The 20 Best Acne Creams of 2023

Differin Adapalene Gel is our best overall pick

We independently evaluate all recommended products and services. If you click on links we provide, we may receive compensation. Learn more.
Acne Cream

Byrdie / Kevin Liang

Breakouts are inevitable, but especially during times of stress. So, it's no surprise this year has led to its 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, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas, explains.

Want to add an acne cream to your breakout-fighting regimen? We tapped an expert for recommendations and tried a few top-rated products for ourselves to compile this list of acne creams that actually work. We looked at active ingredients (like salicylic acid, niacinamide, and retinol in each formula), and also took into account how well the formulas fare on sensitive skin, if they're non-comedogenic, and how often they can be used. We then cross referenced our expert-recommended picks with the top-rated products we found (aka those that have five-star reviews or are among our editor's tried-and-true favorites).

Best Overall

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment



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 ounces

Best Budget

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%


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: $6

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

Best for Clogged Pores

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



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: $134

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

Best Spot Treatment

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion



What We Like
  • Great for surface breakouts

  • Can be applied anywhere on the body

  • Easy application

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

Ask anyone who’s ever struggled with acne, and they'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. In case you didn't know, 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.

Price at time of publish: $17

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

What Our Testers Say

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

Best Patch

COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch



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: $6

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

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 Natural

Marla Rene Beauty & Co. Calendula Clear Serum


Marla Rene

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 percent 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.

The aloe vera in the formula is not to be missed, either. 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 percent water.

Price at time of publish: $46

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

Best for Acne Scars

Mary Louise Miracle Serum



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 the 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 ounces

Best for Cystic Acne

Renée 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.

Price at time of publish: $50

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

Best Serum

Evologie Intensive Blemish Serum



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 the 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.

Price at time of publish: $35

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

Best for Body

Paula's Choice Clear Acne Body Spray



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 percent 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.

Price at time of purchase: $28

Type: Spray | Active Ingredients: Salicylic Acid 2% | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Hyperpigmentation

Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution



What We Like
  • Diminishes dullness

  • Dermatologist-tested

  • Gentle

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (i.e., 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.

Price at time of purchase: $35

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

Best for Blackheads

Glossier Solution



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 percent 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.

Price at time of purchase: $38

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

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

Spot treatment

Rosen Skincare

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.

Price at time of purchase: $12

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

Best Gel Moisturizer

Clinique Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel



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 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.

Price at time of purchase: $30

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

Best Splurge

SkinBetter Science 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 its patented Alpharet system, which consists of lactic acid and retinoid. This prescription strength formula also has salicylic acid to control oil production and improve skin clarity, while niacinamide and hyaluronic acid tag team to balance your hydration levels. Worth the splurge, this bottle pumps out just the right amount per application. Use it two to three times a week at night, and be sure to top it with sunscreen in the morning, as retinoids make your skin more sensitive.

Price at time of publish: $135

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

Best for Sensitive Skin

Cocokind Probiotic Acne Serum



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 percent salicylic acid to regulate oil production without irritating the skin. Probiotics create a healthy skin barrier, and research has shown it 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 ounce

Best Gel

Tula Clear It Up Acne Clearing and Tone Correcting Gel

Tula Clear It Up Acne Clearing and Tone Correcting Gel


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 percent salicylic acid and azelaic acid to control breakouts and treat hyperpigmentation. As 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 ounce

Best for Dry Skin

Avvrani Balance Restoring Serum



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 that 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: $60

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

Best LED

Foreo Espada Blue Light Acne Treatment



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.

Price at time of publish: $159

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

Best Mask

Hyper Skin Fade and Glow AHA Mask

Facial mask

Hyper Skin

What We Like
  • Effective ingredients

  • Great for all skin types

  • Multi-use

What We Don't Like
  • Small amount in packaging

Feel a breakout forming? Try this mask from Hyper Skin made with mandelic acid, glycolic acid, and niacinamide. that visibly brightens the complexion, smooths texture, and fades stubborn dark spots. Leave it on for 15 minutes and let it lift dull, dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, minimizing the appearance of blemishes and other signs of congestion.

Price at time of publish: $48

Key Ingredients: Mandelic acid, glycolic acid, niacinamide | Type: Mask | Size: 1.7 ounces

Meet the Expert

  • Donna Hart, MD, FAAD is a board-certified medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatologist. She is based in Austin, Texas.

What to Look For in Acne Creams

Types of Acne

Not all acne is the same. From surface breakouts with a white head to blackheads to papules and even cysts, each type of acne requires something different to keep them in check. Although there is a 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 (like in the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion); if you're battling blackheads, look for salicylic acid and glycolic acid (like in the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum); and if you have texture or whiteheads, try a retinoid (like the SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Clearing Serum).

