Pimples: everybody has them, but nobody wants them. Nevertheless, complete acne removal can be much harder than it sounds. These annoying red bumps usually form when your pores get clogged with oil and dead skin cells and become infected by bacteria. Some zits go away on their own in just a few days, but others can hang around for weeks on end. And when they finally heal, they may leave dark spots behind, which can take several months to fade.
If you have stubborn pimples and/or hyperpigmentation that won’t clear up, you may need to treat them with over-the-counter acne removal products. Here are some of our favorite acne-fighting skincare items that will banish your current breakouts and prevent new ones from occurring.
Acne Removal Spot Treatments and Pimple Patches
Spot treatments and pimple patches are great for treating individual zits. They’re designed to be left on overnight so the active ingredients can work on your blemishes while you sleep. When you wake up, your pimples will either be completely gone or greatly reduced in size.
If you want to try spot treatments out for yourself, here are some of the best ones on the market.
Origins Super Spot Remover Acne Treatment Gel
This acne removal gel from Origins has salicylic acid and witch hazel to clear out the sebum that’s blocking your pores. It also contains plant extracts like algae and cucumber to reduce inflammation and calm your angry, red spots. And best of all, it’s formulated with clean ingredients. That means it doesn’t contain harmful additives like sulfates, mineral oil, or phthalates, so you can feel good about using it.
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
If you’re into skincare, you’ve probably heard of Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion. It’s a cult favorite for a reason – its powerful mix of ingredients can shrink even the toughest pimples overnight.
It contains salicylic acid, an exfoliant that can unclog pores and lighten acne scars. It also has calamine to calm inflamed acne and sulphur to dry up your spots as you sleep. All you have to do is dab the lotion onto your blemishes with a cotton swab before bed. When you wake up, wash the remaining product off to reveal clearer skin.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Acne Treatment
Another acne removal product that we swear by is La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo. It contains 5.5% benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria that causes breakouts. It’s also free of parabens, oils, and fragrances, so it won’t irritate sensitive skin. You can use it as a spot treatment or apply a thin layer all over your face after you cleanse to prevent breakouts.
ZitSticka Killa Pimple Patch
Popping your pimples may seem like the best way to get rid of them. But squeezing your zits can actually spread the bacteria and pus inside them to the rest of your face, potentially leading to more breakouts.
If you have a hard time leaving your blemishes alone and always feel tempted to pick them, try out these pimple patches. They have a hydrocolloid dressing that will keep your fingers away from your acne and unclog your pores by absorbing the pus inside your zit. They also contain salicylic acid and an anti-inflammatory called niacinamide to treat your pimples and speed up the healing process.
Acne Removal Cleansers
Because acne starts with clogged pores, keeping your skin clean is paramount if you want to prevent blemishes. Here are some of our favorite acne removal cleansers for pimple-prone skin.
Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Acne Cleanser
This cleanser from Paula’s choice can aid in acne removal because it contains salicylic acid, which helps slough away dead skin cells and keeps your pores clear. It can also lighten the dark spots that are sometimes left behind after a pimple heals. It does this by encouraging cell turnover. As your skin produces new, unblemished tissue, the acne scars will fade away.
But that isn’t the only beneficial ingredient in this cleanser. It features arginine to soothe the redness and irritation that comes along with acne. It also contains panthenol to smooth and hydrate your skin, leading to a glowing complexion.
Skinceuticals LHA Cleansing Gel
This cleansing gel from Skinceuticals contains not one but three different exfoliants to break up the debris that’s causing your pimples. It has a 12% concentration of lipohydroxy acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid, making it a powerful, effective cleanser for acne removal. It can even help lighten your acne scars and ward off signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles, so it’s worth the splurge.
TULA Skincare Purifying Face Cleanser
Everyone knows that probiotics can improve your digestion, but did you know that they can help clear up your skin too? Initial studies have shown that probiotics may be an effective treatment for cystic acne, one of the most severe types of breakouts. Applying them topically can help rebalance your skin’s microbiome, reduce inflammation, and ward off pimples.
