Spots are a total pain but happily we’ve come a long way from Clearasil being the only treatment option. We’ve tested everything out there and here are 22 zit-busters that actually work

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Whoever told you spots are a teenage problem was lying. The pesky blighters can rear their heads all through your life, set off as they are by hormone fluctuations and every kind of stress. (Peri)menopausal women know this all too well, but so do many of us who go through times of upheaval, are run down, are on certain medications or have underlying conditions such as PCOS. And some of us are sadly just more prone to spots than others. But, panic not, we have found the best spot treatments on the market.

What causes spots?

Whatever the reason for your spots, the factors conspiring to facilitate their uninvited arrival on your face are always the same. It’s a combination of skin oils (sebum), skin cells trapped in your pores, a surfeit of pimple-causing C.Acnes bacteria and a hefty dose of inflammation.

“Pimples and pustules happen when skin cells on their way to the skin surface back up and stick to each other inside the pores, causing blockages,” says dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. “Bacteria that cause acne feast on the sebum in these blockages which allows them to proliferate, causing whiteheads and, where there is inflammation, swollen, angry pustules.” Genetically or hormonally oilier skin contributes to the issue, while some people naturally have more C.Acnes on their skin. For others, an imbalance in the skin microbiome can also allow these unpleasant bacteria to take over.

How to get rid of spots

It means spots need to be subdued on several fronts if you want to successfully get shot of them: misting them with salt water, as in this popular but delusional salt water acne hack video on TikTok, is NOT an example of that.

Happily, where there used to be a handful of decent cosmetic spot treatments available, today there is an embarrassment of choice. What you are looking for in a spot treatment is a combination of at least some of these tried and trusted ingredients:

  • Salicylic acid
  • Azelaic acid
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Zinc
  • Pro and prebiotics
  • Niacinamide
  • Hydrating humectants such as hyaluronic acid
  • Anti-inflammatories such as oat extract

The best spot treatments for every skin type and budget

Make sure you always have one of these in your facial first-aid kit!

Best for spotty skin prone to pigmentation: It Cosmetics Bye Bye Breakout Serum, £23 for 30ml

This clear liquid teams 2 per cent pore-clearing, oil-reducing, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory salicylic acid with 3 per cent lactic acid to exfoliate and help clear post-acne marks. To boot, there is a skin-balancing post-biotic ferment to calm and make skin less prone to further breakouts.

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Best for the TikTok-loving teen in your life: Starface Hydro-Stars, £11.99

These funky star-shaped patches can help you embrace acne with a sense of humour – and they look great on camera, which is obviously why TikTok and celebrities are obsessed with them. They help gunk ooze out from pimples and keep the area hydrated, preventing scars. But they have no active ingredients; there’s nothing here that fights bacteria and actually beats back the causes of acne.

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Best spot treatment for menopausal skin: Beauty Pie Happy Face 10% Azelaic Acid Skin Clearing Gel Cream, £60/£22 for 30ml

The medically approved spot-zapper of choice for hormonally unpredictable skins that suffer from breakouts as well as increased sensitivity, azelaic acid is allowed at a maximum concentration of 10 per cent in cosmetic products. At this level, it is certain to subdue oiliness and spots, as it normalises skin function and so clears up blockages, It’s also anti-inflammatory, calms redness and fades hyperpigmentation. Teamed in this silky gel with niacinamide and soothing centella, it’s best applied all over the face.

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Best for deep, painful spots: Murad Deep Relief Blemish Treatment, £45 for 30ml

Those nasty, impacted cystic acne spots that seem to live mostly under the skin surface but cause swelling and soreness require specialised treatment, and this milky gel was designed for it. With the full 2 per cent (the maximum concentration allowed in the UK) salicylic acid and a novel cherry extract that deeply soothes and takes down swelling, the gel forms an invisible patch over your spots that won’t budge even under makeup, so it works consistently to bring down and fade the acne in days.

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The trending spot treatment: Bubble Super Clear 2% Salicylic Acid Blemish Prevention Serum, £18 for 30 ml

Making spots look fun (somehow), Gen Z-favoured Bubble skincare has produced a spot treatment that’s very well balanced. With the full two per cent salicylic acid (one of the best exfoliating acids) alongside hydrating glycerine, barrier-repairing squalane and loads of anti-inflammatory botanicals, this lotion is potent but will not upset skin to make the problem worse.

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Best budget spot treatment: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution, £6.10 for 30ml

Just the full, clinically proven 2 per cent salicylic acid in a clear hydrating base, this makes a difference to your spots within hours and relies on salicylic acid’s intrinsic anti-inflammatory properties to bring calm as well. You need not pay more for an on-the-spot hero. We just wish it came in a pump and not a messy pipette.

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Best for oily skin with persistent spots: Acnecide Face Gel Spot Treatment with Benzoyl Peroxide, £9.99 for 15g

Benzoyl peroxide is a very reliable anti-bacterial agent that is certain to fight back persistent spots. It can be quite irritating, however, so it’s not for everyone, and it can bleach hairs and clothes so be careful where you put it. This leave-on cream is often recommended by derms and has a gentle five per cent BP plus hydrating glycerine and microsphere technology to mop up oiliness.

