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17 best spot treatments, tried and tested for banishing blemishes and preventing breakouts

Treat unwanted acne with hardworking ingredients and gentle formulas, from serums to spot stickers

Louise Whitbread
Tuesday 03 October 2023 14:47 BST
<p>Combining these effective formulas with consistency and patience is key when managing blemish-prone skin</p>

Combining these effective formulas with consistency and patience is key when managing blemish-prone skin

Our Top Picks

Adult acne is one of the most common skin issues, but whether breakouts happen every time you get your period or you experience spots sporadically, there’s one thing we can all agree on – we want to get rid of them, fast.

Inflamed, red, sore and often painful, spots are a common skin bugbear, but luckily there are a host of hardworking ingredients at our disposal to treat and prevent them. While there’s no such thing as a “quick fix” when it comes to your skin, there are many ingredients and products you can adopt to soothe and clear up unwanted whiteheads, blackheads and cysts.

Dr Justine Hextall, consultant dermatologist for La Roche-Posay, advises to look out for ingredients that will help to unblock pores where there can be a build up of oil and skin cells. “Salicylic acid is perfect for this task, while retinoids turn over skin cells and help to both reduce inflammation in acne and prevent pores being blocked. Niacinamide is an excellent addition as it reduces inflammation, supports the skin barrier and again helps to reduce post-acne skin marks.” She also recommends azelaic acid, which can help reduce acne scarring.

Adhesive spot patches are also a popular choice, as they prevent you squeezing or poking at inflamed areas (which only ever make things worse, may we add) and some are even made with hydrocolloid to absorb pus and excess oil from whiteheads to help them heal faster.

At the other end of the beauty spectrum, advanced tools such as LED masks are also highly recommended by dermatologists to treat acne. Blue light in particular is an effective way to reduce breakout-causing bacteria in the skin.

Most importantly, consistency and patience are key when managing blemish-prone skin. “Quite often one of the issues when managing blemish-prone skin is constant chopping and changing skin products,” Hextall says.

It can all seem quite scientific and overwhelming to the best of us, so, if you’re struggling with which spot-zapping treatment to secure next, we’ve got you (and your breakouts) covered. Take a look at the following creams and gels and, trust us, your skin will thank you.

How we tested

We’ve been testing a number of targeted spot treatments for weeks, to find the best money can buy. We examined each on how quickly they reduced the size, redness and inflammation of spots, while taking into account a variety of budgets and their ability to prevent future breakouts. Ranging from spot stickers, masks and cooling gels to calming creams, these are the ones we rated above the rest.

The best spot treatments for 2023 are:

  • Best overall – Dots for Spots acne patches: £11.99,
  • Best overnight spot treatment – Murad deep relief blemish treatment: £42,
  • Best spot treatment mask – Antipodes aura manuka honey mask: £22.30,
  • Best LED mask for spots – FaceGym acne light shot: £60,
  • Best serum for acne – SkinCeuticals blemish + age defense: £100,

Dots for Spots acne patches

Dots for Spots acne patches.png
  • Best: Overall
  • Product type: Acne patches
  • Key ingredients: Hydrocolloid

These fast-acting, blemish-busting hydrocolloid patches exceeded our expectations and they’re a great affordable alternative to the pricier spot patches on the market. Our reviewer is constantly battling with hormonal acne, particularly on the chin area, so we tried the pack of 60 and since first using them three months ago, have barely made it halfway through the pack.

They’re small, circular, translucent stickers with a strong but not damaging adhesive and we found it best to apply them before bed. They work brilliantly on whiteheads – after a few hours worn on inflamed cysts and whiteheads, the size of spots was dramatically reduced as they drew the fluid from them and healed within a few days rather than weeks. Once removed, the only sign of a spot left was a very slight lingering redness. They don’t budge once applied and are vegan and fragrance-free too.

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Cosrx master patch x-large, 10 pack

best spot treatments Cosrx master patch x-large
  • Best: XL spot patches
  • Product type: Acne patches
  • Key ingredients: Hydrocolloid

While Korean skincare brand Cosrx has made a name for itself off the back of its wildly popular advanced snail 96 mucin power essence, it also makes some of the best spot patches on the market. Few brands offer extra-large patches like this pack of 10, but our reviewer who struggles with hormonal breakouts across her chin, loves how it can absorb pus and excess oil from multiple spots in one go.

