Skincare Products » Best Acne Spot Treatments

Best Acne Spot Treatments of 2023

The Glowsly editors independently test and choose the best products. We may receive commissions on purchases made from the affiliate links.

Even with the best skincare routine, pimples can be frustrating, especially when they’re red, swollen, and painful. Thankfully, spot treatments are the perfect products to deal with those once-in-a-while blemishes. These products made with potent exfoliating, soothing, and antibacterial agents can speed up the time it takes for those bumps to disappear.

We’ve selected the top acne spot treatments to help you clear the pesky breakouts a little faster. Some are powerful and intense, while others are protective and soothing, but each can help you deal with the inevitable blemish nobody asked for.

Best acne spot treatment overview

How we chose the best acne spot treatments

To compile this list, we researched manufacturer specifications, including active ingredients, clinical data, and more, to create a short list of the top acne spot treatments. Then, we combed through detailed product descriptions, research, ratings, and reviews to find the best spot treatment for each category.

Our picks for the best acne spot treatment

Best overall
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment

What we love

  • Micronized benzoyl peroxide penetrates deeply
  • Backed by clinical data
  • Not too drying

What we don’t love

  • Can bleach clothes and hair
  • May irritate

No matter who you are or what kind of acne you have, La Roche-Posay offers a gentle, reliable treatment. Effaclar Duo is made with benzoyl peroxide, one of the most trusted over-the-counter acne treatments. The version used here is micronized for better skin penetration. Many benzoyl peroxide formulas can be quite drying, but glycerin adds a hydrating touch to this product. It also contains lipo-hydroxy acid, which exfoliates the skin gently for even speedier results. 

It’s recommended for all types of acne, with La Roche-Posay’s clinical data showing a 60% decrease in overall blemishes within just 10 days. That means it’ll be helpful even if your breakouts cover a larger area. Just remember that, like all benzoyl peroxide products, there’s some risk of irritation. Additionally, it may slightly bleach clothing or hair. 

Type: Lotion | Active ingredients: 5.5% benzoyl peroxide, lipo-hydroxy acid | Skin type: All | Size: 1.35 fl oz

Best budget
Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10

What we love

  • Budget-friendly
  • Clears and helps prevent breakouts
  • Minimal ingredient list

What we don’t love

  • 10% benzoyl peroxide can be a little drying or irritating

This drugstore spot treatment has been helping countless teens keep breakouts at bay for over a decade. Made with 10% benzoyl peroxide, it’s a potent treatment at an affordable price. The benzoyl peroxide can effectively penetrate the skin to prevent and clear breakouts. The full ingredient list is short and simple, which is perfect if you find that a lot of products break you out. 

That said, such a high amount of benzoyl peroxide can be a little irritating and isn’t necessarily more effective than lower percentages. A little goes a long way — consider applying it over a moisturizer instead of directly to bare skin to reduce your risk of dryness further.

Type: Lotion | Active ingredients: 10% benzoyl peroxide | Skin type: Balanced, oily, combination | Size: 1 oz

Best salicylic acid
Paula’s Choice BHA 9 Treatment

What we love

  • Concentrated level of salicylic acid
  • Fast-acting results
  • Also helps with blackheads and pore size

What we don’t love

  • Pricey

Salicylic acid is another popular acne treatment. It’s normally sold at around 2%, which is ideal for daily prevention, but you may want something a little stronger for dramatic results. 

This 9% booster lets you exfoliate more and faster, which is very useful when dealing with clogged pores quickly. It’s great not just for bumps but also for blackheads and large pores. The light gel formula is fast-penetrating and includes soothing oat and sea whip extracts to help with redness. The only drawback is that it’s quite pricey for such a small amount of product.

Type: Gel | Active ingredients: 9% salicylic acid, oat extract, sea whip extract | Skin type: All | Size: 0.3 fl oz

Best patches
COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch

What we love

  • Protect blemishes to help them heal
  • Prevent scarring or infection
  • Vegetarian-friendly

What we don’t love

  • Only useful for surface blemishes

Can’t resist popping your pimples? You’re not alone. These pimple patches will help you resist the urge by covering and protecting blemishes. If you’ve already popped, the hydrocolloid layer will speed healing and prevent scars by keeping moisture in and bacteria out. 

