The 20 Best Acne Creams of 2022

Differin Adapalene Gel is our best overall pick

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Breakouts are inevitable, but especially during times of stress. So, it's no surprise 2021 has led to it's fair share of pimples cropping up on our (usually masked) faces. "In times of stress, your stress hormones rise and trigger your oil glands to produce more oil, which then triggers acne flares,” Donna Hart, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas, explains.

To figure out how to best proceed—i.e. using helpful, effective products to target and heal breakouts without feeling bad about our skin—we did some research. We tested, reviewed, and wrote everything down. Below, find the best acne products to tackle blemishes at any stage and in any situation.

Best Overall

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

4.8
differin-adapalene-gel-01-at-amazon

Amazon

What We Like
  • Quick results

  • Prevents future breakouts

  • Available at the drugstore

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

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.

Price at time of publish: $15

Key Ingredients: Adapalene | Type: Gel | Size: 1.6 oz

Best for Clogged Pores

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

4.2
drunk-elephant-tlc-framboos-glycolic-night-serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Quick results

  • Easy application

  • Helps hyperpigmented acne scars

What We Don't Like
  • Can be strong for sensitive skin

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.

Price at time of publish: $90

Key Ingredients: AHA Blend, Salicylic Acid, Raspberry Fruit Extract | Type: Exfoliating Serum | Size: 1 oz

Best Patch

COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch

4.8
cosrx-acne-pimple-master-patch-at-amazon

Amazon

What We Like
  • Multiple patch sizes

  • Discourages picking

  • Easy application

What We Don't Like
  • Not great for large papules

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.

Price at time of publish: $10

Key Ingredients: 100% Hydrocolloid | Type: Patch  Size: 24 patches, S, M, L

cosrx acne pimple master patch

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

What Our Testers Say

"I wasn't expecting a quick fix the next morning, but I am happy to report that while the pimple wasn't gone, it was significantly smaller. I count this as a win in my book. I don't believe in overnight skincare treatments, but these patches changed my mind." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester

Best Spot Treatment

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

5
mario-badescu-drying-lotion-at-amazon

Amazon

What We Like
  • Great for surface breakouts

  • Can be applied anywhere on the body

  • Easy application

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

Key Ingredients

Sulfur is a natural element that is an essential component for all living cells. Sulfur-based products tend to work best for mild-to-moderate acne, primarily whiteheads, blackheads, and papules.

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.

Price at time of publish: $16

Key Ingredients: Calamine, Sulfur, Salicylic Acid | Type: Lotion | Size: 1 oz

mario badescu drying lotion

Byrdie / Bianca Lmabert

What Our Testers Say

"Mario Badescu's Drying Lotion does just what it says: stops pimples in their tracks and calms them at the same time." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester

Best Natural

Marla Rene Beauty & Co. Calendula Clear Serum

marla-rene-beauty-co-calendula-clear-serum

Marla Rene

Key Ingredients

Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skincare products) is made up of 99.5% water.

What We Like
  • Moisturizes

  • Cooling to the skin

  • Easy application

What We Don't Like
  • Can take time to see results

This clarifying serum is 100% natural and plant-based to gently calm irritated and acne-prone skin. It has aloe vera to increase skin's elasticity and restore its optimum pH balance, and alcohol-free witch hazel to control oil production and prevent future breakouts. The real star ingredient is calendula, which promotes the fast healing and regeneration of skin.

Price at time of publish: $46

Key Ingredients: Calendula, Aloe Vera, Witch Hazel | Type: Serum  Size: 1 oz

Runner-Up, Best for Acne Scars

Mary Louise Miracle Serum

mary-louise-miracle-serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Helps skin clarity

  • Moisturizes

  • Clean ingredients

What We Don't Like
  • Pricer than other options

If you've tried everything for your acne scars to no avail, this might be the serum for you. This vegan and cruelty free product is super packed with nutrients to target several skincare concerns, including acne scars, eczema, razor bumps, hydration, and hyperpigmentation. It absorbs quickly into skin for a non-greasy finish, and we especially love that this serum plays nicely under skincare.

