I always try to be as open and honest as possible when it comes to writing about and recommending the best products for acne. The thing is, acne can be a deeply personal journey and what works for one person might not work for another.
I used to experience hormonal cystic acne around my chin and jaw before taking spironolactone and finding products that work for my skin.
For me, skincare products are just one piece of the puzzle when treating acne. I've tried countless acne products over the years, but I only saw lasting change when I was prescribed spironolactone by my dermatologist to get my hormonal cystic acne under control. That being said, products played—and continue to play—a huge role in keeping my skin balanced while helping to prevent and treat acne. Sure, they're not miracle workers, but anything that can help a troublesome skin condition certainly helps matters, and building a good skincare routine can go a long way. Especially if you also want to treat the acne scarring that breakouts leave in their wake.
Skincare expert Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho Clinic, is a firm advocate of long-term routines when it comes to treating acne. "One-off treatments can give skin a temporary boost, but we know that with conditions like acne, it's a journey; not an overnight cure," he explains. "Patients need successive cumulative treatments tailored to them personally using the correct ingredients for their skin type." But with acne affecting nearly 80% of the population at some point during their lifetime, it's not surprising that many of us want quick-fix solutions.
My skin now after getting my acne under control.
So, while I'm not going to promise that these products will change your life or magically transform your skin if you have acne, I can say that these products will help to calm breakouts, soothe redness and assist with the healing of your spots. I've tried hundreds of acne products over the years and these are the ones that I keep in my regular skincare rotation and know I can trust.
Ahead, keep scrolling to shop the 16 best acne products that actually work. From supplements to serums and devices to cleansers, here are the products that have worked for me.
1. Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
If I could only use one acne product for the rest of my life, I would choose this, hands down. Most exfoliating toners are either too strong for my skin or don't do very much, but this one actually works to clear excess sebum and dead skin cells that often lead to blackheads and blemishes. You simply apply a little to a cotton round and swipe over the skin after cleansing and continue with the rest of your skincare routine. It contains salicylic acid to both prevent and treat spots once they have formed to bring down inflammation and unclog pores for clearer skin in a couple of weeks.
As this is an exfoliating acid, it's important to see how your skin responds so I'd urge you to try it a couple of times a week first before building up as your skin tolerates it. Plus, it's a good idea to follow up with a good SPF to protect your skin after using this. I've got a recommendation ahead that won't clog pores or aggravate your acne.
2. Starface Hydro-Stars Spot Stickers
If you have white-headed pustules as opposed to under the skin bumps or blackheads, then I'd highly recommend you try these spot stickers. Not only are stars fun to apply, but they actually absorb the gunk inside a spot to leave your blemish flatter overnight. They quite literally make spots disappear. As you peel them off in the morning, you can actually see where the sticker has absorbed it, which is a bit gross but hugely satisfying. I'm also prone to picking my spots, so these help to keep my mitts away from my face and making matters worse. Plus, they're really great to use while travelling and you can buy refills for the cute case too. If you do get under the skin bumps, I have another spot sticker recommendation ahead which is better suited for these types of spots.
3. CeraVe Blemish Control Face Cleanser with 2% Salicylic Acid & Niacinamide
CeraVe is one of my favourite skincare brands, and I always, always have one of the brand's cleansers in my skincare cabinet. This one contains both salicylic acid and niacinamide to unclog spots and also speed up the healing process. Hectorite clay helps to absorb excess oil without leaving the skin feeling overly cleansed and tight, while the addition of ceramides encourages skin repair to help speed up the recovery of your skin. Plus, a bottle of this cleanser will last you for ages, and I love that it's so affordable too.
4. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+ SPF 30
I've sworn by this French pharmacy staple as a daily moisturiser for years. It's a lightweight texture that glides onto the skin without leaving behind any sticky or tacky residue and works to reduce scarring and clear blocked pores throughout the day. If I stop using this, then I really noticed that my skin feels and looks a lot more congested. The hero ingredients—niacinamide and salicylic acid—work to unclog pores and fade away stubborn post-acne scarring too.
5. Dermalogica Oil Free Matte SPF30
SPF can often exacerbate acne symptoms, but Dermalogica has created this category-leading solution. Formulated with acne-prone skin in mind, it's oil-free so it won't clog pores (a common side effect of many other SPFS on the market) and offers broad-spectrum protection. I also love the mattifying finish, too, which makes my makeup, no matter how light I apply it, look it's best.
6. Murad Clarifying Oil-Free Water Gel
I've heard plenty of mixed advice over the years about whether acne-prone skin does or doesn't need moisturiser but I'm a firm believer that it does. This one from Murad is a great place to start if you're nervous about extra hydration as it's oil-free and non-comedogenic, so it won't clog your pores. I love how lightweight in texture it is yet it keeps my skin feeling comfortable and balanced all day, without leaving me looking shiny come midday. Plus, it's specially formulated to help keep your skin's microbiome and natural bacteria levels balanced to actually prevent future breakouts too.