These patches are also free of gelatin, making them suitable for many vegetarians. But keep in mind that they work best for surface pimples that are ready to pop (or already popped), but they don’t do much for deep-seated ones.

Type: Patch | Active ingredients: Hydrocolloid | Skin type: All | Size: 24 patches

Best for dry skin
CeraVe Acne Control Gel

What we love

  • Exfoliates and unclogs pores
  • Formulated with moisturizing ingredients
  • Includes niacinamide for barrier repair

What we don’t love

  • Sunscreen is a must

This pore-unclogging gel will slough away your troubles while hydrating your skin. It’s made with salicylic acid and glycolic acid to reduce breakouts as it simultaneously exfoliates the skin. You could use it not just as an acne spot treatment but also as your regular exfoliant. 

There’s also niacinamide, known for its barrier-repairing, calming, and pore-minimizing effects. Moisturizing ceramides and glycerin make it a great choice, particularly for dry skin. We expect it’d be a marvelous spot treatment, but it may be even better as an all-over exfoliant. Just note that since it contains glycolic acid, you’ll need to be very diligent about sunscreen use when using this product.

Type: Gel | Active ingredients: 2% salicylic acid, glycolic acid, ceramides, niacinamide | Skin type: Dry | Size: 8 fl oz

Best for red spots
Skinfix Acne+ 2% BHA Spot Treatment

What we love

  • Gentle yet effective
  • Azelaic acid helps with redness
  • Absorbs excess oil

What we don’t love

  • Leaves white residue

This spot treatment combines 2% salicylic acid with 10% azelaic acid for a gentle acne treatment that tames breakouts while soothing redness. The formula isn’t very intense, making it a good choice for sensitive skin. It also contains some kaolin clay and zinc to help rapidly absorb excess oil, although this means it leaves a white residue on the skin. For that reason, it’s best to use it at nighttime.

Type: Drying treatment | Active ingredients: 2% salicylic acid, 10% azelaic acid, kaolin, zinc | Skin type: All | Size: 0.5 fl oz

Best dart patches
Hero Micropoint for Blemishes

What we love

  • Effective on deeper blemishes
  • Salicylic acid unclogs pores
  • Soothing effect

What we don’t love

  • May not stick as well as regular patches

These vegan micro-dart stickers take acne patches to the next level. They’re made with spikes that penetrate blemishes and slowly dissolve. They deliver breakout clearing and soothing ingredients directly into the pimples, including yet-to-surface ones. 

Salicylic acid helps with pore-unclogging action, while niacinamide and madecassoside help calm the skin. However, some reviewers noted that these patches didn’t stick as easily over curved areas.

Type: Dart patch | Active ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide, madecassoside | Skin type: All | Size: 8 patches

Best for sensitive skin
First Aid Beauty Fab Pharma BHA Acne Spot Treatment Gel 2% Salicylic Acid

What we love

  • Helps exfoliate and unclog skin
  • Contains soothing ingredients
  • Gentle, nondrying formula

What we don’t love

  • May not be as powerful as other treatments

This acne spot treatment is infused with soothing ingredients, making it a calming choice for those with sensitive skin. The 2% salicylic acid formula clears blemishes gently, while glycolic acid and fruit enzymes provide an exfoliating boost. 

The soothing action is courtesy of aloe, bisabolol, and oatmeal, while glycerin helps hydrate the skin. Overall, it’s the perfect product if other spot treatments irritate or dry you out, although bear in mind it may not be as powerful.

Type: Gel | Active ingredients: 2% salicylic acid, aloe, bisabolol, oatmeal, glycolic acid | Skin type: Sensitive | Size: 0.72 oz

Best smoothing
Kinship Pimple Potion

What we love

  • Gentle acne treatment
  • Retinal smoothes skin
  • Nourishing base

What we don’t love

  • Fragranced

This is another nourishing spot treatment with a gentle blend of ingredients. To deal with blemishes and unclog pores, it includes 2% salicylic acid. The smoothing action comes from retinal, a potent ingredient adjacent to retinol but with slightly stronger effects. 

