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When breakouts start to push their way through the surface of the skin, many of us enter attack mode. Forget letting it run its course. It's all about acting fast and breaking out the heavy artillery. Usually, this means applying one of the best acne spot treatments we can get our hands on.
However, know that spot treatments work best on pustules (traditional pimples filled with pus). If you have cystic acne or papules (inflamed red pimples that haven't quite reached the surface), spot treatments won't cut it. (For more info on how to treat other kinds of pimples, check out our foolproof guide.) But if you're dealing with a pesky pustule, we've got the best hard-hitting products that will shrink your skin's new resident in no time.
Keep scrolling to see the best acne spot treatments your money can buy.
Best Overall: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
There's a reason this formula is one of the go-to spot treatments for celebrities and beauty editors alike, including here at Byrdie HQ. In short? It actually works (and fast!) to dry up whiteheads and reduce the appearance of pesky breakouts overnight. Simply dab a bit of the formula—laced with a hard-hitting combo of salicylic acid, sulfur, and zinc oxide—onto the problem spot(s) before bed, let it dry, and then hit the hay. When you wake up, rinse off the lotion and the spot should be virtually undetectable. It's that easy.
Best Drugstore: Clean & Clear Advantage Spot Treatment
This drugstore classic is available almost anywhere. The gel formula contains witch hazel and salicylic acid and comes in a tapered squeeze tube. The applicator helpfully dispenses small doses without splattering everywhere, which helps if you’re in a rush. The spot treatment dries clear and sinks in quickly as it stops developing pimples and calms ones that have already popped up.
Best Daytime: TruSkin Tea Tree Clear Skin Serum
In case of angry, inflamed pimples, dot this on. While labeled a serum, the fast-absorbing Tea Tree Clear Skin Serum works just as well as a spot treatment for daytime. The dropper bottle contains a potent mix of antibacterial tea tree oil, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, and even niacinamide. Together, they bring down swelling and redness, brighten, and refine skin texture while preventing future pimples from forming.
Best Gel: Origins Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel
This gel spot treatment has everything—salicylic acid, red algae to (ironically) remove redness, and exfoliators to flush out dead skin cells and excess sebum. It's every pimple-busting weapon wrapped into one.
Breakouts clear within two to three days, with minimal scarring. Some reviewers preferred to use this at night, though the clear, unassuming gel also works during the day. As with most spot treatments, a little goes a long way. There’s even a slight tingle if you like to feel products working.
Best Budget: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution
As cheap as this is, it’s also effective and gentle on skin—nowhere near a clumsily formulated acid bath. The Ordinary’s solution contains acne-fighting salicylic acid as well as a milder form of witch hazel, an astringent that cuts oil and deflates pimples without choking the moisture out of your skin. Thanks to its exfoliating and soothing properties, the solution clears closed comedones, ingrown hairs, blackheads, and whiteheads while reducing redness, even balancing oily skin.
Best Classic: Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment
You’ve probably seen this product’s characteristic pink formula dotted all over people’s faces on Instagram. Housed in a vaguely medical-looking glass bottle, the EradiKate Acne Treatment uses sulfur and AHAs to reduce existing pimples while preventing new ones. As the treatment shrinks pimples overnight, zinc oxide absorbs excess sebum to control oil, which helps keep the area clear. Even hormonal acne disappears faster. Without shaking the bottle, dip a Q-Tip into the bottle, pick up the thick pink solution, and apply it to your blemish.
Best Portable: Glossier Zit Stick
For on-the-go acne emergencies, look no further than this Glossier acne spot treatment. This portable pen shrinks pimples and calms swelling with a blend of benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, and capryloyl salicylic acid (a less irritating derivative of salicylic acid). It's also hypoallergenic, vegan, and cruelty-free, and you can reapply it up to three times a day—even over makeup. Plus, it doesn't hurt that the packaging is like a Tide to Go stick, but cuter.
Best for Mild Acne: Cosrx Master Pimple Patch
These humble hydrocolloid patches from Cosrx are ideal for sucking the gunk out of pimples and healing picked-at skin. These patches are your friend when you get too enthusiastic with extracting a pimple and accidentally create a small wound, or if you’re always touching your face. The protective covering reduces bacteria transfer while healing the skin.
The way they work is simple: Once you smooth on the patch, it slowly draws out all the oil and bacteria inside the blemish while keeping other contaminants out. They're not meant to work instantly, gradually shrinking blemishes through the least invasive means possible. The translucent patch grows opaque as it clears out the pimple, and a white dot becomes visible in the center to let you know when to remove it.
Best LED: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare SpotLite Acne Treatment Device
OK, we know this isn't the same type of spot treatment as the others on this list, but this FDA-approved LED therapy device is just as effective at treating acne. So how does it work? It's powered by blue and red LED light for a two-pronged approach—blue light fights acne-causing bacteria while red light reduces inflammation and redness. Just place it directly onto your breakout spot, hold the power button, and keep it there for the brand-recommended three minutes (the device will shut off automatically). Continue use and you'll see a reduction in redness, inflammation, and pimple size within a few days.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Kiehl's Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment
If you have sensitive skin that gets irritated by benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, you may want to try a sulfur-based acne treatment like this one from Kiehl's—sulfur has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and it helps to soften and exfoliate dead skin. Plus, this formula contains niacinamide to help brighten the skin and prevent signs of aging. Translation: your pimple will be a thing of the past before you know it.
Best Patch: Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots
Best Overnight Treatment: Renée Rouleau Night Time Spot Lotion
For those times when an angry bump rears its head practically before your eyes, Renée Rouleau's fast-acting acne spot treatment is invaluable. Specifically formulated for surface-infected blemishes, it uses a down-to-business approach with potent blemish-clearing ingredients like zinc oxide, sulfur, and camphor.