When an uninvited guest (read: pimple) decides to pop up, it’s easy to go straight into panic mode. But instead of picking, popping, and causing even more inflammation, your first instinct should be to reach for one of the best acne spot treatments. Because the truth is: A drying lotion, pimple patch, or other acne spot treatment is going to be the quickest, most effective, and least irritating method to shrink your unwanted zit. “Acne spot treatments often contain ingredients that expedite wound healing and dry up any oozing, which improves skin quickly and certainly speeds up the pimple process,” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
Giving a targeted dose of salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to your little friend can make it look a whole lot smaller in just 24 to 48 hours. As for *exactly* which product you’ll want to use to get the pimple-shrinking job done? A lot of it boils down to personal preference and skin type. There are superpowered drying gels great for pussy pimples (lookin’ at you Mario Badescu), invisible patches for a daytime treatment, and gentle pastes formulated specifically for those with sensitive skin. Here, we’ve rounded up the best acne spot treatments of all time—and answered every question you could possibly have about using ‘em.
How Does a Spot Treatment Work?
“Acne spot treatments work by delivering direct levels of anti-inflammatory ingredients to quickly decrease the redness and swelling associated with pimples,” explains Dr. Nazarian. Because a spot treatment is typically occlusive, a.k.a. it forms a protective barrier on the outside of your pimple, it’s able to “enhance the delivery of topical ingredients and stimulate healing.”
But let’s lay some ground rules: An acne spot treatment isn’t the best course of action for someone with acneic skin. If that’s the case, you’ll want to work with a dermatologist and adopt a skincare routine for acne-prone skin. That said, a spot treatment is one of the most effective ways to treat a particularly angry or unexpected pimple.
What Should I Look for in a Spot Treatment?
Every spot treatment on our list is a winner—but selecting the right one for your specific skin type and concerns boils down to the ingredient list. Dr. Nazarian explains that benzoyl peroxide is “wonderful for killing bacteria that can lead to pimples” and is ideal for deeper, red zits. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, is preferable for treating blackheads and whiteheads. Dr. Rabach adds that ingredients like sulfur and zinc are particularly calming and anti-inflammatory, while a spot treatment with lactic or kojic acid (both have exfoliating properties) will be beneficial to anyone dealing with hyperpigmentation. If you have sensitive skin, make sure to seek out a product with soothing ingredients like aloe vera or niacinamide.
The Best Acne Spot Treatments
- The Best Spot Treatment for Blackheads: Dr. Barbara Sturm The Ultimate Stinky Pimple Treatment (opens in new tab)
- The Best Spot Treatment for Whiteheads: First Aid Beauty Pharma BHA Acne Spot Treatment Gel
- The Best Spot Treatment for Cysts: Renee Rouleau Anti Bump Solution (opens in new tab)
- The Best Pimple Patch Spot Treatment: Starface Hydro-Stars (opens in new tab)
- The Best Spot Treatment for Sensitive Skin: EVE LOM Dynaspot Treatment (opens in new tab)
The Best Oil-Regulating Acne Spot Treatment
Don’t say we didn’t warn you—this cream smells like rotten eggs. But the same shale oil that gives it its stink is also responsible for its sebum-regulating powers. This ointment can be dabbed on a blemish before bed, or layered on thick to a particularly nasty cyst. But, if your skin is generally acting up, consider sleeping with a layer all-over for a little reset. As luck would have it, this can also be preventative in nature. Just consider lighting a candle to compensate for the stink.
Pros: Controls oil; Good for blackheads; Can be worn under makeup
The Best Acne Spot Treatment for Cysts
While most spot treatments aren’t going to do a whole lot for cystic acne, this particular product has developed a bit of a cult-following for its ability to calm down blind pimples. With lactic acid, citric acid, and a moisturizing agent called methyl gluceth, this slightly smelly gel directly targets inflammation in the skin. “I get these deep underground zits and this is a miracle worker,” one customer wrote in a review. “I even use it as a serum all over my face and chest to keep everything clear.”
Pros: Works for cysts; Hydrating; Anti-inflammatory
Cons: Only works for cystic acne; Results may take time
The Best Pimple Patch for Acne
If you’re aiming for a daytime treatment, pimple patches are the way to go. These stars look cute (we’re obsessed!) and are extremely effective. They use hydrocolloids to soak up the fluid in your pimple, which in turn, makes it shrink up and shrivel over time. As an added bonus, they serve as a reminder to keep your bacteria-filled hands off your pimple. Picking only leads to scarring, ladies and gents.
