The Science of Beauty: How Do Zit-Zapping Products Actually Work?

In our new series, The Science of Beauty, we're going to do a bit more research into the making of a great beauty product. While we've talked about the textures, scents, and efficacy of our favorite formulas in our Reviewed series, this one is meant to feed the other side of the brain—the side we perhaps haven't tapped into since chemistry class. We'll talk science, experiments, and the ingredients that make each product work with experts in each specific field. Then we'll check back in with our favorite hair and makeup artists to get a breakdown on how to best use the products once they're out of the lab and back in our bathrooms.

We can't pinpoint exactly who started it, but somewhere along the line, an insidious rumor crept into the cultural dialogue, leading everyone to believe that pimples only happen to teenagers. In high school, we were all promised that adulthood would bring not only legal freedom but flawless skin. Then we got here and realized that the battle against pimples would be a lifelong one. Le sigh.

Because adulthood comes with obligations more pressing than anything we experienced as teens, our zits actually seem worse now. We've all had the experience of waking up the day before a wedding or big meeting to find a meteoric zit taking up its own zip code on our faces.

In these moments, we rely on spot treatments—products that promise overnight pimple eradication. Sometimes they work like magic, but sometimes they leave something to be desired. Which begs the question: What is the science behind these products? What ingredients work best to banish zits? And how can we wield them most effectively?

For answers, we spoke to three zit-zapping experts: celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, Clean & Clear dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, and NYC dermatologist and founder of BeautyRx, Dr. Neal Schultz.

Keep scrolling to find out the science behind blemish-fighting products (and which ones work best)!