Whether I'm writing about the products that I've actually loved this month or the beauty tool that's changed my skincare routine for the better, I always try to be as open and honest about my skin journey as possible. As someone who has experienced pretty severe acne since my teenage years, I'm not on board with miracle cures and wonder products that claim to eliminate spots and vanish breakouts in one use, and I'd hate to give the impression that there are products on the market that can do that.
In all honesty, the only thing that has ever made a long-term dent in my hormonal breakouts is the contraceptive pill. I was on it for the best part of 12 years before I decided that crippling headaches and low moods weren't worth the cost of clear skin. Although, ask me how I feel about that compromise on a day when my acne is particularly painful and prominent and a migraine doesn't sound so bad after all. All of that isn't to say, however, that you can't find over-the-counter beauty products that will make a difference to your skin with regular use…
Skincare expert Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho Clinic, is a firm advocate of long-term plans 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 explained. "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.
I'm not going to promise that these products will change your life or magically transform your skin if you have acne. But I can promise that they 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. Keep scrolling to shop the best acne products that actually work.
Formulated specifically to target the scarring and redness caused by breakouts (rather than the active spots themselves), I've genuinely seen changes in my skin since using this product. I've been using this morning and night. During the day, I'll use it in place of my usual moisturiser while in the evening I'll layer it over a serum. I have some quite deep scarring on the sides of my face and pigmentation left behind from cystic spots but have noticed that my skin looks overall clearer and more even since using this. If you also have scars or pigmentation caused by old spots, then I'd definitely recommend giving this a go. It's worth pointing out that I've polished off an entire bottle and have yet to replace it. My skin is really missing this as part of my daily routine.
This emergency spot product isn't for the faint-hearted—and I definitely wouldn't recommend that you reach for this on a daily basis. It's quite intense and very drying, but on days that I've got important meetings or need to take photos for work, I'll reach for this.
A powerhouse blend of salicylic acid and saw palmetto, you apply it directly to any blemishes and it works to draw out excess oil and toxins. When I've got a particularly juicy spot, this stuff won't make it disappear but it will help to dry it out, reduce redness and speed up healing time.
Be warned, though: If you have an open spot or you've been picking, then this definitely has the sting factor when applied. But I must be a bit of a sadist, as I always feel like that means a product is working.
Just like the Origins product, this Caudalie serum is brimming with salicylic acid. However, this one boasts a 100% natural version along with detoxifying grape polyphenols and organic essential oils for soothing results.
Although this is gentle enough to use every day, I like to keep my skincare routine as stripped back as possible when I'm going through a particularly rough skincare patch. So I use this 3–4 times a week to keep things in check.
Applied before moisturiser, it's gently exfoliating and helps to dislodge stubborn blackheads and calm redness. Plus, it smells absolutely incredible—a really refreshing, light scent that's a real treat to use.
I've raved about this product many times already, but it truly is one of the best acne products I've ever tried. In fact, I'd say that it was one of the first over the counter products that made a noticeable difference to my skin after coming off the pill.
Beta hydroxy acid (you're going to see this ingredient popping up a lot on this list) is the star of the show here. You pour a little bit onto a cotton pad and sweep over freshly cleansed skin then follow with an SPF (if you're using during the day) and the rest of your skincare routine.
It has anti-inflammatory properties, so it won't irritate any existing breakouts, and it works beneath the surface of your skin to unclog pores and on the surface to smooth and exfoliate. I use this two or three times a week and find that it reduces the raised feeling of breakouts and is particularly good at preventing blackheads around my nose.
Beauty fanatics went wild over this Australian clay mask on Instagram last year. In fact, there was a time when it had thousands of people on the waiting list for it. I was definitely sceptical of the hype before trying it, but I have to admit, this is one face mask all spot-prone girls should have in their skincare arsenal. It uses kaolin clay to draw out excess oil, aloe vera to soothe the skin and vitamins A and E to brighten and provide a protective barrier of antioxidants. You apply it to damp skin and it dries to a hard, white texture in just 10 minutes. As soon as I remove it with a warm cloth, I usually notice that my skin looks less irritated and brighter. I'll use this all over my face two or three times a week to keep my skin feeling healthy. Or you can use it as an overnight, on-the-spot treatment if your skin is a bit too sensitive for such an active mask.