Pros: Refillable case; Cute packaging; Hydrocolloid-based
Cons: Not invisible; May be drying
The Best Acne Spot Treatment at the Drugstore
Behold, a drugstore staple that starts working in as little as four hours. It leverages the derm-loved beta-hydroxy acid salicylic acid and witch hazel to clear out clogged pores and calm inflammation for smooth, blemish-free skin. Users report that this handy little treatment helps on a variety of fronts, reducing redness, size, and irritation associated with blemishes at lightening speed. The texture on this one is completely clear and, unlike some other pimple products, doesn't smell at all. PSA: You can use this three times a day.
Pros: Affordable; Invisible; Odor-Free
The Best Salicylic Acid Acne Spot Treatment
The OG spot treatment that still reigns supreme. Formulated with salicylic acid, witch hazel, and oat extract, this best-seller rapidly unclogs pores to erase existing breakouts and prevent emerging pimples from surfacing. That in mind, make sure to follow up with a moisturizer as the main ingredients can be a bit drying—especially with dehydrated or dry skin types. Chances are, you'll notice a difference after just one night, but don't toss it to the side if it doesn't work at lightening speed. Treating breakouts takes time.
Pros: Fast-acting; Evens tone
The Best Acne Spot Treatment for Dark Spots
There's nothing more annoying than noticing a dark spot post-pimple. Thanks to licorice, azelaic acid, and niacinamide, this targeted treatment is a beast at calming down inflammation and simultaneously fading hyperpigmentation. The soothing ingredients are then balanced out by the inclusion of benzoyl peroxide, one of the best acne-fighting ingredients. With regular use (use as a spot treatment or apply as a thin layer), you'll have no sign of a breakout.
Pros: Fights hyperpigmentation; Prevents breakouts
Cons: Might cause redness or dryness
The Best Acne Spot Treatment for Scar Prevention
This treatment tingles, but don't be alarmed—it shouldn't trigger irritation thanks to the soothing effects of cucumber extract and red algae, which reduce redness. That in mind, it's always a little touch and go with dry and sensitive skin types. If you do develop redness or dryness, try scaling down your frequency of application from three times a day to one time a day. You'll notice breakouts disappear within two to three days, with no lingering signs of scarring. This is a great option for anyone with sensitive or easily irritated skin.
Pros: Effective; Shrinks pores
Cons: May cause irritation
The Best Overnight Acne Spot Treatment
First off: It's a myth that straight up toothpaste can shrink your pimple. However, this toothpaste-inspired treatment will work wonders on acne. The overnight treatment is packed with a wide array of exfoliating and calming ingredients, ranging from clay and sulfur to azelaic acid and willow bark. The grey clay adheres to skin to reduce sebum, target blemishes, and get rid of redness. This formula does flake so make sure to add a nice layer and wash it off in the morning with your favorite gentle cleanser.
Pros: Great packaging, Non-drying
Cons: Flakes; Transfers
The Best Acne Spot Treatment for Whiteheads
Your whiteheads and blackheads will be a thing of the past with this high-powered, yet gentle spot treatment. Salicylic and glycolic acids, papaya, and willow bark extract team up to unclog congested pores and quickly resurface the skin to reveal bright and glowing skin. It layers up to three times per day—it's in our night and morning regimen. The biggest plus, however, is that it was designed specifically with sensitive skin in mind. It's one of the least drying and irritating options out there.
Pros: Good for sensitive skin; Boosts glow
Cons: Not great for larger pimples or cysts
The Best Acne Spot Treatment for Oily Skin
Here's a gentle spot treatment that uses succinic acid to quickly shrink pimples and absorb excess sebum. In addition, salicylic acid and sulfur work to exfoliate and prevent new blemishes from popping up. A major plus with this specific product is that it layers flawlessly under makeup—you won't experience any flaking or crustiness. That said, the formula does have a slight tint to it, so make sure you rub it in thoroughly to avoid a shadow.
Pros: Gentle on the skin; Great for blackheads
Cons: Smelly; Doesn't flake
The Best Drying Lotion for Acne
This drying lotion is a triple threat for banishing breakouts. It's comprised of salicylic acid to unclog pores, sulfur to kill bacteria, and calamine to calm inflammation. While it goes on a bit intense, many have witnessed its blemish-erasing results after just one night of use. It's ideal for those juicy pimples with a lot of pus. The formula separates while it's chilling on your vanity so give it a shake before dipping a Q-tip into the base of the formula.