If you want to add probiotics to your acne removal routine, check out the TULA Purifying Face Cleanser. It has turmeric, prebiotic, and probiotic extracts to calm and balance your skin. It also contains orange oil to fade dark spots and lemon oil to kill the bacteria that cause breakouts.
Carbon Theory Charcoal and Tea Tree Facial Cleansing Bar
This facial cleansing bar from Carbon Theory contains organic tea tree and charcoal, which both have antibacterial properties. These ingredients will help fight the bacteria that causes acne and prevent breakouts before they form. It also has non-comedogenic shea butter to moisturize your skin without clogging up your pores, so it’s suitable for oily skin.
This bar is also vegan, gluten-free, and formulated with clean ingredients. It even has recyclable and reusable packaging, making it a sustainable option for people who are trying to reduce their waste.
Barrier+ Foaming Clay Cleanser
Clay is great for acne-prone skin. It helps draw excess oil and impurities out of your pores, leading to fewer breakouts. It’s also nutrient-rich and full of beneficial ingredients like silica, which promotes collagen production and keeps skin looking young.
This foaming cleanser contains two different types of clay – Brazilian Kaolin Volcanic Clay and Canadian Glacial Clay. It also features jojoba and aloe to moisturize your skin and soothe any acne-related redness and irritation.
Acne Removal Toners
Using a toner after you cleanse can help remove the last traces of oil and makeup from your skin and prevent your pores from getting clogged. Many toners also contain skin-brightening ingredients that can fade dark spots left behind by pimples. Browse some of our favorite toners for acne removal below.
Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner
The Glycolic Acid Toner from Mario Badescu contains aloe to soothe your skin and reduce redness. It also features two exfoliants, glycolic acid and grapefruit extract, to slough off dead skin cells and gets your skin glowing. These ingredients can also help lighten acne-related dark spots and give you a smoother, more even complexion.
COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
This Blackhead Power Liquid is from the popular Korean beauty brand COSRX. It contains BHA, a powerful exfoliant that goes deep into your pores to remove excess oil and impurities. It can also help reduce the appearance of pores by getting rid of all the junk inside them and make your skin look brighter and healthier overall.
In addition to BHA, this toner has willow bark water to control oil and calm the skin as well as betaine salicylate to combat the bacteria that causes acne. You’ll even get a dose of niacinamide, an anti-inflammatory that can ward off dark spots by preventing pigment from being transferred to the skin.
COSRX AC Collection Calming Liquid Mild
This calming liquid from COSRX is the ideal toner for sensitive, acne-prone skin types. It’s free of irritating ingredients like alcohol and fragrances, so it won’t bother even the most finicky skin. It contains soothing ingredients like aloe vera and tea tree oil to calm inflammation and redness. The formula also features centella asiatica extract, which helps speed up the healing process and prevents acne scars from forming.
Acne Removal Moisturizers and Serums
If you have oily, acne-prone skin, you may believe that you’re better off skipping moisturizer and serum. After all, isn’t the excess oil on your face providing all of the hydration your skin needs?
It’s a common misconception that oil is moisturizing. The natural oils on your skin are more like a protective wax that helps maintain your skin’s barrier function. The hydration that makes your face soft and smooth comes from water that gets absorbed into the top two layers of your skin. This moisture can be lost when you cleanse your face or get exposed to dry air, so you need to keep replenishing it by using a moisturizer.
Below are some of our favorite moisturizers and serums for acne removal. They’re non-comedogenic, so they won’t further clog your pores. They also contain active ingredients that will help fight your acne and lighten up your dark spots.
Olay Regenerist Retinol Moisturizer
You’ve probably heard that retinol can reduce signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. But did you know that it can also prevent and treat acne by clearing out your pores? It can even lighten up those pesky dark spots caused by acne, making it a powerhouse ingredient you need in your beauty arsenal.
Products that contain retinol tend to be expensive, but this night cream from Olay is surprisingly affordable. In addition to retinol, it contains niacinamide to hydrate your skin and reduce inflammation. It’s also formulated with amino peptides, which are known to smooth out and firm up the skin.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
The Ordinary is one of our favorite beauty brands because it has affordable, highly effective products like this serum. It contains a high concentration of azelaic acid, which has been shown to reduce breakouts and acne-related hyperpigmentation. It also has a lightweight cream-gel texture, so it won’t make your skin feel congested.