Users say that it has anti-inflammatory properties and gave them a clearer, glowing complexion.

Price at time of publish: $35

Key Ingredients: Baobab Oil, Jojoba, Vitamin C | Type: Serum | Size: 2 oz

Best Mask

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay

4.6
Aztec Secret – Indian Healing Clay

Amazon

What We Like
  • Can be used anywhere on the body

  • Great for oily skin

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

Key Ingredients

Apple cider vinegar is fermented apple juice formed by when yeast mixes with the sugar of the juice. It contains acetic acid, which has antibacterial and keratolytic properties, and it also contains malic acid, a gentle chemical exfoliant.

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.

Price at time of publish: $15

 

Key Ingredients: 100% Bentonite Clay | Type: Mask | Size: 2lb

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay

Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

Best for Cystic Acne

Renée Rouleau Anti Bump Solution

renee-rouleau-anti-bump-solution

Renee Rouleau

What We Like
  • 50-percent quicker skin recovery when used

  • 30+ years of proven results

  • Also treats infected ingrown hairs

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

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 esthetician Renee Rouleau uses lactic acid to purify your pores, methyl gluceth 20, which helps moisturize, 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.

Type: Cream-Liquid | Active Ingredients: Lactic Acid, Citric Acid | Size: 0.5 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Serum

Evologie Intensive Blemish Serum

evologie-intensive-blemish-serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Travel-friendly trio

  • Leaves skin feeling refreshed

  • Doctor-developed formula

What We Don't Like
  • Unpleasant smell to some

The top-selling acne product online comes from doctor-developed brand Evologie. Its patent-pending YS3 Complex uses azelaic acid 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.

Benefits: Fades discoloration and scars | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Once a day | Size: 0.7, 0.33, and 0.33 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best LED

Foreo Espada

foreo-espada

Sephora

What We Like
  • Ultra-soft medical-grade silicone

  • T-Sonic pulsations

  • Skin-sensor activated

What We Don't Like
  • Runs out of battery fast

If creams and gels aren't your thing, light therapy is also effective at treating acne—and fast, too. This Foreo device uses a combo of laser-focused blue LED light and T-Sonic pulsations to fight acne-causing bacteria in just 30 seconds. It's also totally waterproof, and according to the brand, you can use it up to 100 times per charge. Just press the center button, point the device at your blemish using the targeting red light, and hold for 30 seconds; you can repeat this up to four times for a stronger treatment.

Benefits: Stimulates blood microcirculation and facilitates renewal | Skin Type: Acne-Prone | LED Lights: 415nm Blue | Session Duration: 30 seconds a day

Best for Body

Paula's Choice Clear Acne Body Spray

paulas-choice-acne-body-spray

Amazon

What We Like
  • SPF 30+

  • Very refreshing

  • Soothes redness

What We Don't Like
  • Results not drastic to some

Looking to treat hard-to-reach areas of the body (like your back)? Grab this Paula's Choice spray-on body exfoliant, which contains 2% salicylic acid to fight blemishes, bumps, and blackheads, as well as licorice root (to calm irritated skin) and barberry (which is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory). This product is also alcohol-free and dries quickly, so you can spray it on and go.

Type: Spray | Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid 2% | Size: 4.0 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Hyperpigmentation

Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution

4.4
kiehls-clearly-corrective-dark-spot-treatment

Sephora

What We Like
  • Diminishes dullness

  • Dermatologist-tested

  • Gentle

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (ie. pesky dark spots and discoloration that can crop up post-breakout) is super common—even more so for those with darker skin tones. The good news? This lightweight Kiehl's solution can help, ASAP. Activated C, a fast-acting form of vitamin C, works to reduce the appearance of dark spots while peony extract shields against oxidative damage. Clearer skin, coming right up.