Pros: Works quickly; Ideal for targeted treatment
The Best Acne Spot Treatment for Sensitive Skin
This spot is formulated with tea tree oil and salicylic acid to quickly clear blemishes, plus soothing botanicals like chamomile and fennel to calm irritation. It's designed to be worn over or under makeup. While that's certainly an option, there can be a bit of flaking as the treatment dries down so make sure you buff away the excess product before going in with foundation. It's also worth mentioning that this is tinted.
Pros: Great for sensitive skin; Calms irritation
The Best Acne Spot Treatment With Tea Tree Oil
FYI: Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic that does amazing things when applied to a blemish. This lightweight serum penetrates deep into the pores to extract impurities and ward off bacteria from forming. The result is a fresh and renewed glowing appearance. Because this is a serum, it's not necessarily the best bet if you want a targeted spot treatment. We recommend this for people who have more acneic skin or are looking for a preventative skincare product.
Pros: Balancing; Non-Greasy
Cons: Irritating; Messy to apply
The Best Roll-On Acne Spot Treatment
Do away with mild breakouts in no time with this acne-fighting gem. The fast-acting treatment (seriously it works overnight) is powered by sulfur, which works to reduce excess sebum, kill bacteria, and balance the skin. Because the formula is balanced with calming essential oils and soothing calendula, it won't dry out your skin either. And added bonus? The roller bar makes targeted treatment easy as can be.
Pros: Soothing; Fast acting; Works on all types of acne
Cons: Slight smell from the sulfur
The Fastest-Acting Acne Spot Treatment
This pink solution contains 10 percent sulfur to effectively clear out pimples without drying out the skin or causing more irritation. Simply dip a Q-Tip into the solution and tap it on to the area in question. Prepare to witness results in as little as one hour. While it is one of our favorites, we want to point out that it's not recommended for sensitive skin or those who are allergic to sulfur.
Pros: Fast-acting; Prevents future breakouts
Cons: Slightly smelly; Drying; Bad for sensitive skin
The Best Acne Spot Treatment for Clogged Pores
Thanks to the combination of sulfur, zinc, bentonite, and niacinamide, those annoying pimples and clogs don't stand a chance against this skincare hero. The fast-acting treatment zaps away zits and prevents new ones from forming, all while minimizing the appearance of pores. This product gets five stars for its versatility—it addresses casual whiteheads and the nasty, deep hormonal cysts. Plus, it's been formulated with rosacea patients in mind—a rarity on the acne front.
Pros: Shrinks pores; Safe for rosacea patients
Cons: Small bottle
The Best Acne Spot Treatment for Dry Skin
Trust us when we say that this skin perfector will rapidly reduce the most stubborn pimples. This treatment is loaded with nine percent salicylic acid to draw out imperfections. While on the one hand that means it's going to do a damn good job at fighting acne and smoothing out rough patches and uneven texture, it also means it might be a smidge too drying for sensitive, dry skin types.
Pros: Evens out texture; Helps clean out pores
Cons: Pricy; Not good for dry or sensitive skin
When Do I Use a Spot Treatment?
Adding a spot treatment into your skincare is easy as can be—most can be used in the morning or night and should be applied directly after your moisturizer. “You can combine spot treatments with the rest of your regiment, especially with non-irritating products like hyaluronic acid,” says Dr. Nazarian. While combining spot treatments with hydrating and calming products is a plus, Dr. Rabach does suggest thinking twice before combining a spot treatment with other acids or retinols, as it can be overly drying—especially for those with dry or sensitive skin.
While sunscreen should always be the final step in your morning skincare routine, wearing SPF is even more important if you’re using a spot treatment. “Ingredients in spot treatments can increase sun sensitivity and hyperpigmentation,” explains Dr. Rabach. She recommends looking for a physical formula with titanium dioxide or zinc as the active ingredient. (We also hand-picked our favorite sunscreens for acne-prone skin.)
Is a Spot Treatment Good for All Types of Pimples?
A spot treatment is going to work best on two types of pimples: inflamed papules and pustules that need to be calmed down or dried up. When it comes to blackheads, Dr. Nazarian explains that spot treatments will be effective—but it’s going to take a lot longer to see results. “An acne leave-on cream works just as good if not better for blackheads,” she says. As for cystic acne, aka those under-the-skin pimples? “Spot treatments don’t really help the ones you feel, but can’t see because they’re too deep for the medicine to really get there and break up the pimple,” adds Dr. Morgan Rabach, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of L.M. Medical in New York City. If your cyst pimple is particularly painful, visit your board-certified dermatologist for a cortisone injection.