’t want to go 12 more hours without treatment. This gel absorbs super quickly, so it’s easy to apply makeup right afterward, and it keeps working for you all day long. The formula uses antibacterials like lactobacillus ferment to help exfoliate the surface and bring the pimple to a head, while an azelaic acid derivative controls oil production. We love the inclusion of colloidal silver, too, which is known to kill bacteria and prevent the spread of breakouts.
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 reduce the inflammation and duration of the blemish.
Best Spot Treatment: 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. We love the formula in these patches from Korean skincare brand Coxrs. They have an almost magical ability to flatten even the worst zits and reduce their appearance quickly.
Our writers spent 8 hours researching the most popular acne cream on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 15 different acne cream overall, screened options from 20 different brands and manufacturers, read over 40 user reviews (both positive and negative) and tested 6 of the acne cream themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.