The adhesive is strong too, once applied, simply smooth over skin and hold down for 10 seconds and it won’t budge an inch no matter how long you wear it. Given its larger size it’s less discreet, so stick to wearing this at home or overnight to avoid any strange looks in public.

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CeraVe blemish control gel

best spot treatments Cerave blemish control gel
  • Best: Non-drying spot treatment
  • Product type: Gel
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid and niacinamide

Another winner from CeraVe is this blemish busting gel, formulated with 2 per cent salicylic acid and niacinamide. It’s a clear, lightweight texture that’s designed to be dabbed onto targeted areas but can also be used all over the face without leaving your skin dry or greasy. Unlike other spot treatments which dry out the area and leave you with flaky skin that’s impossible to apply makeup on top of, this dries down clear, feels weightless and is suitable for sensitive skin types. The 40ml tube is generously sized, especially compared to other spot treatments on the market, and is a great first step in fighting acne.

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Murad deep relief blemish treatment

best spot treatments Murad deep relief blemish treatment
  • Best: Overnight spot treatment serum
  • Product type: Serum
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid

Small but mighty, this little pot of serum works wonders for painful cysts that crop up on our reviewer’s chin just before her period. It’s a leave on treatment containing 2 per cent salicylic acid and while you use it in the same way you would a sulphur paste (i.e. dipping a cotton bud into the fluid and dabbing it onto the spot) it’s a milky white colour that dries down mostly clear. As a result, it’s ideal for using just before bed and we found it particularly helpful for reducing the swelling of painful pustules.

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Caudalie vinopure salicylic spot solution

best spot treatments Caudalie vinopure salicylic spot solution
  • Best: For neutralising inflammation
  • Product type: Cream
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid

One of the newer additions to Caudalie’s vinpure range is this salicylic acid spot treatment. It’s a cream texture, but don’t be alarmed by its green colour, that actually acts as a neutralising tint for redness surrounding a spot. It also comes in handy if you’ve tried to squeeze the area unsuccessfully and are just left with even more inflammation. You can apply it whenever needed – during bad bouts of breakouts, our reviewer often reached for it multiple times a day. It’s not drying and speeds up the healing time – there’s nothing not to love.

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Antipodes aura manuka honey mask

best spot treatments Antipodes aura manuka honey mask
  • Best: Spot treatment mask
  • Product type: Mask
  • Key ingredients: Manuka honey, vanilla pod and mandarin

This is a brilliant multi-tasking mask that can be used sporadically to combat blemishes, congestion and dehydration. It’s a great product to use if you’ve just got back from holiday where you’ve been slathering on SPF multiple times a day and your skin is feeling fatigued, or are struggling to balance the common dryness that can appear with acidic spot treatments.

It’s formulated in manuka honey, vanilla pod and mandarin which combined helped soothe inflammation and calm redness on areas our reviewer is prone to acne. The texture is rich, creamy and instantly cooling. Simply apply a thick layer, leave for 15 minutes and rinse off. Our skin immediately felt smoother, softer and less flushed with redness around our breakouts.

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FaceGym acne light shot

best spot treatments FaceGym acne light shot
  • Best: LED mask for spots
  • Product type: LED mask
  • Key ingredients: Not applicable

LED masks are nothing new, and are recommended by dermatologists for treating acne. However FaceGym has gone one step further with its acne light shot which targets specific areas of breakouts rather than the entire face. It’s designed with a blue LED light, which kills bacteria in the skin that causes acne. It delivers 20-minute treatments, and using the pack of 60 adhesives that come in the box, you can attach them to the device so it stays on your skin hands-free.

It’s an easy treatment that requires you to just sit fairly still with it on your face a few times a week – our reviewer enjoyed wearing it while answering emails and working from home. We found this reduced redness on our rosacea-prone cheeks, and inflammation on painful cystic acne breakouts on our chin over the course of a fortnight.

