11 spot creams, oils and gels that work way better than TikTok's viral salt water spray

Anna Hunter 5 August 2021
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11 spot creams, oils and gels that shrink blemishes, fast

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A targeted spot treatment is a must in everybody's bathroom cabinet, whether you’re 16 or 60 ( adult acne is rife  and even the  post-menopausal  among us don’t get an out). But recently TikTok has been awash with people claiming that salt water is the answer to banishing breakouts, rather than skincare spot treatments. According to user @AubryJadeArt, who has 1.5 million likes on her salt water acne hack video , mixing warm water with sea salt and spraying it on their face balances your skin’s pH and kills bacteria, ridding acne.

Do we recommend swapping your targeted spot treatments for a TikTok trend? Definitely not.  "Salt water could be good at minimising mild breakouts, but it could also do more harm than good," says skincare oracle Ada Ooi, founder of 001 Skin. "Salt water could break down your skin hydrolipidic barrier, making it more prone to sensitivity. It can also strip your skin of its natural oils and dry it out, which can actually exacerbate acne as skin stripped of its natural oils goes on to produce even more oils and in turn spots."

"To treat acne, look for products with a moderate concentration of zinc oxide and acids such as salicylic acid and lactic acid, as well as hydrants and proteins such as hyaluronic acid, plant oil lipids and oat and aloe vera to soothe the redness and sensitivity."

Here are our most relied upon blemish extinguishers. If you're particularly looking for a spot treatment to go under your face covering (curse you, maskne) we'd like to point you in the direction of our edit of the best pimple patches . Otherwise, read on...

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Dr Dennis Gross Blemish Solutions Breakout Clearing Gel, £40 for 30ml

Well-known for his at-home peels, Dr Dennis Gross has delivered another cracker of a skin-improver with this easy to apply gel. The ingredients list for this little white tube is really quite something; as well as two per cent salicylic acid to help dissolve break-up causing debris, it also included monk's pepper to rebalance oiliness while niacinamide  and green tea team up to diminish blemish scars and soothe skin for a clearer, smoother complexion. Never one to make an under-performing product, Dr Dennis Gross' blemish buster also works to break the vicious spot circle, helping prevent further pimples from popping up. It can be applied several times a day, depending on how severe your skin issues are.

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Peace Out Acne Serum, £31 for 30ml

GTG's graphic design and social media manager Jemma gave this a try and was seriously impressed. "I applied on a whim, as a last-ditch effort to save my skin and I was shocked by the results," she said. "It's the only product I’ve tried that effectively diminishes a blemish without leaving a scar or mark afterwards. It’s a daily treatment and at first I applied it once a day until my skin built up a tolerance for three times a day. It contains two per cent salicylic acid, niacinamide and vitamin C that all work in harmony to exfoliate your pores, brighten dark spots, and helps absorbs excess oil without stripping your skin."

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Perricone MD Blemish Relief Targeted Spot Treatment, £18 for 15ml

This invisible, lightweight gel works immediately and over time to nix current blemishes and reduce further skin troubles by unclogging pores and absorbing excess oils without drying the skin. Lactic acid is responsible for clearing out the pores while salicylic acid attacks bacteria to help create healthier skin microbiome. The calming powers come courtesy of citrulline, an ingredient found in watermelon that nourishes and soothes skin for a smooth texture. Lastly, tea tree is added to calm redness.

If you fall head over heels for this, you might want to try Perricone MD's Blemish Relief 90-Day Regime , two steps that work with the microbiome of the skin to treat the causes of blemishes. It adapts to your skin’s unique microbiome without disturbing the natural balance of your skin.

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Balance Me Congested Skin Serum, £16 for 15ml

We're used to seeing the same tried and tested ingredients in spot clearers, so we were intrigued by the mention of anti-bacterial may chang, eucalyptus and spruce knot in this serum. Lesser-know maybe, but they still work wonders on pesky pimples, especially on teenage skin. It calms and soothes eruptions (thanks to aloe vera in the mix) without leaving dryness in its wake.

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Beauty Bay Soothe Paste Blemish Treatment, £5 for 50ml

We've been consistently impressed by Beauty Bay's skincare offering and this budget buy is no different. It's formulated with salicylic acid (of course) along with prebiotic to soothe and balance the skin. It creates a protective barrier over the blemish (great under masks) to clear the pore and stop excess bacteria getting in.

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Clinique Anti Blemish Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel, £16 for 15ml

This is strong, salicylic stuff and will make your eyes water if you get it too close to your lids (do not), but it’s never once aggravated our skin or cause an adverse reaction- it firefights even ferocious spots. Go easy as the alcohol content can be drying, but when quite literally spot-applied at desperate times, it works quickly to reduce the size and severity of blemishes.

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La Roche-Posay Effaclar A.I. Breakout Corrector, £12 for 15ml

Containing skin barrier-boosting niacinamide , LHA, a derivative of salicylic acid, and the brand’s signature soothing thermal spring water, this SOS treatment is less abrasive than others on the market but by no means less effective. A ‘chill pill’ of sorts for angry blemishes that need to take a minute to calm themselves, it reduces redness and soreness to help take the sting out of your spots.

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Murad Rapid Relief Spot Treatment, £20 for 15ml

This spot treatment works and it works fast. A clear gel that you can use over or under makeup, it tingles slightly on application but even sensitive skin is comfortable with the two per cent salicylic acid - it’s definitely one for all skin types. The USP is that it promises to reduce spot size and redness within four hours and - hallelujah - it really does. According to our sensitive skin  columnist, she dabs this on any red spot which dares to appear and within a mere few hours it shrinks back to where it came from and looks a lot less angry; a couple of days of repeated application and it’s gone completely. She kind of wishes could go back in time to give it to her 13-year-old self.

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Votary Blemish Rescue Oil, £35 for 15ml

This gentle blend of anti-inflammatory natural plant oils packs a punch thanks to a lightly exfoliating two per cent salicylic acid formula that aims to coax blemish-causing bacteria from pores. The oil helps skin to heal itself without the flaking and irritation oft associated with strong spot treatments, and our tester reported that prognosis for scarring and redness is much improved, plus you only need a dab to deflate a nasty eruption.

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Alpha H Clear Skin Blemish Control Gel, £17.95 for 20ml

Another herby pustule fighter, this cooling gel is fragrance-free  and majors on oregano, eucalyptus and tea tree to evict bacteria, with salicylic acid to do its pore clearing thing and zinc and vitamin E to bring down inflammation. It doesn’t leave skin feeling too tight or dry either.

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Sunday Riley U.F.O Ultra Clarifying Face Oil, £34 for 15ml

This forest green formula smells calming and herby and has the same tranquilising effect on pimples in our experience. With a slightly milder 1.5 per cent salicylic acid concentration, this antibacterial oil can be massaged all over the face as well as applied in a more targeted manner, and soothing milk thistle and cucumber help to dial down irritation. If you’re a facial oil fan and find that many spot lotions leave your skin stripped, Sunday could be right up your street, but the fragrance aspect could throw a spanner in the works- patch test if you can, particularly if you have sensitive skin.

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Ren Clean Skincare Clearcalm Non-Drying Spot Treatment, £15 for 15ml

As the name would suggest, this is a non-drying spot saviour that's good for even sensitive skin. It won our award for the Best Results-Focused Skincare in our 2019 Beauty and Wellness Awards , so you know we rate it. It's gentle yet still hardworking enough to fix unruly complexions. Salicylic acid reduces the size of spots while maritime pine and thyme soothe.

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