I always feel like I'm putting my neck on the line as a beauty editor by recommending this product, as foaming face washes tend to have a bit of a bad reputation in the industry for being drying. However, I've used this face wash for years and am impressed by how clean and healthy my skin always looks after using it. Plus, sometimes I want my overly oily skin to feel a little more balanced after cleansing. I'll use this on most mornings to refresh my skin when I wake up. I take one pump and massage it into damp skin then rinse with lukewarm water. It's gently toning and my skin never feels tight after using it. Oh, and it's basically the cost of my morning coffee.
The first thing to note about this product is that if you have even slightly sensitive skin, then this probably isn't for you. Although you can use this as a full facial mask, the potent blend of glycolic, salicylic and lactic acids can be a bit too much for my skin sometimes, but for me, this product really comes into its own as a spot treatment. I've woken up to serious crater-like spots, applied this mask to it, and 20 minutes later found that the blemish in question is looking way less angry. As I said earlier, no product is going to make a spot entirely disappear in such a short time, but I can advocate for the way that it purifies and reduces the appearance of blemishes when you really need something hardworking.
Although salicylic acid is abundant in serums and spot treatments, it can be harder to find in cleansers. Thankfully, this one from Paula's Choice contains a dose of it to remove excess oil, unclog pores and generally leave your skin feeling clear and refreshed. I usually alternate between this and my Boots cleanser, depending on how severe my skin is that morning. This is my go-to when I've got active breakouts that need calming. The gel texture feels lovely and cooling when massaged into the skin, so it's great on days when things are feeling particularly irritated.
I've sworn by this French pharmacy staple as a daily moisturiser for years, which is why I'm so excited that they now have this version containing SPF. 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. Oh, and SPF is essential if you're using ingredients like salicylic acid to treat acne, as your skin might be more susceptible to the sun's rays. This moisturiser is also infused with the hero ingredient, so you can rest assured that you're getting all of those skin-exfoliating benefits without the negative effects.
For the most part, I try to be as confident as I can in my own skin. Yes, I do wear makeup, but I tend to stick to light coverage bases that my spots and scarring still show through. And, I have no qualms about rocking up to the office completely bare-faced on occasion. However, there are some days when a breakout can knock down the confidence of anyone. On those days, I reach for this concealer from Vichy.
Incredibly high coverage, this creamy stick concealer can cover everything from active spots and scars to pigmentation and dark circles. I apply it using clean fingertips (avoid applying it directly from the bullet to prevent the spreading of bacteria) and pat it onto any areas that need it. It's non-comedogenic, so it won't clog your pores and exacerbate any existing blemishes and it really does stay put all day. Sadly, though, the shade range is lacking, so deeper skin tones might struggle to find a colour that suits them.
While this isn't quite as full coverage as the Vichy concealer, this one from It Cosmetics has a much more inclusive range of shades, so it's another great option. I stockpiled this last time I was in New York, so I'm really excited that it's now available in the UK via Cult Beauty.
The best thing about this is that it provides all the cover-up power of a concealer with all the skincare benefits of a spot treatment. It uses kaolin clay, witch hazel, sulphur and an AHA and BHA complex to minimise your breakout and disguise it. A great option if you wear concealer every day.
While this isn't specifically coined as a product for spot-prone skin, the clay-based formula means it's my go-to face mask. In fact, if I was pushed to only keep one mask in my skincare routine, it might just be this one.
I apply this to damp skin a couple of times a week, and as it dries, you can actually see it drawing all of the excess oil to the surface. It also contains aloe vera to soothe any redness and rosehip and parsley seed extracts to enhance radiance at the same time as purifying your skin.
I know that picking spots is bad for your skin and leads to scarring, but if we're being honest, who has the self-restraint to avoid touching an unwanted visitor on your face? I use these spot stickers from Sarah Chapman in the same way that someone would apply a horrible solution to their nails to stop them from biting (aka as a preventative measure).
After my skincare routine, I'll apply these patches to any big spots to prevent me from touching them and spreading germs. Not only do they stop external bacteria from getting in but they also exfoliate and decongest pores at the same time. Come morning, your blemish should look calmer and less irritated.