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SkinCeuticals blemish + age defense

best spot treatments SkinCeuticals
  • Best: Serum for acne
  • Product type: Serum
  • Key ingredients: Dioic acid, AHAs and BHAs

For those with a bigger budget, this ultra lightweight serum is an effective treatment for banishing blemishes. It has a thin, watery texture that isn’t gloopy or tacky in the slightest, and absorbs in seconds. A versatile, oil-free formula, it’s rich in 2 per cent dioic acid, AHAs and BHAs which are multi-purpose. Not only does it reduce inflammation, it also combats blackheads, the appearance of pores, uneven skin texture and fine lines. Safe to use day and night, it also works quickly to minimise excess oil production, making it a great option for oily skin types.

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Ameliorate blemish overnight clearing therapy

Ameliorate blemish overnight clearing therapy.png
  • Best: For sensitive skin
  • Product type: Overnight paste
  • Key ingredients: Lactic acid, niacinamide and willow bark extract

This is an upgrade to your typical sulphur paste, which typically can be very drying. Ameliorate has created a formula with lactic acid, niacinamide and willow bark extract to decongest and reduce redness. The minute tip means it’s easy to apply just the right amount and it’s a thick, opaque texture which stays on the spot without dripping down your face. While we found it best to apply before bed, as it’s not designed to be worn beneath makeup and is too obvious to wear to the office, make sure you apply it 15 mins before you hit the pillow to avoid any mess.

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La Roche-Posay effaclar A.I. breakout corrector

La Roche-Posay effaclar A.I. breakout corrector.jpg
  • Best: For hormonal acne
  • Product type: Cream
  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide

We loved the cream-based texture of this, which felt like rubbing in moisturiser, with no tingling effect or stickiness once dry. It’s part of La Roche-Posay’s brilliant effaclar range, designed to treat acne-prone skin, and the tube feels generous as only a small amount needs to be applied. It’s good if you have an area with multiple breakouts – we found it did a great job on hormonal acne on our chin, on clusters of stubborn spots. It’s not quite as fast-acting as others we tried, but with regular use, applied twice a day to cleansed skin, it’s a good one to keep on hand if you regularly experience breakouts.

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Origins super spot remover blemish treatment gel

Origins super spot remover blemish treatment gel.png
  • Best: Overnight spot treatment gel
  • Product type: Gel
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid and saw palmetto

This longstanding cult favourite has a unique gel texture and is clear, so if you did want to apply it during the day it wouldn’t be visible at all. Containing salicylic acid and saw palmetto, it works to prevent and treat blemishes by removing excess oil and impurities. We like how easy it was to spread across skin as it helped tackle bigger breakouts which weren’t confined to just one spot, but rather scattered across areas like our chin or foreheads. There’s a slight tingle on application and within a few days, angry, sore and red blemishes were smaller and less irritated.

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Vichy Normaderm SOS anti-blemish sulphur paste

Vichy Normaderm SOS anti-blemish sulphur paste.png
  • Best: Sulphur spot treatment
  • Product type: Paste
  • Key ingredients: Sulphur, niacinamide and glycolic acid

When you think of typical sulphur pastes, it conjures up a terrible scent, with a heavy mixture that’s difficult to remove without tugging on the skin with a wet flannel. Vichy’s version is much more user-friendly, with no scent, and dispensing the perfect amount for one application.

Along with sulphur, it contains niacinamide and glycolic acid and efficiently soaks up excess oil and pus to encourage spots to heal quicker. It does a great job at getting rid of emerging spots before they have time to get bigger or become sore, so while it’s not going to get rid of your spots overnight, it does noticeably reduce their impact.

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Murad rapid relief spot treatment

Murad rapid relief spot treatment.png
  • Best: Fast-acting gel
  • Product type: Gel
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, pine and thyme extract

This fast-acting gel gave transformative results in hours and we constantly reached for it as soon as a breakout hit. There’s an ever-so-slight tingle when put onto the skin, but it absorbs quickly and can be applied as many times as you need. We found it particularly effective when put on just before bed, as the salicylic acid, pine and thyme extract formula got to work at reducing redness, the size of a blemish and taking away the uncomfortable sting from inflamed skin. It dries down quickly, but, as it’s a gel, it’s clear and therefore leaves no trace.