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 percent. These potent formulations are what allow for quick results to diminish the appearance of inflammation and 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.

Type of Product

The type of product matters, too. Some products on this list are intended for use on your whole face (like the Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1%), whereas others are only to be used on one specific spot (like the Renée Rouleau Anti Bump Solution). Different kinds of acne require different kinds of treatments, so be sure to read labels and instructions before purchasing for best results.

  • How does acne cream work?

    Driven by powerful active ingredients like salicylic acid, lactic acid, or retinoids, acne creams work to dissolve dead skin cells, control excess oil production, and reduce the look 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?

    There are several different kinds of acne creams, each applied in different ways—so be sure to read the package instructions on your product (or consult your dermatologist if you're not sure). Regardless of the type of cream, you’ll want to use it at night after cleansing. Once you've applied the cream, top it off with a hydrating moisturizer.

How We Researched

To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.

Why Trust Byrdie

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

Updated by Caitlyn Martyn
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.
  1. Berson D, Alexis A. Adapalene 0.3% for the treatment of acne in womenJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013;6(10):32-35.

  2. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive reviewClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:455-461. doi:10.2147/CCID.S84765

  3. Kuo CW, Chiu YF, Wu MH, et al. Gelatin/Chitosan Bilayer Patches Loaded with Cortex Phellodendron amurense/Centella asiatica Extracts for Anti-Acne ApplicationPolymers (Basel). 2021;13(4):579. doi:10.3390/polym13040579

  4. Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, Pongparit K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(5):36-44.

  5. Arora D, Rani A, Sharma A. A review on phytochemistry and ethnopharmacological aspects of genus CalendulaPharmacogn Rev. 2013;7(14):179-187. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.120520

  6. Hekmatpou D, Mehrabi F, Rahzani K, Aminiyan A. The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic ReviewIran J Med Sci. 2019;44(1):1-9.

  7. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the SkinMolecules. 2018;23(4):863. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863

  8. Johnson W Jr, Heldreth B, Bergfeld WF, et al. Safety Assessment of Methyl Glucose Polyethers and Esters as Used in CosmeticsInt J Toxicol. 2016;35(2 suppl):12S-40S. doi:10.1177/1091581816670322

  9. Evologie. YS3 Complex.

  10. Sarkar R, Arora P, Garg KV. Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available?J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2013;6(1):4-11. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.110089

  11. Neag MA, Mocan A, Echeverría J, et al. Berberine: Botanical Occurrence, Traditional Uses, Extraction Methods, and Relevance in Cardiovascular, Metabolic, Hepatic, and Renal DisordersFront Pharmacol. 2018;9:557. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00557

  12. Kiehl's. The Skin Benefits of Activated C.

  13. Lu YS, Jiang Y, Yuan JP, et al. UVA Induced Oxidative Stress Was Inhibited by Paeoniflorin/Nrf2 Signaling or PLIN2Front Pharmacol. 2020;11:736. doi:10.3389/fphar.2020.00736

  14. Health Essentials Cleveland Clinic. How to Get Rid of Blackheads.

  15. Kornhauser A, Coelho SG, Hearing VJ. Effects of cosmetic formulations containing hydroxyacids on sun-exposed skin: current applications and future developmentsDermatol Res Pract. 2012;2012:710893. doi:10.1155/2012/710893

  16. Hekmatpou D, Mehrabi F, Rahzani K, Aminiyan A. The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic ReviewIran J Med Sci. 2019;44(1):1-9.

  17. Bains P, Kaur M, Kaur J, Sharma S. Nicotinamide: Mechanism of action and indications in dermatologyIndian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2018;84(2):234-237. doi:10.4103/ijdvl.IJDVL_286_17

  18. Gupta M, Mahajan VK, Mehta KS, Chauhan PS. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a reviewDermatol Res Pract. 2014;2014:709152. doi:10.1155/2014/709152

  19. Singh R, Shushni MAM, Belkheir A. Antibacterial and antioxidant activities of Mentha piperita L. Arabian Journal of Chemistry. 2015;8(3):322-328. doi:10.1016/j.arabjc.2011.01.019

  20. Elsaie LT, El Mohsen AM, Ibrahim IM, Mohey-Eddin MH, Elsaie ML. Effectiveness of topical peppermint oil on symptomatic treatment of chronic pruritusClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016;9:333-338. doi:10.2147/CCID.S116995

  21. Scott AM, Stehlik P, Clark J, et al. Blue-Light Therapy for Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysisAnn Fam Med. 2019;17(6):545-553. doi:10.1370/afm.2445

Related Stories