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The 8 Most Effective Types of Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments

Plus our product picks for each category.

By: Hannah Baxter

News flash: Acne happens. No matter how diligent we are with our skin-care routines, or how mindful we are with what we eat and drink, there will come a day when a juicy zit pops up somewhere on your body. If that never happens to you, call us so we can study you for the sake of science. But the average person will eventually experience a pimple or two—in fact, there are 40 to 50 million Americans struggling with acne at any given time. So until science produces a cure for the most commonly diagnosed skin condition worldwide, we will settle for the most effective treatments we can get our hands on.

Unfortunately, many people have neither the means nor the time to visit a dermatologist once a bout of acne decides to make its presence known, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t worthwhile products available at your local pharmacy. We’ve identified eight of the most popular (and powerful) acne-fighting products you can buy without a prescription, as well as our current must-haves for each. Just remember to only use one or two at a time so you don’t overwhelm your skin. Read all about them below.

The Spot Treatment: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, $30

Topical retinoids are one of the most effective methods for eliminating and preventing a variety of acne types (think whiteheads, blackheads, and clogged pores), and this new adapalene gel is one of our favorites. It reduces redness and addresses the underlying inflammation so pimples are minimized and treated all in one application.

The Face Oil: Shiffa Emerald Clarifying Face Oil, $75

Humans can’t produce linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid for skin-barrier health, so incorporating it into your skin-care routine is a must. And when used topically, studies have shown that it minimizes the size of microcomedones, aka a baby zit that’s threatening to become a full-blown blemish. That’s why this luxe oil has a permanent spot on our bathroom shelves.

The Acne Patch: Zitsticka Killa Kit, $29

Hydrocolloid patches are ideal for targeting whiteheads, or any type of acne that can come to a head, but these also contain self-dissolving micro-darts to work deeper and clear lesions that are buried deep within the skin.

The Exfoliating Toner: Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic, $15

An exfoliating toner works to remove dead skin cells that can clog pores and lead to future breakouts. This contains soothing aloe vera as well as glycolic acid for powerful exfoliation without irritating already stressed skin. It’s also alcohol- and paraben-free. Use it after you cleanse on dry skin, starting a few times a week and working your way up to every day if your skin needs it.

The Face Mask: Lancer Clarifying Detox Mask, $75

This mask’s soothing green tea and green clay help minimize any lingering redness from acne, while the added 3 percent sulfur decongests and clarifies the skin. Use it a couple of times a week regardless of whether you have an active breakout to help prevent future acne.

The Treatment Cleanser: Caudalie Vinopure Pore Purifying Gel Cleanser, $28

If you suffer from blackheads, aka one of the hardest forms of acne to eliminate completely, then it’s time you added salicylic acid to your skin-care routine. Grape and rose water prevent this potent formula from drying out your skin or causing further irritation. Use it at night after you’ve removed your makeup or double-cleansed for clear pores and minimized redness.

The LED Light: MZ Skin’s Light Therapy Golden Facial Treatment Mask, $625

When you want to pull out all the stops and treat multiple causes of skin stress and irritation, this mask is the crème de la crème of treatments. The blue light therapy minimizes acne-causing bacteria, red light reduces inflammation, white light promotes wound healing and skin repair, green light reduces pigmentation, and finally, yellow light lessens redness and is ideal for sensitive skin. More bang for your buck, so to speak.

The Clearing Pad: COSRX One Step Original Clear Pad, $20

A pre-soaked pad is one of the fastest, most potent ways to exfoliate the skin and help manage new breakouts. These contain betaine salicylate (an ingredient derived from sugar beets that functions as an alternative to beta hydroxy acids) as well as willow bark water to dissolve dead skin cells and excessive sebum. They’re also gentle enough to use on sensitive skin and won’t leave your complexion feeling stripped or dry.

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