The Best Acne Spot Treatments of 2023

Your zit won’t know what hit it.

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Best Acne Spot Treatments of 2023

Shape / Brian Kopinski

While the acne positivity movement is gaining steam, there are still times when you feel a zit forming and you just want to get rid of it, ASAP. But not so fast: While your immediate impulse may be to pop, pick, or poke, that can lead to irritation, scarring, and pigment problems, says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York. 

Instead, turn to acne spot treatments, which reduce inflammation and expedite wound healing. The result? Your zit may be gone in as little as 24 to 48 hours, thanks to active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur. 

Acne spot treatments may be gels or serums you dab directly on the zit or pimple patches. “Acne patches are actually made of the same materials used to treat healing wounds,” notes Joshua Zeichner, M.D., board-certified dermatologist. “They form a protective seal over the pimple to create an environment optimal for wound healing.” Contrary to popular belief, these patches don’t actually treat the zit itself, but they can be applied on top of an active ingredient for enhanced penetration (aka faster healing). 

When you feel a pimple forming, time is of the essence, and the sooner you can treat a pimple, the better, says Dr. Zeichner — so having spot treatments on hand is crucial. We consulted expert dermatologists to learn about what makes an acne spot treatment effective and what you need to know when shopping for the best acne spot treatments. These spot treatments for acne are sure to give you clear, glowy skin.

Our Recommendations

Best Overall: Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment

Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment


Why We Like It: It works incredibly quickly and doesn’t irritate the skin.

It’s Worth Noting: Sulfur is your main ingredient, and the smell can be overwhelming.

The Kate Somerville EradiKate Treatment won our hearts as the best acne spot treatment, and for good reason: It’s been clinically shown to reduce zits in just an hour. The key ingredient? Sulfur, which quickly exfoliates dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and fights current breakouts. The editor-loved treatment also uses BHA salicylic acid to fight bacteria and zinc oxide to absorb excess sebum (aka oil), making it one of the most well-rounded acne treatments on the market.

“My skin has all the problems: Oily but hopelessly dry, reactive, and of course, acne-prone,” shared Kaitlin Clark, senior commerce editor. “I tried Kate Somerville's EradiKate Treatment during a particularly nasty mid-pandemic flare-up, and I was honestly dumbfounded with the result — just one dab (dropped directly on top of my biggest zit) significantly reduced my formerly bright red mound in just a few hours. I keep it on auto-subscribe and I've never looked back.” 

Heads up: If you’re sensitive to smell, this might not be the product for you. Since it’s formulated with 10% sulfur, the scent can be unpleasant to some.

Price at time of publish: $28

Key specs: Active ingredient: Sulfur | Size: 1 oz.

Best Pimple Patch: PanOxyl PM Overnight Spot Patches

PanOxyl PM Overnight Spot Patches


Why We Like It: It’s powerful enough to make a difference overnight.

It’s Worth Noting: The patches are super sticky and prone to folding if you’re not careful.

If you’re a pimple picker, listen up: Not only do pimple patches absorb pus and fluids for faster healing, but they also prevent your already-irritated skin from further damage or bacteria. The PanOxyl PM Overnight Spot Patches may not be as eye-catching as the stars or hearts you see on social media, but they work twice as hard and include two sizes to treat all your spots. These hydrocolloid patches clear your skin by drawing out sebum and draining the pus and inflammation, similar to how you’d dress a wound. “These really do maximum work in just one night,” raves Chloe Anello, senior commerce editor. “And after two nights, I’ve had some pimples completely reduced.” Plus, she notes that they’re not visible on Zoom calls — so you can confidently wear them on a WFH day.

One word of caution: These acne treatment patches are very adhesive, so take caution when peeling them off the sheet. Otherwise, the edges might fold or curl (we recommend using tweezers). 

Price at time of publish: $9 for pack of 40

Key specs: Active ingredient: None 

Best Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment: Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment

Paula's Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment


Why We Like It: The lightweight lotion has a matte finish for a natural, non-irritated look.

It’s Worth Noting: If overused, it may cause dryness or peeling.

Benzoyl peroxide is a holy grail ingredient for fighting acne since it kills bacteria that can lead to pimples, making Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment ideal for deeper, red pimples. It’s a lightweight, oil-free lotion, so it’s a great choice for those with oily skin. The added ingredients of bisabolol and allantoin soothe inflammation and redness to make your zit less noticeable. 

While it’s recommended to apply the treatment up to twice a day after cleansing, frequent use may cause dryness or peeling on sensitive skin — so proceed with caution, and apply SPF after using this acne spot treatment in the morning. 