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Best on-the-go spot buster: Elf Blemish Breakthrough Blemish Fighting Spot Gel, £3.99 for 15ml

This is a 1 per cent salicylic acid plus clarifying witch hazel and soothing aloe in a roll-on gel – so no dirty fingers need to come near your spots. The gentle formula means you can apply it repeatedly, and enthusiastic fans report it never fails to calm down spots within 24 hours.

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Best spot treatment for sensitive skin: Gallinee Vinegar Gelée, £35

No anti-bacterials in sight here: this is a unique ‘pro-bacterial’ pre and postbiotic serum that rebalances skin so that the healthy, calm-skin bacteria take over from the nasty pimple-causing ones. Fresh, light and pampering, the jelly has gently exfoliating cider vinegar and lactic acid, prebiotics and a C.Acnes bacteria-weakening amino acid to significantly calm, clear and soften skin without any aggression at all.

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Best spot-buster for teen skin: Indu Spot On Paste, £14 for 15ml

Formulated specifically for teen skin, nothing here is at a sledgehammer level but instead it’s a balanced dose of loads of goodies. Salicylic and lactic acids, pre and probiotics, anti-inflammatory and purifying plant oils, clay, bakuchiol, soothing agents and barrier-supporting lipids are packed in a light green paste that instantly neutralises redness, so should pretty much become invisible when you pop it on a spot to let it do its work.

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Best dermatologist-created spot treatment: Dr Sam’s Flawless Neutralising Gel, £30

Combines spot-busting star ingredients azelaic and salicylic acid at clinically proven concentrations (5 and 2 per cent respectively) for a spot-zapper that is as intense as benzoyl peroxide but without the potential irritation.

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Best for angry red breakouts: The Inkey List Succinic Acid Treatment, £11 for 15ml

Teams salicylic acid with lesser-known succinic acid, which gently exfoliates but also calms redness. There’s bacteria-busting sulfur as well, alongside hydrating hyaluronic acid in a light, cloud-like cream that conditions skin without oiliness and neutralises redness instantly thanks to its pale green tint.

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Best invisible spot patch: Purifide Power Patch, £9.99 for 36 patches

Not keen on drawing attention to your zit? These are clear so hard to ‘spot’ (sorry). Most spot patches mop up oil to shrink spots, but these ones are weaponised with salicylic acid, willowherb and centella asiatica to properly clear out grime and beat back inflammation.

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Best spot treatment for mature skin: Medik8 Blemish SOS Rapid Action Target Gel, £25 for 15ml

Slightly hiding its light under a bushel, this has been around for a while and was teaming 2 per cent salicylic acid with multi-beneficial azelaic acid before the ingredient became the toast of the town. Also in the mix are balancing niacinamide and sebum-controlling, antibacterial dioic acid, so this fights everything we hate about breakouts: redness, swelling, oiliness, bacteria and lingering skin discolouration.

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Best for hormonal breakouts: Dr Dennis Gross Blemish Solutions Breakout Clearing Gel, £42 for 30ml

As well as 2 per cent salicylic acid to help dissolve break-up causing debris, this also includes 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 and to help break the vicious spot circle. Spreads easily over a larger area, so it is great for those hormonal eruptions around the jaw and chin.

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Best classic spot-nuker: Clinique Anti Blemish Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel, £16 for 15ml

Two per cent salicylic acid in a clear gel formula that can make your eyes water – that’ll be the alcohol that’s also in here. That’s not necessarily what you want (alcohol worsens inflammation and dryness), but this does work fast and reliably on even ferocious spots. Best to literally spot-apply; unlike alcohol-free salicylic acid gels, you don’t really want to put this all over your face.

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Best for calming angry blemishes: La Roche-Posay Effaclar A.I. Breakout Corrector, £14.50 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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Best natural spot treatment: Balance Me Congested Skin Serum, £18 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-known 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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Best spot treatment oil: Votary Blemish Rescue Oil, £35 for 15ml

This gentle blend of anti-inflammatory natural plant oils packs a punch thanks to a lightly exfoliating 2 per cent salicylic acid that aims to coax blemish-causing bacteria from pores. The oil helps skin to heal itself without the flaking and irritation often associated with strong spot treatments, although oil-phobic dermatologists would not be happy with that approach. Our tester, however, reported that the prognosis for scarring and redness was much improved.

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Best for herb-assisted spot-fighting: Alpha H Clear Skin Blemish Control Gel, £21 for 20ml

A herby pustule fighter in a clear gel, this majors on oregano, eucalyptus and tea tree to evict bacteria, with salicylic acid to do its pore clearing thing and zinc, niacinamide and and vitamin E to bring down inflammation. If it feels cooling, that’s because it’s got a lot of alcohol in it, sadly – but the dryness of that is off-set by hydrating glycerine. It doesn’t leave skin feeling too tight or dry either.

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Best luxury spot treatment: 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, it’s another antibacterial oil that can be massaged all over the face as well as applied in a more targeted manner. Soothing milk thistle, camomile and cucumber help to dial down irritation while hexylresorcinol and licorice fight back post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

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Best spot treatment for dry skin: Ren Clean Skincare Clearcalm Non-Drying Spot Treatment, £20 for 15ml

As the name suggests, this is a non-drying spot saviour that's good for even sensitive skin. A past GTG Award-winner, it’s gentle and focused on calming angry skin yet still hardworking enough to annihilate spots. Salicylic acid reduces the size of blemishes and algae balance and hydrate, while maritime pine and thyme soothe.

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