We’ve all been there. It's usually just before a big date, heading on holiday or an important work meeting. A spot appears and suddenly you're running for the nearest quick-fix product to turn the mountain into a molehill.
It usually goes something like this: First, you prod and play around with it, then cover it with harsh chemicals, concealers and creams. Next, you try to squeeze it and when it turns into an even bigger mess that will take twice as long to heal, you decide to never leave the house again and long for the days you were spot-free but didn't take full advantage of it. You don't seem to learn your lesson though as when a new friend appears, you play the same game all over again (we know, we've been there too). But there is a way to end this vicious cycle.
While toothpaste may have been your go-to once upon a time, it's 2020 and there's far better options than slathering yourself with the nearest Colgate.
We’ve been on an enduring hunt to find the best serums and creams. We've also consulted the experts to answer the essential questions like should you ever squeeze them? Find out below.
Jump straight to the products
What is the difference between acne and blemishes?
Dr Ross Perry from the Cosmedics skin clinics explains: “Fundamentally spots and acne are the same thing, but in common parlance, acne describes a more serious, ongoing condition, whereas spots could be more an occasional or localised problem.”
He goes on to say, “The root cause is acne bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) which live on the skin. Where follicles become blocked with sebum and dead skin cells, the P. Acnes bacteria go into overdrive, causing blackheads, whiteheads and spots and redness. These can then become inflamed causing redness and more severe spots/cysts.”
What are the causes of spots and blemishes?
There tends to be four main causes of acne: Hormonal spots appear predominantly around week four of the menstrual cycle for women. Men can also experience hormonal breakouts with an increase in testosterone that builds an excess of sebum which blocks the pores. It is also important to consider your lifestyle and whether you have an unhealthy diet, an influx of stress, if you sleep in makeup, use inappropriate skincare or are exposed to high levels of pollution.
You may also have a genetic predisposition as explained by Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Justine Kluk, who reveals that “a strong family history of acne and onset of acne at an early age can predict a more severe or persistent course.”
There may also be medication triggers or underlying medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or other skin conditions. If something looks unusual, it is advisable to seek professional advice.
Does the position of a spot give any clues?
According to Dr Kluk, “Women in their twenties, thirties and forties tend to suffer more with breakouts on the lower third of the face. The sides of the cheeks, jawline, neck and chin are commonly affected in this group.”
Lesley Reynolds, founder of the Harley Street Skin Clinic, adds, “spots around the hairline indicate a condition known as ‘pomade acne’. Look at the products you are putting on your hair, many of which contain mineral oil which is heavy and clogging. Hairspray and gel will also clog pores and contribute to attracting dirt.”
What are the different types of spots?
Dr Daron Seukeran, Group Medical Director for the UK skincare clinic group, sk:n breaks down the different types: “Whiteheads are a type of spot that isn’t inflamed and appears to look like a white pimple caused when skin cells, oil and bacteria have combined to create a white tip of oil-skin mixture.
“Blackheads are also a type of spot that isn’t inflamed and surprisingly not down to trapped dirt, but in fact appear black because of the chemical reaction from oxygen coming into contact with an open pore imbedded with dead skin cells.
“Pustules and papules are far more aggressive and painful types of spots with the surrounding area of the clogged pore being inflamed, red and sensitive with puss.”
What specific ingredients should we be looking out for?
For spot-busting, look out specifically for benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or tea tree oil.
Should you squeeze your spots?
As tempting as it is, it’s a resounding NO from every dermatologist that we consulted. Squeezing pimples can spread the bacteria to other parts of your face as well as allowing more dirt and oil into the pore. It can also lead to scarring or push the inflammation deeper into the skin, which causes infection.
On top of sticking to a skincare routine that includes washing your face regularly, we’ve gathered the best products for spots and blemishes that have been tried and tested.
