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For what boils down to a small mass of oil and dead skin, surprise pimples have an uncanny sense of timing. They’ll show up in their angriest, reddest incarnations overnight, just before a wedding, or pop up under your skin where you can’t get to them. Fortunately, acne may be stubborn and unpredictable, but it’s not made of Teflon. When masks and serums aren’t enough, spot treatments, filled with strong ingredients that target specific blemishes rather than your entire face, cut down the lifespan of blemishes while minimizing scarring and flaking—as opposed to attacking pimples with tweezers (or worst case scenario, your fingers). We’ve rounded up the top acne spot treatments, from a tea tree oil formula loaded with active ingredients to a powerful patch that attacks cystic acne.
Best Overall: Origins Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel
Versatile and fast-acting, this gel hits pause on pimples before they balloon out of control. Witch hazel, which has naturally occurring salicylic acid, and oregano oil flatten blemishes, while red algae soothes the skin against irritation. Thanks to apple and cucumber extracts, the Super Spot Remover even mitigates hyperpigmentation.
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. Dab on with a cotton swab (there’s even a slight tingle, if you like to feel products working). Dryer skin types might see flakiness, so use sparingly.
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.
Reviewers found the light gel, packaged in The Ordinary’s typical dropper bottle, absorbed quickly without leaving a flaky film. Once it dries, makeup applies over the gel with no problem. The bonus? The simple ingredients list makes it easier to figure out what products won’t interact with it.
Best Drugstore Option: Clean & Clear Advantage Spot Treatment with Witch Hazel
Finally, the drugstore classic that’s available almost anywhere, if you can’t get your hands on The Ordinary’s spot treatment. The Clean & Clear spot treatment isn’t quite as elegant as the other products on this list (you will get some dry flakes) and stings when you first apply, but works in a pinch. If you also need something you can wear during the day, this is your best bet.
The gel formula contains witch hazel and salicylic acid, and comes in a tapered squeeze tube. The applicator helpfully dispenses small doses without splattering product 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: 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 (use a cotton swab to apply). Together, they bring down swelling and redness, brighten, and refine skin texture while preventing future pimples from forming.
The serum sinks into skin and layers well with makeup, though you’ll need to wear sunscreen due to the inclusion of vitamin C. It also contains retinol so avoid combining with acids and don’t exfoliate before or after applying the serum.
Best for Cystic Acne: Acropass Trouble Cure
Cystic acne, the chaotic evil version of acne, doesn’t respond to much, thanks to its tendency to burrow deep within your skin beyond the reach of most topical treatments. Enter this unique patch by Acropass, which uses a two-step process to attack under-the-skin pimples. First, you swipe the area with a pad saturated with salicylic acid and tea tree oil before smoothing on the patch. Each Trouble Cure patch has tiny microneedles (think miniature Velcro rather than, say, Saw-inspired skincare) infused with hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and oligopeptide-76.
These ingredients go to work deep within the blemish to clean out bacteria and reduce inflammation. This way, they stop under-the-skin pimples in their tracks. Aside from flattening cystic acne and speeding up the healing process, the sticker mechanism reduces the temptation to poke and produce at the stubborn bumps.
Best Overnight Treatment: 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 help keeps the area clear. Even hormonal acne disappears faster.
The treatment is aggressive, which means some dryness, and the pink dots might be best for nighttime. The biggest complaint? The smell, which, thanks to the inclusion of sulfur might take you back to the days of unglamorous, odorous acne remedies. The results, however, are well worth the olfactory quirks.
Best Patch: Cosrx Master Pimple Patch
While the Acropass patches are more aggressive, these humble hydrocolloid patches from Cosrx are also 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 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. The Master Pimple Patch comes in three sizes per pack. 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.
Our writers spent 45 hours researching the most popular acne spot treatments on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 23 different treatments overall, screened options from 21 different brands and manufacturers, read over 80 user reviews (both positive and negative) and tested 2 of the treatments themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.