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If there’s a spot on your face — and you would rather there not be a spot on your face — then you’re a prime candidate for a spot treatment. And the best spot treatment for your situation depends entirely on the type of blemish you’re experiencing or even based on your skin type and sensitivity.
These spots can include anything from a one-off whitehead, deeply embedded cystic acne, or even one of the different types of hyperpigmentation. They can also be delivered as serums, creams, gels, peels, mask-like treatments, or even patches with ingredient-packed microneedles.
To help you find a spot-less solution, we spoke with dermatologist and pharmacist Dr. Howard Murad, founder of the science-backed line Murad. We asked him to outline the different types of ingredients in spot treatments and what type of concern each of these ingredients targets—from acne to hyperpigmentation. We also pick our favorite 1-3 products for each ingredient, which should fast-track you to a clear complexion.
The Best Spot Treatments, By Ingredient
For Active Acne: Use Salicylic Acid (the primary Beta Hydroxy Acid, or BHA)
This is your key ingredient for lessening the contents of a pus-filled whitehead or budding cystic pimple. You’ll find it in all kinds of vehicles, from creams to serums to overnight pimple patches. It’s also probably one of the primary ingredients you’ll find in most spot treatments, hence its placement atop this list.
Dr. Murad says: “Salicylic acid helps to reduce the severity of acne by penetrating through facial oil to loosen and lift off stubborn layers of skin cell build-up, all of which can cause acne. This process helps prevent these stubborn layers of skin cells from clogging the pores and causing more breakouts.”
Disco Salicylic Acid Pimple Patches
Disco’s patches use microneedles to gently deliver a pimple-deflating blend of salicylic acid and hydrating hyaluronic acid, and soothing eucalyptus.
Frontman Fade Tinted Salicylic Acid Cream
If you’re going to be applying a spot-concealing cream over top of your blemish, why not have it include spot-healing ingredients, too? Frontman Fade’s salicylic acid cream does both, with a gentle blend of 0.5% salicylic acid and in 10 different shades.
Murad Salicylic Acid Acne Spot Treatment With Salicylic Acid
Yeah, it’s the reason we called in for Dr. Murad’s expertise. This 2% salicylic acid formula is an overnight miracle worker and can make the difference between tonight’s blemish and tomorrow’s clear skin. Use it as soon as you notice a budding blemish or to alleviate the real viscous ones.
To Help “Turn Over” Stubborn Dark Spots: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
If you’re trying to expedite your skin’s natural shedding—to hurry up a stubborn acne mark or hyperpigmentation—then AHAs are your remedy. Remember, skin “turns over” roughly once every four weeks, and most AHAs should be used as directed. Gentler formulas will allow for frequent use while peeling products will be a once-weekly (or less) application.
Dr. Murad says: “AHAs are naturally occurring substances that loosen the bond holding together the top layer of dead skin cells, helping remove buildup on the surface of the skin. Glycolic acid is an AHA that helps lift away dark surface spots to even out skin tone. Lactic acid is another popular AHA that can help with hyperpigmentation and dark spots.”
CeraVe Overnight Spot Treatment With Lactic Acid and Glycolic Acid
A formula gentle enough for nightly use to help skin resurface its brightest, healthiest cells and moisturize and nurture skin with ceramides.
To “Turn Over” Spots on Sensitive Skin: Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs)
PHA molecules are larger than AHAs and BHAs, so they only exfoliate atop the skin—and thus are better tolerated by sensitive skin types. You’ll find them used in tandem with AHAs and BHAs, too. The most common PHAs you’ll find are galactose, gluconolactone, and lactobionic acid.
Dr. Murad says: “Similarly to AHAs and BHAs, PHAs are exfoliating acids that help clarify skin and decongest pores. By exfoliating the top dull surface layers of dead skin cells, these acids also help lighten the appearance of dark spots.”
INDEED Labs PHA 10% Toner
An all-over toner, this solution balances your skin’s pH and oil levels while also gently lifting away the outermost, past-their-prime cells from atop your mug.
For Inflammatory Acne: Sulfur
Stinky as it may be, sulfur is terrific at drying out and deflating all types of inflammatory acne. It is often deployed as a chalky mask-like spot cover, though lighter formulas wear well underneath concealer.
Dr. Murad says: “Sulfur is an ingredient that can help greatly reduce the severity of acne blemishes and encourages the skin to clear. Sulfur also works as an anti-inflammatory to soothe the skin, and can help fight bacteria to clear skin of pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads.”
Dr. Barbara Sturm Sulfur Spot Treatment
Use this on patches of blackheads, one-off angry volcanic pimples, and everything between. It nourishes the skin with shea butter, hyaluronic acid, and panthenol while soothing with cica grass.
