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There are approximately a bajillion (scientific term) products that promise to help put blemishes on blast — but how are you supposed to know which ones actually work?

We spoke to a skin care expert and used her epidermal wisdom to craft this list of the best acne spot treatments.

According to Shawnda Dorantes, RN, BSN, master nurse injector and co-owner of Beauty Lounge Medical Spa in San Marcos, California, the 🔑 to an effective acne spot treatment (vs. one that’s a total bust) lies with the key ingredient.

“You want to start with products that contain benzoyl peroxide,” she says, “which kills off P. acnes, the bacteria on our skin that lives deep in our pores and is responsible for those pesky breakouts!” She goes on to explain that benzoyl peroxide can minimize oil production, reduce inflammation, and decrease redness as well.

Sulfur, she adds, is another powerful ingredient that can be used as a fast-acting acne treatment. Although it may be a little too strong for everyday use, it’s commonly added to spot treatments and masks.

And rounding out the best ingredients for acne spot treatments is salicylic acid. Research shows that it reduces oil production and has anti-inflammatory properties.

In closing, Dorantes notes that although spot treatments are a super important part of skin care triage, you also need to make sure that you’ve got the right skin care routine going to help prevent acne in the first place.

She says, “Investing in a high quality cleanser, exfoliator, and toner are key.”

Pricing guide

$ = under $10
$$ = $10–$30
$$$ = over $30

The best acne creams and spot treatments

Best benzoyl peroxide

ZO Skin Health Acne Control Cream

  • Price: $$$
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to affected area 1–3 times daily

This spot treatment is Dorantes’s favorite. She says it “features 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, the strongest strength available without a prescription.” She also loves that it contains natural, skin-soothing antioxidants like green tea, pine bark extract, red tea, and grapeseed oil.

Best sulfur

Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: sulfur
  • How to use: apply the sediment nightly to affected areas using a cotton swab, rinse off the next morning

Catchy name aside (yas puns ❤️), this sulfur-based spot treatment has rave reviews and — according to the folks at Kate Somerville — can improve the appearance of breakouts by over 90 percent in just 1 hour. Perfect for pimple emergencies!

Best salicylic acid

Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: salicylic acid
  • How to use: apply to affected area 1–3 times daily

Need a fast-acting acne treatment? This one’s literally got “rapid relief” in the name. Murad says that it can significantly reduce redness from breakouts in just 4 hours. It also contains pine and thyme to help reduce irritation.

Professional recommended

ZO Skin Health Complexion Clearing Masque

  • Price: $$$
  • Active ingredient: sulfur
  • How to use: apply to the entire affected area and then rinse off, once or twice per week

Another recommendation straight from Dorantes is ZO’s Complexion Clearing Masque, which contains sulfur and clay.

The masque absorbs excess oil that can cause future breakouts, while calming irritation and clearing all the gunk like dirt and dead skins cells from your pores. Dorantes calls it “incredible,” so don’t sleep on it!

Top rated

Paula’s Choice CLEAR Extra Strength Skin Clearing Treatment

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to affected area once or twice per day; reduce frequency if dryness occurs

With over 1,400 Amazon reviews and 4.5 stars (which is pretty darn good for a skin care product), this spot treatment from Paula’s Choice earns our “top rated” designation. Paula’s Choice also claims that the vast majority of users of their CLEAR line report smaller pores and less severe acne.

Best budget option

ELF Acne Fighting Spot Gel

  • Price: $
  • Active ingredient: Salicylic acid, tea tree oil, witch hazel, aloe
  • How to use: roll onto affected area.

Broke, or simply looking for that max value? This super convenient salicylic acid ROLL-ON (so easy!) from Elf is only THREE dollars. That’s right. $3. It’s super gentle and great for sensitive skin, but also has excellent reviews attesting to its effectiveness as a spot treatment.

Best high end

Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Mask

  • Price: $$$
  • Active ingredient: sulfur
  • How to use: apply only to affected areas, let dry for 5–10 minutes, rinse thoroughly

This powerful mask from Peter Thomas Roth is made with super high quality ingredients like acne-fighting sulfur, kaolin and bentonite clay (which pull impurities right up out of your pores), and soothing anti-irritants like aloe and eucalyptus.

Best for the guys

Jack Black Bump Fix

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: salicylic acid
  • How to use: apply to affected areas 1–3 times daily

Although it’s made with acne-clearing salicylic acid, skin-soothing witch hazel, and green tea, this skin care solution from Jack Black also contains lactic acid — which boosts its effectiveness as a spot treatment.

It pulls double and triple duty by helping razor bumps and ingrown hairs too. Jack Black specializes in high-end skin care products for men, but we won’t tell if any of you ladies wanna try it too.

Best drugstore option

Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Spot Treatment

  • Price: $
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to affected area 1–3 times daily

This spot treatment contains a lower dose of benzoyl peroxide (just 2.5 percent) than some others that contain up to 10 percent benzoyl peroxide. That makes this one better suited for sensitive skin, because benzoyl peroxide can cause redness and dryness — despite being a great acne-fighter.

You can also find Neutrogena products at pretty much any drugstore.

Best for sensitive skin

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Spot Treatment

  • Price: $
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to affected areas 1–3 times daily

The downside of spot treatments is that they can be really harsh. Dryness and redness are super common side effects. Although this product may have the same effects because of the benzoyl peroxide it contains, all of the products from the Effaclar line are specifically designed for the needs of acne prone, sensitive skin.

If you’re particularly sensitive, start low (once a day) and go slow. La Roche-Posay also recommends applying moisturizer before this product to act as a buffer.

Best for face and body

Humane Acne Wash

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: massage into affected skin and rinse off after 1–2 minutes

Spot treatments for the face are great and all, but what if you’re looking for something to treat your back-ne or other body acne? Not only can it be super painful, it can also seriously cramp your spring and summer style.

This max-strength benzoyl peroxide foaming wash from Humane is the solution! It’s gentle enough for your face (and perfect for oily skin), but strong enough for your body.

Best for oily skin

Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solution Targeted Spot Treatment

  • Price: $
  • Active ingredient: salicylic acid
  • How to use: apply to affected area 1–3 times daily

Designed specifically for oily, acne-prone skin, this spot treatment from Burt’s Bees contains salicylic acid and several soothing essential oils that can help to treat and prevent acne and remove excess oil. It’s also gentle, so it can be used on sensitive skin too.

Best fast-acting

Proactiv Emergency Blemish Relief

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to affected area 1–3 times daily

This maximum strength benzoyl peroxide cream from Proactiv is formulated in microcrystals that work FAST to absorb excess oil and reduce redness and inflammation. It’s great to keep on hand if you’re not necessarily acne-prone, but do occasionally wake up with a pesky pimple.