Price at time of publish: $22

Key specs: Active ingredient: Benzoyl peroxide | Size: 2.25 oz 

Best Salicylic Acid Spot Treatment: Murad Deep Relief Acne Treatment

Murad Deep Relief Acne Treatment with 2% Salicylic Acid


Why We Like It: It’s super gentle and doesn’t dry skin out.

It’s Worth Noting: The price point is higher than other acne spot treatments on this list.

If you’ve got sensitive skin, a spot treatment for acne with salicylic acid is key to preventing irritation. That’s because salicylic acid is calming and breaks up dead skin cells that often trigger pimples in the first place, making it ideal for sensitive skin, blackheads, or whiteheads, notes Dr. Nazarian. This acne spot treatment from Murad features a one-two punch of 2% salicylic acid and phytosteroid, which has an immediate impact on pimples.

“I've been struggling with my skin more than usual lately, and I've recently discovered this spot treatment powered by 2% salicylic acid and phytosteroid to help heal deep pimples as well as tone down redness,” says Alyssa Kaplan, commerce writer. “It's easy to apply on to clean skin with a cotton swab, and I appreciate that it's not heavy, irritating, or messy.” However, if you fall in love with this acne spot treatment, your wallet may not be happy; it’s one of the most expensive treatments we researched. 

Price at time of publish: $45

Key specs: Active ingredient: Salicylic acid | Size: 1 oz.

Best On-The-Go Spot Treatment: e.l.f. Cosmetics Blemish Breakthrough Acne Fighting Spot Gel

e.l.f. Cosmetics Blemish Breakthrough Acne Fighting Spot Gel


Why We Like It: The roller stick is easy to use whenever, wherever.

It’s Worth Noting: There’s a learning curve to applying this product.

When you’re on the go or traveling, you may not always have access to a cotton swab, wand, or even a full mirror. We love that the e.l.f. Cosmetics Blemish Breakthrough Acne Fighting Spot Gel is designed with a rollerball to distribute the product without any other tools needed. This spot treatment for acne uses salicylic acid and witch hazel (which helps soothe skin and reduce excess oil). Plus, e.l.f. Cosmetics is a drugstore brand that’s easy on the wallet — so grabbing one to keep in your purse or car doesn’t break the bank.

Make sure that when you’re applying this spot treatment, you’re holding the bottle so the roller is at the lowest point. Otherwise, the product won’t come out.

Price at time of publish: $4

Key specs: Active ingredient: Salicylic acid | Size: 0.25 oz

Best Sulfur Spot Treatment: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion



Why We Like It: The addition of calamine as a main ingredient delivers a soothing, cooling effect.

It’s Worth Noting: The sulfur stench isn’t pleasant.

This cult-loved spot treatment has been battling breakouts for years and has even been touted by celebs such as Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner. The suspended pink solution includes calamine, a skin-calming agent, and sulfur, a natural ingredient proven to fight acne-causing bacteria. The gentle acne spot treatment is non-irritating, so those with sensitive skin can use it confidently (although you should always do a patch test first to be sure). 

While sulfur is effective at cleansing pores and soaking up excess oil, it has a distinct smell that may cause you to wrinkle your nose. Plus, the pink sediment (which is what you actually apply to the pimple) is visible on the skin — so you’ll want to apply this product at night.

Price at time of publish: $17

Key specs: Active ingredient: Sulfur | Size: 1 oz

Most Versatile: Fiora Naturals Tea Tree Essential Oil

Fiora Naturals Tea Tree Essential Oil


Why We Like It: Tea tree essential oil can also be used for hair care, nail health, and other health conditions.

It’s Worth Noting: It’s not as effective as acne spot treatments with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

While many essential oils are actually unsafe to use on your skin, tea tree oil is a notable exception. It's a valuable resource for eradicating a pimple — the natural antibacterial properties in tea tree oil will knock acne bacteria out. What’s more, tea tree oil can also be used for scalp health, nail fungus, and more. This tea tree essential oil by fiora naturals comes with a handy screw top and glass topper for exact application.

Make sure you do a patch test on your skin before slathering tea tree oil all over your blemishes in case you do end up being sensitive to the oil. And be warned: Tea tree oil does have an identifiable odor that not everyone loves.

Price at time of publish: $13

Key specs: Active ingredient: Tea tree oil | Size: 1 oz

Best Light Therapy Treatment: Solawave Bye Acne Pimple Spot Treatment

SolaWave Bye Acne Spot Treatment


Why We Like It: The treatment only takes three minutes and features a powerful combo of blue and red light therapy.

It’s Worth Noting: It’s meant for run-of-the-mill pimples, not severe cystic acne.