The Inkey List Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Moisturizer
One little-known ingredient that’s great for acne removal is bakuchiol. Preliminary studies have shown that it’s similar to retinol and has many of the same benefits. It can lighten dark spots, reduce signs of aging, and help fight acne without the side effects that can sometimes come along with retinol like irritation.
If you want to try this gentler alternative to retinol, throw this Inkey List moisturizer into your cart. It contains 1% plant-derived bakuchiol plus squalane and sacha inchi oil to provide lightweight hydration and a dose of omega-3s.
Origins Clear Improvement Pore Clearing Moisturizer
Looking for an oil-free night cream that won’t clog your pores? Check out Origins Clear Improvement Pore Clearing Moisturizer. It contains 1% salicylic acid to exfoliate your face and remove built-up dead skin cells that cause acne.
This moisturizer also has a variety of plant extracts including spearmint to soothe irritation, rosemary to fight bacteria, and ylang ylang to regulate oil production. It also includes a moisturizing blend of sodium hyaluronate, glycerine, and squalane to provide the lightweight hydration your skin needs.
Masks and Pore Strips
If you have more than a few pimples, applying a spot treatment to every zit can get tedious. A better way to treat your widespread breakouts is to apply an acne removal mask. It will not only treat your active breakouts but also prevent new ones from popping up.
With so many face masks on the market, it can be hard to figure out which one will give you the best results. Here are some product suggestions to point you in the right direction.
Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Masque Acne Treatment Mask
Sulfur is one of the best ingredients for acne removal because it’s keratolytic. It works by thinning the top layer of your skin, which can help prevent your pores from getting clogged by dead skin cells.
This therapeutic mask by Peter Thomas Roth combines 10% sulfur, bentonite clay, and kaolin clay to unblock your pores and dry up excess oil. It also has aloe vera to soothe redness and irritation. And best of all, it’s formulated without harsh sulfates and phthalates, so it’s perfect for people with sensitive skin.
Omorovicza Deep Cleansing Mask
Some mud masks are overly drying and can actually increase your skin’s sebum production. If you use acne removal products that strip too much oil away, your skin may kick into overdrive and start producing more sebum to replace it.
This deep cleansing mask from Omorovicza is equal parts hydrating and clarifying, so it won’t dry out your skin too much. It contains Hungararian mud to remove excess oil from your pores and Hungarian thermal water to moisturize your skin. It also has acerola cherry extract, an antioxidant-rich ingredient that will fight free radicals and prevent skin aging.
TULA Skincare Resurfacing & Brightening Fruit Enzyme Mask
If you want to lighten your dark spots and brighten up your complexion overall, you need this mask from TULA Skincare. It contains probiotic extracts to restore balance to your skin plus pineapple and pumpkin enzymes to gently exfoliate it. Better yet, it’s formulated without harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, and sulfates. It’s even cruelty-free, so you can feel good about buying it.
Bioré Deep Cleansing Charcoal Pore Strips
Did you know that blackheads are a mild type of acne? Just like pimples, they’re caused by clogged pores. However, they don’t look red and angry like blemishes because they’re non-inflammatory. Instead of swelling up, they turn black as the dead skin cells inside the blocked pore oxidize. Blackheads usually pop up on your nose but can sometimes appear on your chin as well.
Even though they don’t form big inflamed bumps, blackheads are still unsightly, so you probably want to remove them. That’s where these deep cleansing pore strips from Bioré come in. They’re kind of like tape for blackheads. They stick to your nose, so when you remove them, they’ll pull out all the dirt and debris that’s blocking your pores. They also contain charcoal to dry out the excess oil on your skin, which can help prevent new blackheads from forming.
These acne removal products will help most people clear up their acne. But if you get more severe breakouts like cystic acne, they may not respond to over-the-counter treatments. If you feel like you’ve tried every spot treatment at Sephora and still haven’t gotten results, it may be time to see a dermatologist. They can prescribe something stronger that will hopefully banish your breakouts once and for all.
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