The Best Acne Treatments for Every Type of Breakout (2024)

All acne presents itself in different ways, which makes perfect sense when you consider there are a combination of factors — hygiene, hormones, genetics, etc. — that play a part in your breakouts if you have acne-prone skin. But knowledge is power, and having a sense of each acne type's modus operandi can help you map out the best defense (and offense) plan, setting you way ahead of the clear-skin curve.

Once you figure out what you're working with (a pustule vs. a cyst, for example — more on that below), you'll find that there are a variety of treatment options at your disposal. From there, you'll want to determine what kinds of ingredients and acne products will work most efficiently to clear up breakouts and prevent new zits from popping up.

Seeing a dermatologist is the best way to identify the best acne treatments for your skin (and get any necessary prescriptions in the process). Until then, we've done some of the legwork for you by talking to board-certified dermatologists to curate the ultimate guide to taking down every type of acne out there — from subcutaneous "blind pimples" and cystic acne to overnight whiteheads that seem to always conveniently pop up before some kind of major event. You'll also find out how to deal with that constellation of blackheads on your nose to help you avoid too many extractions at your next facial.

An important thing to keep in mind is that not all purported acne-fighting formulas effectively fight all types of acne, and some skin types will require different variations on their skincare routine to effectively target acne breakouts. Cystic acne may require a multi-pronged approach of over-the-counter retinoids (say, isotretinoin, for example) and at-home products like the ones mentioned here. Meanwhile, routine whiteheads along your T-zone or hormonal acne may just require a simple co*cktail of tea tree, alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), and a beta hydroxy acid (BHA, like salicylic acid) — which can all be easily obtained at your nearest drugstore. Sensitive skin types might want to use ingredients like AHAs intermittently to avoid any further irritation to the skin.

Without further ado, here's the scoop straight from dermatologists on some of the best acne treatments for every type of zit, cyst, and pustule threatening to implode on your skin.

All products are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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    Clinique

    Clinique Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel

    What you're seeing: A typical zit with a white dot in the center.

    What's going on: Blame it on your clogged pores. "Skin cells stick together inside your pores, blocking the opening," explains board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The white you see at the top — hence the name "whitehead" — is the blocked pore. Oil trapped beneath it mingles with grime and bacteria, causing inflammation and that red, swollen bump that ultimately becomes a pimple.

    How to handle it: Consider salicylic acid your secret weapon for oily skin. "This BHA helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead skin cells from the skin's surface to keep pores clear," says Dr. Zeichner. Try Clinique's Acne Solution Clearing Gel, a two-time Allure Best of Beauty Award winner that packs both salicylic acid and sea whip extract — an ingredient with skin-soothing properties — to help counteract the dryness sometimes caused by salicylic acid.

    The formula pulls double-duty, too. It works as a spot treatment for mild to moderate acne and as a nightly allover treatment for pimple prevention. Since it dries clear, you can wear it to fight zits whenever, wherever.

  • Whiteheads: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

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    Mario Badescu

    Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

    How to handle it: The fast-acting, pink-hued Mario Badescu Drying Lotion is a Readers' Choice Award winner for a reason. The formula is continuously touted for annihilating whiteheads and uses a medley of salicylic acid and sulfur to get the job done. Toronto-based board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD, says that the formula is effective in the fight against these non-inflammatory types of lesions, drying out pimples and clearing out pores quickly.

    To use the spot treatment, dip a clean cotton swab into the pink sediment sitting at the bottom of the bottle and dab it onto cleansed skin. Let it dry overnight as you catch some zzz's, et voilà: shrunken whiteheads come morning. (Pro tip: Whatever you do, avoid shaking the bottle — this dilutes the treatment and can render the active ingredients less effective.)

The Best Acne Treatments for Every Type of Breakout (2024)

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