The future is here, and it’s in the form of a blue light therapy acne spot treatment — and there's actually a good deal of research supporting the use of blue light therapy for fighting acne. This particular acne spot treatment, the Solawave Bye Acne Pimple Spot Treatment, promises to work in just three minutes per area. The rechargeable device is portable and low-effort (simply hold the light want to the zit you want to disappear), and hang out for a few minutes while blue light wavelengths kill acne-causing bacteria. An additional surge of red light therapy reduces inflammation and redness. The cherry on top? This treatment is FDA-approved.

According to the brand, pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding shouldn’t use the Bye Acne treatment. It also may not be effective on those with cystic acne.

Price at time of publish: $99

Key specs: Active ingredient: Light therapy | Net weight: 0.7 oz

Best All-Inclusive Solution: ProactivMD 3-Step Acne Treatment System Starter Set

ProactivMD 3-Step Acne Treatment System Starter Set


Why We Like It: The holistic system (which includes a spot treatment) helps prevent and treat acne.

It’s Worth Noting: You’ll need to commit to regular use of the whole system to see results.

Kendall Jenner-approved acne company Proactiv has taken its all-inclusive acne solution to the next level with ProactivMD, a three-part treatment that includes acne spot treatment Adapalene gel — which has only recently become available without a prescription. What's more, this system is benzoyl peroxide-free, and therefore a great route for anyone with BP sensitivities.

Note that you’ll need to choose between a 30-day supply and a 90-day supply (which is more expensive). It’s also recommended to use the entire system consistently to achieve results, rather than only using it when you have breakouts.

Price at time of publish: $36 for 30-day supply

Key specs: Active ingredient: Retinoid | Size: Cleanser: 2 oz; Moisturizer: 1 oz; Spot treatment: 0.5 oz

How We Selected

We began our search for the best acne spot treatment by interviewing two renowned dermatologists and acne experts, Dr. Nazarian and Dr. Zeichner. They consulted on the best ingredients to treat acne, how acne spot treatments work, suggestions for those with sensitive skin, and how to integrate acne treatments into your regular skin-care routine. With that valuable insight, we asked our senior editors for their best acne spot treatment recs, and we did additional research to curate the best spot treatments for acne, taking into consideration product features, key ingredients, prices, effectiveness, and more. 

What to Know About Acne Spot Treatments

Whether you’re in between breakouts or prone to hormonal acne, it’s important to understand what makes the best acne spot treatment when shopping. Here’s what to know about spot treatments for acne.


For gels and serums, use a cotton swab to dab the product directly onto your pimples (using your fingers risks contaminating the area further). For pimple patches, apply the patch directly onto your pimple, using tweezers to carefully peel the sticker off the sheet. “While spot treatments can get rid of pimples that you have, the best way to keep a clear complexion is to treat the entire area that tends to break out,” says Dr. Zeichner. “This will get rid of pimples that you have, but it also will prevent new ones from developing.”


The most common ingredients in acne spot treatments are benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur. “Benzoyl peroxide is wonderful for killing bacteria that can lead to pimples (great for oily skin, and for deeper red pimples) while salicylic acid is calming and breaks up dead skin cells that often trigger pimples in the first place (good for sensitive skin, and for blackheads or whiteheads),” she notes. Sulfur, meanwhile, is better for people with sensitive skin and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Do pimple patches actually work?

    Yes, pimple patches are helpful at treating acne, says Dr. Nazarian. “They offer the benefit of ‘occlusion,’ which physically covers the area of skin [with a pimple]” and prevents picking, she notes. “This leads to enhanced delivery of topical ingredients and stimulates healing. Some use hydrocolloid, which is great for all skin types, and work as more of ‘wound care’ and for healing purposes, by drawing out sebum and draining the pus and inflammation.” Patches also decrease inflammation, redness, and size, and deliver lower levels of ingredients to avoid further irritation. 

  • What are the best acne spot treatments for sensitive skin?

    For people who have very sensitive skin, look for treatments that are combined with calming ingredients such as aloe, or niacinamide,” says Dr. Nazarian. You can also use acne spot treatments with sulfur, advises Dr. Zeichner.

  • How should you use acne spot treatments in a skin-care regimen?

    You can combine acne spot treatments with the rest of your regimen, especially with non-irritating ingredients. Aim to apply any treatments as the last step in your skin-care routine (before makeup), and if using during the day, apply sunscreen afterward. 

Why Trust Shape

At Shape, we’re devoted to all things health — and that includes the health of your skin. Our journalistic standards led us to trustworthy experts and product research to help us feel confident in recommending these acne spot treatments. Kristen Geil is the Senior Fitness Editor at Shape, where she oversees all content relating to fitness gear, clothing, and equipment. She also led the 2022 Beauty Awards, where she did extensive research on acne treatments and other skin-health products.

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