Type: Liquid | Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, Salicylic Acid | Size: 0.5, 1.0, 1.7, and 3.4 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Blackheads

Glossier Solution

4.4
glossier-solution

Glossier

What We Like
  • “Unglues” dead skin and sweeps it away

  • Effectively clears up skin

  • Vegan

What We Don't Like
  • Feels sticky

While pore strips may seem satisfying, they can actually cause more harm than good when it comes to treating blackheads. Glossier's Solution, a liquid exfoliator, is an alternative we love. It improves the appearance of blemishes with a 10% blend of skincare acids (salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids, and polyhydroxy acid), while aloe, glycerin, and niacinamide hydrate and calm the skin. It's also dermatologist-tested, cruelty-free, and vegan.

Type: Exfoliator Liquid-Cream | Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid | Size: 4.4 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Glossier Solution

Byrdie / Jenna Igneri

What Our Testers Say

"Spots that felt rough or bumpy were smoother, and the blackheads around my nose started to disappear. By the end of the four weeks, my complexion was a lot less dull and looked overall much healthier and radiant." — Jenna Igneri, Product Tester

Best Overnight

Rosen Skincare Break-Out

Rosen Skincare Break-Out Spot Treatment

 Courtesy of Urban Outfitters

What We Like
  • Made from antibacterial ingredients

  • Affordable

  • Heals inflammation

What We Don't Like
  • Applicator wand can be hard to use

This product looks a bit like Wite-Out, but it's not just a way to cover blemishes—it works to shrink and heal them overnight. The hero of its innovative formula is zinc oxide, which helps combat redness, irritation, and inflammation. From there, peppermint oil, which is antiseptic and anti-microbial, cools and calms the skin, and apple cider vinegar, which is anti-bacterial, helps prevent further breakouts. For clearer skin in the morning, apply to a problem area before you snooze.

Type: Cream | Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide, Apple Cider Vinegar | Size: 0.3 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Gel Moisturizer

Clinique Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel

clinique-acne-solutions-clinical-clearing-gel

Sephora

What We Like
  • Allergy-tested

  • Fast-drying

  • Prescription-strength formula

What We Don't Like
  • Feels drying to some

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.

Type: Gel | Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid 1% | Size: 0.5 and 1.0 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Budget

THE ORDINARY Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

4.5
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Smooths skin

  • Great for oil control

  • Can be used with other acne creams

What We Don't Like
  • May take time to see results

Just when you think you're about to spend your entire paycheck on acne creams, here’s The Ordinary saving your skin and your bank account. Loaded with skin-balancing niacinamide and anti-bacterial zinc, this serum regulates excess oil production and calms breakouts. Just a few drops of the lightweight water-based serum does the trick and it can be applied both morning and night.

Price at time of publish: $7

Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, Zinc PCA | Type: Serum | Size: 1 oz

Best Splurge

SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Clearing Serum

skinbetter-alpharet-clearing-serum

Skin Better

What We Like
  • Visibly improves skin clarity

  • Quick results

  • Great for oil control

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying for sensitive skin

A thin layer of this clearing serum at night is all it takes to visibly see results in just eight weeks. Skinbetter delivers a potent blemish control product made with their patented Alpharet system which consists of lactic acid and retinoid. This prescription strength formula also has salicylic acid to control oil production and improves skin clarity, while niacinamide and hyaluronic acid tag teams balancing your hydration levels. Worth the splurge, this bottle pumps out just the right amount per application. Use it 2-3 times a week at night and be sure to top with sunscreen in the am as retinoids make your skin more sensitive.

Price at time of publish: $130

Key Ingredients: Lactic Acid, Retinoid, Salicylic Acid | Type: Serum | Size: 1 oz

Best for Sensitive Skin

Cocokind Probiotic Acne Serum

cocokind-probiotic-acne-serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Gentle and effective

  • Affordable

  • Sustainable packaging

What We Don't Like
  • Can take time to see results

While not every acne solution is for sensitive skin, this probiotic serum takes a gentle approach to treating acne with 1.5% salicylic acid to regulate oil production without irritating skin. Probiotics create a healthy skin barrier and research has shown helps to  eliminate bad bacteria. Apply this pH balanced serum to your full face or use it as a spot treatment where needed.