7. Heliocare 360 Gel Oil-Free SPF 50
When you have acne, I understand that the last thing you want to do is to apply anything heavy onto your skin that might make matters worse, but this SPF really changed the game for me. SPF formulas used to very heavy and pore-clogging, but thankfully, formulations are now much more elegant to use and won't clog pores. Heliocare's has an oil-free gel consistency, which glides onto the skin with a magnifying finish which works great on its own or as a primer for makeup.
8. Advanced Nutrition Programme Skin Accumax
After trying rounds of antibiotics from my GP with no long-lasting results, I decided to take the plunge and invest in these supplements which really do work to decrease the severity of breakouts, thanks to the star ingredient, DIM (diindolylmethane), a plant compound found in broccoli. What I will say is that they only work for as long as you take them; if you stop taking them then you might find your acne returning, so it's definitely an investment option. I tried these for three months after wanting to find a more holistic treatment for my acne, and I found my skin was less inflamed. While I still had the odd under the skin spot, my complexion improved a great deal while I was taking them.
9. Dermatica Adaplene
If an appointment to see a dermatologist isn't an option, then Dermatic brings one to you instead. You fill out an online quiz which is reviewed by Dermatica's dermatology team, who will then review the best prescription treatment for your skin's individual needs and send your bespoke treatment in the post. When I trialled this, I was prescribed adapalene for my blemishes and I found it to be a convenient way to help manage my hormonal acne without forking out for a private dermatology appointment.
10. Caudalie Instant Detox Mask
Clay masks are great for mopping up excess oil, and Caudalie's is one of my favourites to decongest skin and help prevent acne from forming—there's a reason why it went TikTok viral. This French pharmacy favourite contains rose clay to gently absorb excess oil while papaya enzymes gently nibble away at dead skin to clear dead skin to help keep skin clear. It's also very gentle, so it leaves your skin feeling balanced rather than stripped. The beauty of masks is that you can also apply them just where you need them or as a targeted spot treatment when directly applied onto a blemish.
11. ZitSticka Killa Clarifying Microdart Patch Kit
If your acne falls into the category of under the skin spots, then you'll know that this kind of cystic acne is particularly stubborn to treat. These spot patches, however, really reduce the lifespan of deep-rooted spots significantly. Each spot patch comes with a salicylic acid wipe and a micro dart patch, which contains micro-fine needles which gently puncture the spot to deliver the spot-busting ingredients directly into the spot. They work out expensive if you use them everyday, but for use in emergencies for special occasions they're really handy to have on your bedside table.
12. Codex labs Shaant Balancing Oil Control Cream
If you have particularly sensitive skin, you might find a more nourishing moisturiser more suitable than anything too astringent. This new moisturiser from Codex Labs was developed by founder, Dr. Barb Paldus, who worked in collaboration with Dr. Raja Sivamani, an integrative dermatologist and Ayurvedic practitioner, bringing together plant extracts which help to reduce excessive sebum production. It feels moisturising but not overly heavy, and leaves a smoothing and magnifying finish to the skin to help combat midday shine.
13. Nars Soft Matte Concealer
14. Déesse Pro LED Phototherapy Mask
When I put this LED mask to the test recently, I found my skin improved a lot and my blemishes were really reduced. Yes, it is eye-wateringly expensive, but if you're having regular LED treatments in a clinic anyway this may save you more money in the long run. It uses different light forms to help treat multiple skin concerns, but the blue light setting helps to kill the bacteria in the skin that are responsible for contributing to acne. In fact, 81% saw a reduction in acne lesions after 12 weeks of using this mask, so it really does work wonders.
15. Medik8 Crystal Retinal
Another product that I love is Medik8's Crystal Retinal, which uses a form of retinol to decongest the skin and killing off the bacteria that cause acne. It just so happens that retinal (the form of retinol that Medik8 uses) also helps with ageing concerns too, so you're killing two birds with one stone. Medik8 offer several strengths to suit your skin. So, if you're new to using any form of retinol, or have sensitive skin, I'd recommend starting on the this one which is the lowest strength, and using it a couple of times a week to see how your skin tolerates it. In the first instance, stronger isn't always better, so starting off slowly will help your skin become accustomed and avoid any skin irritation. This is also great for helping to fade stubborn pigmentation and scarring that acne can leave behind, and it really helps to improve skin texture too.
16. Avène Clearance Mask
Another French pharmacy brand that I love is Avène, and I can understand why the French adore this mask. The uncomplicated formula calms while drawing out excess oil from the pores, helping to leave skin feeling comfortably clean and decongested.
17. Ziip Nanocurrent Skincare Device
When I have larger acne outbreaks (which usually accumulate around my chin and jawline) and call upon this device to help zap them away. It uses nano current technology to sculpt and tone the skin, but it also has a dedicated setting which helps to treat breakouts. As I pass this device over problem areas, it can actually feel tingling in the area so I know that it's working on the active breakouts to bring them down from the inside out. You pair the device with the Ziip app on your phone, which has tutorial videos which you can sync up with the device and follow along to treat so many concerns. It's a device I'd highly recommend investing in if you want to treat lots of different skin concerns.