Overall, this treatment is quite gentle and nourishing, with a lotion base and many moisturizing emollients. It’s the ideal choice if you don’t like spot treatments that dry you out. Note that it does contain a fragrance, however, which may be an issue for some.

Type: Lotion | Active ingredients: 2% salicylic acid, retinal | Skin type: All | Size: 0.53 oz

Best drying lotion
Sacheu Spot Eraser – Blemish Drying Lotion

What we love

  • Lower percentage of benzoyl peroxide
  • Clay absorbs excess oils
  • Shea butter prevents dryness

What we don’t love

  • Visible on the skin

This unique product is like a spot treatment and clay mask in one. Benzoyl peroxide clarifies the skin and kills bacteria, but at a low percentage that’s a little less likely to irritate. Kaolin clay is a gentle clay that absorbs excess oils without overdrying but this does mean that the white spot treatment stays visible on the skin even after it dries. There’s a bit of shea butter blend in the mix, too, which prevents it from being overly drying.

Type: Drying lotion | Active ingredients: 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, kaolin clay | Skin type: All | Size: 0.5 oz

Best sulfur treatment
Kate Somerville Eradikate Acne Treatment

What we love

  • Alternative to benzoyl peroxide
  • Absorbs oils
  • Effective in the short term

What we don’t love

  • Not as well-researched as other ingredients
  • Visible on skin

Sulfur acne treatments have lost some of their shine over the years, but some folks with acne still swear by them. This classic formula relies on 10% sulfur and a bit of salicylic acid to clear and prevent pimples while also addressing redness. 

You just dip a cotton ball through the top layer of liquid to the sediment at the bottom and then dot it over your blemishes. It’ll quickly dry down to a pink, powdery layer that absorbs oils and provides a useful reminder not to pick (although it looks a little awkward in the daytime). 

The research behind sulfur’s efficacy is less promising than other common treatments, but Kate Somerville’s internal clinical trials suggest that it’s beneficial in the short term. If you’ve struggled to find an effective spot treatment, you may want to give it a try.

Type: Drying liquid | Active ingredients: 10% sulfur, salicylic acid, zinc | Skin type: Oily, balanced, combination | Size: 1 fl oz

Best for stubborn blemishes
Urban Skin Rx Clear Complexion Acne Serum + Spot Treatment

What we love

  • Powerful acne-clearing effects
  • Glycolic acid exfoliates
  • Addresses other concerns, like discoloration

What we don’t love

  • May overwhelm sensitive skin

This powerful anti-acne treatment combines 5% antibacterial benzoyl peroxide with a long list of other strong ingredients to address the most stubborn blemishes. Glycolic acid at 5% is enough to lend a substantial exfoliating effect, while willow bark and arnica keep things soothed.

We also spotted some ingredients that help discoloration, like kojic acid, azelaic acid, and alpha arbutin. But keep in mind that this can be a lot for some skin types, so use it sparingly and watch out for signs of dryness or irritation.

Type: Serum | Active ingredients: 5% benzoyl peroxide, 5% glycolic acid, willow bark, arnica, kojic acid, azelaic acid | Skin type: All but sensitive | Size: 1 oz

Best tea tree
The Body Shop Tea Tree Targeted Gel

What we love

  • Natural alternative to benzoyl peroxide
  • Ethically sourced tea tree oil
  • Quick-drying

What we don’t love

  • Small product size

If you’re a fan of natural remedies, this tea tree oil spot treatment is worth a try. While it’s not officially recognized as an acne medication, research shows it may be as effective as benzoyl peroxide in treating mild acne. 

The Body Shop’s Tea Tree Targeted Gel is fair trade and sustainably sourced, making it a choice that’s not just good for the skin but also the planet. This quick-drying formula is pleasant to apply since it sinks into the skin quickly. That said, you only get 0.08 fluid ounces of gel per tube, which isn’t much.

Type: Gel | Active ingredients: Tea tree oil | Skin type: Blemished | Size: 10.08 fl oz

Best for post-acne marks
Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum

What we love

  • Can help with post-acne dark spots
  • Soothing ingredients help with redness
  • May help with mild acne

What we don’t love

  • Not as effective for active breakouts

If your acne often leaves behind dark or red spots that can take months to fade, give this spot treatment a try. It’s made with a blend of skin-brightening and soothing ingredients to help with the aftermath of a breakout, along with some mild acne-fighters, like niacinamide and azelaic acid. 