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ZitSticka killa patches

  • Best: Spot patches
  • Product type: Acne patches
  • Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, niacinamide and sodium hydroxide

While it’s easy to dismiss spot patches as nothing more than a gimmick, we can confirm these do a spectacular job at reducing the size and redness of a blemish. One kit comes with eight patches and eight salicylic wipes, which you use to clean the area before applying the circular stickers.

Designed to be worn for six hours to get the most benefits, we wore them through Zoom calls, Facetimes and overnight. They’re discreet and very comfortable – you quickly forget you’re wearing them. The next morning, or six hours later, we saw a noticeable difference in the size of our blemish, especially larger cysts, which is an impressive feat for a sticker with less than 1cm diameter. They didn’t slip once and stayed on even when we splashed our face with water.

Each one is packed with hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, niacinamide and sodium hydroxide, which, combined, create a cocktail of skin-soothing, blemish busting and calming ingredients.

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Kate Somerville eradikate blemish treatment

KATE SOMERVILLE eradikate blemish treatment.jpg
  • Best: For preventing breakouts
  • Product type: Spot-drying treatment
  • Key ingredients: Sulphur, zinc oxide and salicylic acid

This is your classic spot-drying treatment. The solution is a watery pink, but settled at the bottom of the glass bottle is a paste, then once applied to a spot using a cotton bud, it absorbs fluid and pus from a blemish. It dries almost instantly and then hours later, fades to an off-white colour, so it works best when used before bed and washed off in the morning. It won’t get mess on your sheets, however, nor will it drip down your face. Thanks to a formula packed with 10 per cent sulphur, zinc oxide and salicylic acid, it not only tackles blemishes head-on, it also absorbs excess sebum to prevent future breakouts.

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Starface hydro-stars spot stickers kit

  • Best: Spot sticker
  • Product type: Spot stickers
  • Key ingredients: Hydrocolloid

Loved by Caroline Hirons and Hailey Bieber, these fun yellow star-shaped stickers are an effective tool for ensuring you don’t pick or squeeze spots – which, FYI, will only make them more inflamed and harder to heal. These hydrocolloid patches work by drawing out fluid from the affected area, stopping bacteria getting in and preventing you from touching your face too much.

Starface recommends you leave them on for six hours – we wore one overnight as well as during the day working from home. In each pod there are 32 stars, so you’ll always have a plentiful supply, and they’re so weightless you’ll forget you’re wearing them.

Read our full review of Starface hydro-stars spot stickers kit

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Fenty Skin blemish defeat’r BHA spot-targeting gel

fenty skin blemish defeater bha spot targeting gel treatment
  • Best: Wearing under make-up
  • Product type: Gel
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid (BHA), willow-bark extract, boldo, liquorice and ginger extracts

We’re fans of pretty much everything cult-favourite brand Fenty brings out, and this blemish defeat’r spot gel is no different. Packed full of salicylic acid to target pores, reduce oil in the skin and clarify, the spot-targeting gel works to improve the appearance of blemishes.

Other key ingredients include willow-bark extract, which contains salicylate, helping to condition the skin; boldo (a wild Chilean mint) and rhubarb extract, which work together to help clarify the skin; and liquorice and ginger extracts, to help reduce the look of dark spots and calm the skin.

Firstly, we were very impressed with the texture of the product. A gel like no other, it had a firmness to it that enabled us to use just the right amount of product. It also sat on our skin seamlessly, leaving no sticky residue. In addition to soothing our inflammations, it worked to protect them by creating a barrier between the skin and any environmental aggressors.

Not only did this product work its magic overnight, it was unaffected when we wore make-up during the day, as the make-up sat over the gel, rather than directly on our spots. Our only regret is we didn’t try this sooner, as we can finally see a light at the end of our acne tunnel.

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The verdict: Spot treatments

The top spot goes to Dots for Spots acne patches for their ease of use and impressively fast results. We saw an immediate reduction in size and redness of spots after wearing the patches once, and if you buy a pack of 60, they’ll last you months. Affordable and effective, they’re also the best way to prevent you squeezing and prodding at inflamed areas of skin, helping your breakouts heal faster.

For an effective and powerful addition to your skincare, read our edit of the best retinol creams and serums

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