To Mitigate Acne Proliferation and Soothe Inflamed Skin: Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a common ingredient in many skincare products due to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial products. It is used across shampoos and skin treatments to temper oil levels and prevent bacterial and fungal spread (and, in the instance of acne, the proliferation of bacteria).
Dr. Murad says: “Tea tree oil is often used in acne spot treatments to purify the skin and lessen the severity of breakouts. It can also help soothe inflamed skin caused by breakouts.”
The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil Blemish Gel
The Body Shop has a brilliant line of tea tree oil products—a necessary alternative to the noise of DIY tea tree oil products sold across the web. Be careful with anything that feels unregulated because it’s easy to injure skin with formulas that aren’t adequately diluted or balanced.
For Inflammatory Acne: Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide targets inflammatory acne, often triggered by bacteria and hormones. It is a common ingredient in face washes and creams that target chronic conditions. Note that benzoyl also stains fabric—so if you’re applying it after the shower or before bed, use white towels or pillowcases (or old ones).
Dr. Murad says: “Benzoyl peroxide works to both treat and prevent acne, attacking and eliminating bacteria that forms once a pore becomes clogged.”
Dr. Zenovia 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Spot Treatment
With the help of soothing aloe and smoothing bakuchiol, this benzoyl spot treatment deflates acne and reduces inflammation at the site.
For Dark Spots and Rapid Cellular Turnover: Retinol
Retinol is a Vitamin A derivative that helps minimize the appearance of pores and reverse visible signs of aging (like fine lines and wrinkles) while expediting cellular turnover.
Dr. Murad says: “By stimulating cellular turnover, retinol can also help reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Further, it’s a powerful ingredient for fighting acne as it helps diminish outbreaks by preventing dead skin cells from clogging your pores (it helps regulate the overactive cell shedding) and reducing the overproduction of sebum.”
Urban Skin Rx Retinol Spot Treatment
This targeted cream smooths over a host of surface concerns, from scarring to large pores and hyperpigmentation.
For Textural Inconsistencies: Niacinamide
Niacinamide is a popular ingredient across all skincare products, thanks to its texture-smoothing and complexion-balancing properties.
Dr. Murad says: “Niacinamide is great for oily, acne-prone skin as it helps visibly reduce the look of pores and refine the skin’s texture. It also enhances surface cell turnover, helping improve uneven skin tone and reducing the look of dark spots. Niacinamide has also been proven to help reduce the look of visible age spots.”
Peter Thomas Roth Niacinamide 15% Treatment
Along with skin-brightening tranexamic acid, this high-grade niacinamide treatment helps disappear dark spots and rough skin.
To Disappear Dark Spots: Vitamin C
Thanks to its skin-brightening powers, vitamin C is an excellent ingredient to incorporate into your daily regimen in an all-over morning serum or cream. While it is one of the best spot treatments available, it’s also a very volatile ingredient, so make sure to buy it from a reputable source. It’s worth investing in a higher price to ensure the product is fresh on the shelves and carefully balanced. (Make sure it is in an air-tight and opaque vessel.)
Dr. Murad says: “Vitamin C helps combat and prevent hyperpigmentation caused by genetic and environmental aging by acting as an antioxidant. Vitamin C can help correct hyperpigmentation such as dark spots, age spots or brown spots, and even skin tone.”
BeautyStat Vitamin C Serum
We suggest regularly using a Vitamin C serum to help avoid dark spots (rather than rely on the ingredient to quickly disappear a dark spot). BeautyStat’s is one of the best to keep skin bright—with a vessel and recipe that won’t spoil fast.
Best Spot Treatment For Everyday Blemishes and Hyperpigmentation: Azelaic Acid
Anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial azelaic acid is an underrated ingredient in skincare, especially in spot treatments.
Dr. Murad says: “Azelaic acid is a multi-functional ingredient that can help reduce the look of blemishes and address hyperpigmentation by addressing excessive melanin production. It also works to soothe irritation and redness often caused by blemishes.”
Skinfix Spot Treatment With 10% Azelaic Acid and 2% BHA
Use it for acne or hyperpigmentation; this combines three incredible ingredients: azelaic acid, salicylic acid, and niacinamide.
Best Spot Treatment To Dry Out Active Blemishes: Charcoal and Clay
Commonly used in deep-cleansing face masks, clay and charcoal are terrific at soaking up impurities and oil in targeted spot treatments, too.
Dr. Murad says: “Certain types of clay, such as kaolin and bentonite clay, can help absorb oil and draw out pore-clogging impurities from the skin. When used in a spot treatment, clay can help instantly detoxify skin and purify clogged pores.”
Anthony Cleansing Clay Mask
This weekly cleansing mask also moonlights as a spot-checking sponge.
Origins Charcoal Face Mask
Charcoal masks purify the skin as they deep clean—and that’s what this mask does when applied to individual blemishes, too.