While we’d expect it to help with breakouts, remember that it’s a discoloration treatment first. If your skin can tolerate it, use it with a dedicated acne fighter for even better results.

Type: Lotion-like serum | Active ingredients: Azelaic acid, niacinamide, tranexamic acid, alpha-arbutin | Skin type: All | Size: 1.7 fl oz

Best for quick relief
Aveeno Maximum Strength 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream

What we love

  • Rapid, short-term effects
  • Effective for redness and swelling
  • Oat oil nourishes the skin

What we don’t love

  • Not appropriate for regular use

This hydrocortisone cream can provide fast relief when dealing with red, angry pimples. While it’s not an acne treatment, its powerful soothing effects reduce swelling and redness to smooth down pimples quickly. The formula also includes conditioning oat oil to nourish inflamed skin. 

Unlike most other treatments on this list, using this regularly isn’t recommended. It’s a fantastic once-in-a-while emergency solution, but long-term use can thin the skin.

Type: Cream | Active ingredients: 1% hydrocortisone | Skin type: All | Size: 1 oz each (2 pack)

On the spot

Spot treatments are magnificent, especially if you only get the odd occasional pimple. Some spot treatments are also excellent for regular use. That’s definitely the case with our top pick, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment, a clinically tested treatment that helps clear spots and widespread breakouts while preventing recurrence. 

How to pick the right spot treatment for you

Finding the best acne spot treatment for you can take some trial and error, but understanding the active ingredients and formulations will help you navigate the different options. 

Active ingredients

Benzoyl peroxide is the most powerful and well-researched acne fighter since it’s both antibacterial and exfoliating. It reduces and prevents breakouts and can play well with other acne treatments. That said, it can also be drying or irritating, especially in high percentages, and it’s known to bleach clothes, hair, and towels. 

Salicylic acid is the second most common ingredient. It exfoliates and unclogs pores with added soothing action. Commonly used at 2%, it’s usually not as strong as benzoyl peroxide, but it can be a better choice for those with sensitive skin. Azelaic acid has a similar function, but it’s more gentle and can even help with red marks or pigmentation. 

A few alternative spot treatment ingredients, like sulfur and tea tree oil, aren’t quite as well researched but work well for some. If benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid haven’t worked for you in the past, they’re worth a try.

Treatment type

Lotion and gel spot treatments are a classic starting placesince they’re usually designed for all skin types. Most lotion or gel spot treatments are formulated to sink into the skin quickly, which makes them easy to use throughout the day without a visible residue. Others are a little more moisturizing, which is useful if you have dry skin or if your blemishes appear irritated or flakey. 

Drying lotions or liquids with clay or mineral components are another interesting choice, especially if you have oily skin. They absorb excess sebum but usually leave a slight residue that can be difficult to hide with makeup but can be a preventative reminder if you’re prone to picking at your skin. 

Finally, patches are fantastic if your pimples need protection. They create an occlusive layer that helps inflamed pimples heal and keeps bacteria out of broken or popped blemishes. Some are also infused with skincare ingredients for even better results. 


How can I get rid of zits overnight? 

Even with a powerful spot treatment, getting rid of a zit overnight isn’t usually possible. Suppose it’s an emergency situation, like spotting a massive pimple the day before an important special event. In that case, a doctor can inject your blemish with a cortisone shot to reduce it almost immediately. A hydrocortisone cream like Aveeno’s anti-itch cream may offer similar effects. 

Do acne spot treatments work?

Yes, spot treatments work by speeding up the time it takes for pimples to heal. That said, a comprehensive anti-acne skincare routine will probably provide better long-term results. If your acne doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments, consider speaking to your doctor. 

How often should you use an acne spot treatment?

Most acne treatments are best used at least once daily and up to three times a day when you have active acne. You can start using your spot treatment the moment you feel a pimple starting to form or when you know a breakout might be coming in the lead-up to your period or a stressful exam. Finally, if you break out regularly, many spot treatments are effective as daily or weekly preventative treatments.