12 best acne creams of 2021

Pricing Guide

$ = less than $ 10
$$ = $ 10 to $ 30
$$$ = over $ 30

The best acne creams and treatments

Best Benzoyl Peroxide

ZO Skin Health Acne Control Cream

  • Price: $$$
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to the affected area 1 to 3 times a day

This spot treatment is Dorantes’ favorite. She says it “contains 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, the strongest strength available without a prescription.” She also likes the fact that it contains natural, skin-soothing antioxidants like green tea, pine bark extract, red tea, and grape seed oil.

Best sulfur

Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: sulfur
  • How to use: apply the sediment every night to the affected areas using a cotton swab, rinse the next morning

Aside from the catchy name (yas puns ❤️), this sulfur-based spot treatment has received rave reviews and – according to the folks at Kate Somerville – can improve the appearance of breakouts by over 90% in just 1 hour. Perfect for button emergencies!

Best salicylic acid

Spot treatment of acne Murad Rapid Relief

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: salicylic acid
  • How to use: apply to the affected area 1 to 3 times a day

Need a fast-acting acne treatment? This one literally has “quick relief” in the name. Murad says it can dramatically reduce redness caused by rashes in just 4 hours. It also contains pine and thyme to help reduce irritation.

Professional recommended

ZO Skin Health Brightening Mask

  • Price: $$$
  • Active ingredient: sulfur
  • How to use: apply all over the affected area then rinse, once or twice a week

Another recommendation directly from Dorantes is the ZO Clearing Complexion Mask, which contains sulfur and clay.

The mask absorbs excess oil that can cause future breakouts, while calming irritation and removing all grime like dirt and dead cells from your pores. Dorantes calls it “amazing”, so don’t sleep on it!

Top rated

Paula’s Choice CLEAR Extra Strength Skin Brightening Treatment

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to the affected area once or twice a day; reduce the frequency in case of drought

With over 1,400 reviews on Amazon and 4.5 stars (which is pretty darn good for a skin care product), this Paula’s Choice spot treatment deserves our “Top Rated” designation. Paula’s Choice also claims that the vast majority of users of their CLEAR line report smaller pores and milder acne.

Best budget option

ELF anti-acne anti-spot gel

  • Price: $
  • Active ingredient: Salicylic acid, tea tree oil, witch hazel, aloe
  • How to use: roll over the affected area.

Broken, or just looking for that maximum value? This super convenient (so easy!) Salicylic Acid ROLL-ON from Elf only costs THREE dollars. That’s right. $ 3. It’s super gentle and great for sensitive skin, but it also has excellent reviews for its effectiveness as a spot treatment.

Best high end

Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Mask

  • Price: $$$
  • Active ingredient: sulfur
  • How to use: apply only to affected areas, let dry for 5-10 minutes, rinse thoroughly

This powerful mask from Peter Thomas Roth is made with very high quality ingredients like anti-acne sulfur, kaolin and bentonite clay (which pull impurities from your pores), and soothing anti-irritants like aloe vera and eucalyptus.

Best for guys

Jack Black Bump Fix

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: salicylic acid
  • How to use: apply to affected areas 1 to 3 times a day

Although made with anti-acne salicylic acid, skin-soothing witch hazel and green tea, this skin care solution from Jack Black also contains lactic acid, which boosts its effectiveness in as a spot treatment.

It does double and triple function by also helping razor bumps and ingrown hairs. Jack Black specializes in premium men’s skin care products, but we won’t know if any of you want to try this, too.

Best drugstore option

Spot treatment of Neutrogena acne on site

  • Price: $
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to the affected area 1 to 3 times a day

This spot treatment contains a lower dose of benzoyl peroxide (only 2.5 percent) than some others that contain up to 10 percent benzoyl peroxide. This makes this one better suited for sensitive skin, as benzoyl peroxide can cause redness and dryness – although it is a great acne fighter.

You can also find Neutrogena products at virtually any drugstore.

Ideal for sensitive skin

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Spot Treatment

  • Price: $
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to affected areas 1 to 3 times a day

The downside to spot treatments is that they can be very harsh. Dryness and redness are very common side effects. Although this product may have the same effects due to the benzoyl peroxide it contains, all products in the Effaclar range are specifically designed for the needs of sensitive acne-prone skin.

If you are particularly sensitive, start slow (once a day) and go slow. La Roche-Posay also recommends applying a moisturizer before this product to act as a buffer.

Ideal for face and body

Cruelty Free Acne Cleanser

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: massage the affected skin and rinse off after 1-2 minutes

Spot treatments for the face are great, but what if you’re looking for something to treat your back or other body acne? Not only can this be very painful, but it can also seriously interfere with your spring and summer style.

This Humane Maximum Strength Benzoyl Peroxide Foaming Cleanser is the solution! It’s gentle enough on your face (and perfect for oily skin), yet strong enough for your body.

Ideal for oily skin

Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solution Targeted Spot Treatment

  • Price: $
  • Active ingredient: salicylic acid
  • How to use: apply to the affected area 1 to 3 times a day

Designed specifically for acne-prone oily skin, this spot treatment from Burt’s Bees contains salicylic acid and several soothing essential oils that can help treat and prevent acne and remove excess oil. It is also gentle and can therefore be used on sensitive skin.

Best fast acting

Proactiv Emergency Blemish Relief

  • Price: $$
  • Active ingredient: benzoyl peroxide
  • How to use: apply to the affected area 1 to 3 times a day

This Proactiv Maximum Strength Benzoyl Peroxide Cream is formulated in microcrystals that work FAST to absorb excess oil and reduce redness and inflammation. It’s great to keep on hand if you’re not necessarily acne prone, but wake up to a pesky pimple every now and then.


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