When it comes to acne spot treatments, you don’t want to mess around.
The right one will shrink a pimple and can even help heal skin faster. The wrong one, however, may do more damage than good: Some treatments can dry out the skin, while others will break you out even more, making the experimental process slightly terrifying.
Lucky for you, we tried at least 30 formulas, ranging in prices, ingredients and purpose—because papules (red pimples), pustules (pimples with pus) and cystic acne (deep bumps that are typically filled with blood rather than pus) are not created equal.
Which product beat out the rest in an all-purpose, good-for-most-skin-types competition?
The Holy Grail: You won’t find this product in a drugstore aisle or even a cosmetics store. Available online, PCA Acne Skin Gel may sound too clinical for your comfort, but it’s worth the $45 price tag. Made with 2 percent salicylic acid, which cleans pores of bacteria (one of the major causes of pimples), it had one of the best results, especially for E! staffers with cystic acne. Don’t worry about blemish scars either—the azelaic acid helps to smooth out your visage. The formula also contains cinnamon bark, ginger root and licorice, which any dermatologist will tell you naturally soothes inflammation caused by acne. Results will vary, but some saw pimple shrinkage in less that 24 hours!
Application: Although it is a gel, it feels a lot more like a serum. It’s gentle enough where you can apply it to your whole face, twice a day, to prevent further breakouts or as a spot treatment to combat one-off pesky pimples. Though, some staffers dialed down the usage if skin started to dry out too much. The gel dispenses out clear and smells kind of like your dentist’s office, but once it’s on, you won’t feel a stickiness or crust-like substance on your face like with other acne treatments.
Wearability: After face cleansing, just apply and follow up with the rest of your beauty routine. The best part about this product? There is no noticeable dryness, peeling or irritation like with other treatments that contain salicylic acid—which means applying makeup on top, only to see it flake off later, was a non-issue. Bonus Tip: If you are prone to hormonal acne, use this product mostly on the chin and cheeks every night for stellar results.
Runner-Up: For those looking for more natural ingredients, E! staffers also raved about Tata Harper Clarifying Spot Solution ($32). “It was gentle and green in color, which felt like skin food,” said one beauty editor. “It got rid of redness, but didn’t tackle nasty cysts.”
This is not a cop out, but every skin type is different and has different needs. What works for some may not work for others. That said, after surveying 10 editors, the general consensus was that the holy grail for acne spot treatments has been, indeed, found!
As always, consult your dermatologist if you have any questions.