The Best Topical Acne Treatments You Don’t Need a Prescription For

In a perfect world, you’d be able to summon your dermatologist at a moment’s notice, getting an instant prescription or professional treatment upon first sight of a pimple. Nay, in a perfect world, you wouldn’t get the pimples in the first place. But life isn’t perfect, and blemishes happen unpredictably, and seemingly always at the most unfortunate moment. That’s why you have to rely on over-the-counter and on-the shelves remedies to neutralize volcanic pimples and blitzkrieg breakouts. These topical acne products use hard-nosed ingredients that help clear pores, calm irritation, and prevent further acne and agony.

The Right Moisturizer For Every Skin Type

Since we’re all in the market, here are our favorite topical acne treatments—including cleansers, spot treatments, and serums—that work quickly against acne. Stock up now, to ready yourself for the unpredictable and untimely breakout.

1. ZitSticka KILLA Kit

As soon as you feel that impending pimple building under your skin, act fast. Cleanse the area with one of ZitSticka’s cleansing wipes—packed with salicylic acid to dissolve dead skin cells, tea tree oil to clarify the skin, vitamin E to restore, and a touch of alcohol to disinfect and dry out excess oil. Then, apply a ZitSticka KILLA patch, which sends a bunch of skin-saving ingredients to neutralize the pimple before it gets out of control. (Salicylic acid again, to keep skin clear, hyaluronic acid to preserve moisture, peptides to calm the buildup, and a vitamin B3 derivative, niacinamide, to minimize redness and irritation.) The ingredients dissolve into the skin over two hours, and save face for the next couple weeks.

[$ 29;]

You can also try Patchology’s Breakout Box 3-In-1 Acne Treatment Kit for a trio of blemish-fighting patches and strips. Theirs includes 24 salicylic acid dots to shrink pimples; 24 hydrocolloid dots to treat whiteheads; and three nose strips to clear blackheads.

[$ 20;]


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2. Skin Regimen 1.0 Tea Tree Booster

There are multiple ways to use Skin Regimen’s complexion-clearing tea tree booster. Oily skin types can apply it to their entire face in the evening (after cleansing). Once it absorbs, go to sleep: You’ll wake to smaller pores come morning. If you’re breaking out en masse—or experiencing one-off zits—cleanse the skin, then apply this booster to each individual spot for targeted healing. Regardless of use, follow with a heavy-duty night cream to lock in moisture and expedite overnight healing. The booster itself combines tea tree oil to neutralize and calm blemishes while mandelic acid dissolves dead skin cells and smooths complexion.

[$ 115;]

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3. Votary Blemish Oil

One drop does the trick: Votary’s plant-based blemish oil targets pimples and dark spots with salicylic acid (again, to dissolve dead cells and unclog pores), plus an oil blend of tamanu, white rice, and oat (to calm irritation and promote cellular turnover). First, cleanse your skin, then apply a single drop to a fingertip, massaging it into the blemish with circular motions. Do this twice daily to speed healing.

[$ 52;]

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4. SLMD Salicylic Acid Body Spray

Clearly salicylic acid is the ingredient to check when neutralizing breakouts. It’s packed into this body spray for bacne breakouts from SLMD (the skincare brand from Dr. Sandra Lee, a.k.a. Dr. Pimple Popper). Just give your back an even coat—or ask a very loyal friend/roommate/partner to do the task—and it’ll work to minimize all kinds of pimples, from whiteheads to blackheads to inflammation, and even dark spots leftover from past breakouts. This is a perfect post-gym companion, too, to prevent clogged pores. (Apply it after your shower.) Better yet, the spray is packed with olive leaf, rosemary leaf, and papaya extracts, as well as allantoin and probiotics, all to hydrate, soothe, balance, and protect your skin.

[$ 38;]

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5. CVS Health Acne Treatment Gel

If you have persistent acne (moderate, but not necessarily chronic), one of the things your dermatologist might prescribe is a benzoyl peroxide gel. These come in various grades, which is why it’s good to talk to your doc, but they’re also available over the counter for milder cases. Apply this gel to the targeted areas; it fights acne-causing bacteria. Benzoyl also dries the area to prevent oil buildup. Monitor results closely, and be warned that it also stains towels and pillow cases. But, most importantly, it works, and at a low cost.  

[$ 6.29;


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6. Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel

BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid, and it’s often used as a placeholder name for—you guessed it—salicylic acid. As far as things are concerned in Peter Thomas Roth’s excellent skin-clearing product, AHAs and BHAs both work to dissolve dead skin and promote healthy cellular turnover. Apply this gel across affected areas after you cleanse your skin, 1-3 times daily as needed—but always before bed, since you’ll maximize its benefits while you sleep. It also deploys aloe vera and vitamin A to soothe skin and fight signs of aging (like fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots leftover from blemishes). 

[$ 54;

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7. Renée Rouleau Anti Bump Solution

Oh, the misery of cystic acne. Those deep, underground bumps that throb and linger for weeks at a time can often require weeks to heal (and, in some cases, cortisone shots). But with this powerful serum, your face has a fighting chance to clear the blemish up to 50% faster. The clear serum is made from ethyl lactate to get deep into the pore to start calming the cyst, while methyl gluceth 20 eases inflammation and redness, and citric acid exfoliates dead skin, helping to avoid any scars.

[$ 47.50;]

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8. Epionce Purifying Wash

This invigorating cleanser harnesses the power of spearmint oil (to diminish acne while keeping skin hydrated with antioxidants), menthol (to calm and cool skin), willow bark extract (a botanical source of salicylic acid), and, of course, salicylic acid (to cleanse pores and diminish dark spots). Use it in the morning to help keep skin clear, and pair it with Epionce’s Purifying Spot Gel at night to target stubborn acne.

[$ 42;]

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