These are the best acne treatments (like, ever)

Let's clear something up (ahem, your skin).

There are certain clear-skin truths we all subscribe to: Wash your face every day. Apply your products with clean fingers. Never fall asleep with makeup on. And those are great...until, despite your dedication to your multi-step skincare routine, the zits you're fighting just fight back harder.

Whether you get a pimple now and then or you're constantly dealing with breakouts, treating and preventing acne is work (especially since choosing the wrong treatment can result in even more irritation and eruptions, big yikes).

So how do you decide what's best for you among all of the skin-clearing products? Sure, there are the tried 'n' trues (hi, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide), but the good news is that there's now a whole plethora of new pimple banishers in the aisle.

And while instant blemish busters don't exist just yet (when they do, we'll be the first ones to let you know), these trendy new treatments get pretty dang close.

The new drugstore darlings

Whether you're facing a momentary breakout or struggling with moderate acne, these advanced (and incredibly effective) ingredients are available without a prescription.

Azelaic acid

What it is: Unlike other acne-busting acids, azelaic acid doesn't *just* clear out pores—it prevents them from getting clogged in the first place.
Best for: Your whole face, especially where your zits always pop up.
How to use it: Apply azelaic acid after cleansing your skin and before any serums or moisturizer. "If you don't have sensitive skin, you can apply it twice a day," says plastic surgeon Dr. Jaimie DeRosa. "Otherwise, use it once every other day and increase the frequency as your skin adapts."
Try it in: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Brightening Cream, $10,


What it is: "Niacinamide [aka vitamin B3] moisturizes, brightens, calms redness and fights acne, too," says esthetician Cindy Morales. It can even encourage your skin to produce more ceramides—which help retain moisture and lead to a healthier look and feel. Look for low concentrations (1% to 2%) of vitamin B3 to keep any irritation at bay.
Best for: Blotchy, angry or pimply skin.
How to use it: "Niacinamide is great for all skin types, even sensitive skin," says dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner. Apply a pea-sized amount to your entire face every morning and night.
Try it in: Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops, $34,

Linoleic acid

What it is: Naturally found in your skin's oil, this fatty acid helps reduce inflammation and softens the keratin plugs in your pores, so they get washed away before forming pimples, explains celebrity dermatologist Dr. Anna Guanche.
Best for: Anyone with oily skin who can't get their breakouts under control.
How to use it: Over-the-counter products with this ingredient are *just* starting to launch, so keep your eyes peeled. Dr. Guanche advises applying a thin coat to your face once a day.
Try it in: BYBI Bakuchiol Skin Restore, $18,


What it is: Retinol speeds up cell regeneration and clears out pores, which clears up acne and improve skin texture, too.
Best for: Areas where you have breakouts and stubborn dark spots.
How to use it: This powerful ingredient can cause flaking and peeling, especially when you first begin using it. "Start by applying it once or twice a week in the evenings, then gradually increase to every other night as your skin tolerates it," says Dr. DeRosa. You also can mix retinol with your moisturizer to decrease the potency.
Try it in: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Topical Retinoid Acne Treatment, $32,

Prescription problem-solvers

When over-the-counter products just aren't enough, ask your dermatologist if one of these treatments fits your skin struggles.


What it is: A type of retinoid that's even more potent than retinol and blocks acne-causing inflammation.
Best for: Clearing existing outbreaks and preventing future ones.
How to use it: You'll apply a pea-sized amount once a week, then slowly increase frequency (just pls don't overdo it—you could end up with a burn). And reapply sunscreen often as retinoids can increase sensitivity.


What it is: "This new medication combines two of the most effective ingredients to treat acne in a single formula," explains Dr. Zeichner. Benzoyl peroxide lowers the levels of acne-causing bacteria and helps open up pimples so they can clear out and heal, while tretinoin, mentioned above, reduces inflammation and keeps your pores clear.
Best for: Busting blemishes on oily skin.
How to use it: Apply daily during your nighttime routine. Since both ingredients can be drying, be sure to moisturize.


What it is: "The first topical medication that targets the oil gland itself," says Dr. Zeichner. Winlevi is unique in that it lowers sebum production to help control acne (which means it's a great option for those who haven't had success with other treatments).
Best for: Hormonal acne.
How to use it: Apply twice a day, morning and night.

More wonder workers

When it comes to skincare powerhouses, you don't need to stick to just simple serums. These masks and moisturizers include ingredients that pack a punch.

Bakuchiol. Sensitive? Gentle, anti-inflammatory Bakuchiol soothes skin while minimizing pores.
Try: Herbivore Moon Fruit Retinol Alternative Sleep Mask, $54,

Kojic acid. It's antimicrobial properties battle bacteria in the skin (preventing future breakouts) *and* help lighten acne cars. Just avoid using it with any exfoliators.
Try: Rosen Tropics Moisturizer, $20,

Vitamin C. Anti-inflammatory vitamin C helps you say bye to redness and swelling. Combine with soothing clay to detox skin.
Try: Gleamin Vitamin C Clay Mask, $40,

Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our October/November 2022 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.

Want more skin advice? Check out these posts:
💗 We found the best sunscreen for every skin type
💗 We found a skincare product for each week of your cycle
💗 Everything you need to know about having sensitive skin

What are your holy grail skincare products? Let us know on Twitter @girlslifemag!

Story edited for digital coverage by Kathleen O'Neill.


by Erin Reimel | 10/8/2022