Price at time of publish: $20

Key Ingredients: Salicylic Acid, Beta Glucans, Probiotics | Type: Serum | Size: 1 oz

Best Probiotic

Tula Clear It Up Acne Clearing and Tone Correcting Gel

4.8
Tula Clear It Up Acne Clearing and Tone Correcting Gel

Amazon

What We Like
  • Quick Results

  • Improves texture

  • Helps hyperpigmentation

What We Don't Like
  • Pricer than other options

This acne clearing gel is powered by probiotics, and superfoods. Developed by Dr. Roshini Raj, Tula uses FDA cleared 2% salicylic Acid, and azelaic acid to control breakouts and treat hyperpigmentation. Like we mentioned above, prebiotics and probiotics help retain moisture and improve the skin's microbiome. This formulation is also free of alcohol, parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, and fragrance, which makes it great for sensitive or reactive skin.

Price at time of publish: $38

Key Ingredients: Salicylic Acid, Probiotics, Azelaic Acid | Type: Gel | Size: 1 oz

Best for Dry Skin

Avvrani Balance Restoring Serum

avvrani-balance-restoring-serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Calms redness

  • Moisturizes

  • Prevents future breakouts

What We Don't Like
  • Very thin, watery texture

It’s one thing to have breakouts, but to have dry, flaky skin at the same time, that’s downright annoying. Instead of throwing in the towel, reach for this restoring serum. While acneic skin can be both dry and oily at the same time, Avvrani uses ingredients to combat this. This balancing serum consists of aloe vera, cucumber extract, and glycerin to restore moisture levels, while studies have shown tea tree oil  controls breakouts. This alcohol-free serum feels cool when applied and is packed with calming botanicals to soothe and protect the skin barrier.

Price at time of publish: $36

Key Ingredients: Cucumber Extract, Aloe Vera, Tea Tree, Witch Hazel | Type: Serum | Size: 1.7 oz

What to Look For in Acne Creams

Types of Acne

Not all acne is the same. From surface breakouts with a white head, blackheads to papules, and even cysts, each type of acne requires something different to keep them in check. Although there is crossover between acne treatments like salicylic acid and retinoids that can tackle most acne, keep in mind that certain acne creams may not be suitable for the current acne you have. If you have cystic acne and pimples look for sulfur or lactic acid, if you're battling blackheads look for salicylic acid, and if you have texture or whiteheads try a retinoid.

Active Ingredients

Active ingredients are at the core of acne creams and usually come in heavy concentrations. You may see acids varying from 1-12%. These potent formulations are what allows for quick results to diminish the appearance of inflammation, scars and improve texture. If you run on the oiler side, keep an eye out for salicylic acid and niacinamide. If your skin tends to be dry or sensitive look for tea tree oil, lactic or azelaic acid.

FAQ
  • How does acne cream work?

    Driven by powerful active ingredients like salicylic acid, lactic acid, or retinoids and the like, acne creams utilize these exfoliating properties to dissolve dead skin cells, control the excess oil production associated with acne, and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Often, these creams are mixed with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to retain moisture and balance the skin barrier. When used consistently acne creams help prevent future breakouts, calm inflammation, and can improve the appearance of acne scars.

  • How do you apply acne cream?

    Think of acne cream as the second step in your skincare routine. You’ll want to cleanse your skin first before applying anything else. Due to active ingredients and high concentrations in acne creams, they can pose the risk of making your skin susceptible to a sunburn. For this reason, we typically recommend applying your acne cream at night. Apply a thin layer to damp, cleansed skin. After your acne cream, add your moisturizer to lock in hydration. Read the directions for each product for proper use.

Why Trust Byrdie

Lauren Hackney Behringer has over 10 years experience as a celebrity aesthetician, health coach, writer, and beauty industry expert. As a practicing medical aesthetician Lauren sees first hand how skincare performs on her NYC clients. She is also a devoted skin care enthusiast, always ready to try the latest beauty products.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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