The products: How to get rid of spots
Avène Cleanance Comedomed Concentrate
Avene’s Cleanance range is designed specifically to help fight acne and blemishes and Comedomed Concentrate gets to work declogging pores and tackling those under-the-skin bumps. The game-changing product contains minimal ingredients - 11 total - to ensure that like its entire selection, it can also be used on sensitive skin. The concentrate really works and helps create a matte, non-greasy finish. It has a lightweight texture that hydrates at the same time and so doesn’t leave skin tight, dry or flaky.
Spot type tested: Under the skin comedones
Results: Visible reduction in quantity in only a week
Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
There is a reason why beauty editors everywhere don’t stop waxing lyrical about this exfoliant from Paula’s Choice. Unlike exfoliators of time gone by, this is a leave-on product that you apply after you have cleansed your skin. It is packed with blemish-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid but combines this with soothing and calming properties so doesn’t aggravate further irritations and also targets the appearance of fine lines. The multipurpose product has a lightweight and non-greasy texture and should be followed by SPF of at least 30 when used during the day. In only a couple of weeks you will start to notice that blemishes become clearer and pores are minimised.
Spot type tested: Blackheads, hormonal acne and irritations
Results: Clearer skin and a preventative measure
As soon as you notice a spot appearing, stop it in its tracks with Starface. The brand has unveiled hydrocolloid acne and blemish stickers with playful star designs that not only prevent you from having a good poke and prod but will absorb fluid and protect them from bacteria that could aggravate them further. You will also feel much more optimistic about your skincare when you look in the mirror and see a colourful cosmic creation. The stickers are oil-free, vegan and cruelty free and can be used when you are pregnant or nursing.
Spot type tested: Burgeoning asteroids
Results: Minimised in size and sped up the repair process
Revolutionising the zit zapping game, you only need to pop this sticker on a spot as early as you possibly can and leave for a few hours or better yet, overnight to watch it reduce the appearance of the budding volcano. The sticker is made up of 24 micro darts that are packed with potent ingredients like salicylic acid, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid that are effectively injected into your newfound friend and dissolve inside. It is basically transparent and waterproof. Begin by using one of the antibacterial wipes provided to clean the area and then place directly on the spot. You barely feel a thing, just a slight tingling sensation so you know that it’s working.
Spot type tested: Early stage of zit
Results: Reduction in size and redness
REN Clean Skincare Non-Drying Spot Treatment
The key with this product from clean skincare label REN is ‘non-drying’. We’ve all been there where we’ve treated a spot with so many harsh chemicals that it resembles a painful scab instead. This solution is enriched with natural bio-actives to calm irritation and speed up the recovery time. It has a clear appearance when applied onto the skin and can even be worn under makeup. It uses a blend of willow bark (where salicylic acid is extracted from) with maritime pine and thyme that work in tandem to lessen scarring, reduce redness and rebalance the skin’s healthy bacteria to prevent future breakouts.
Spot type tested: Inflamed blemishes and cystic acne
Results: In around three days, spots are clearer without leaving a dry mess behind
Zit Stick spot eraser
Keep this pen in your bag or your travel wash bag to tackle surprising spots on the go. You can apply it up to three times a day to help clear the unwanted guest quickly and without leading to more aggravation. It is formulated with salicylic acid and tea tree oil that get to work shrinking the blemish in size and reducing redness and swelling. It has a quick-drying formula that can be applied below or on top of makeup with a translucent appearance. The stainless steel tip adds an extra element of cooling to minimise inflammation.
Spot type tested: Unexpected, out of nowhere blemishes
Results: Stopped the spot in its tracks, appearing smaller in just a few days
Flower Power Acne Patches
Putting a fun twist on the appearance of acne and blemishes, these patches are offered in a floral design with a diamante stud detail. They come from Squish - the inclusive beauty label kick started by Charli Howard - and are packed with healing properties. The stickers are hydrocolloid and thus act as a dressing on the blemish to protect it from getting infected and begin the healing process.
Spot type tested: Irritated angry red breakouts
Results: Overnight, redness is reduced
Rapid Relief Spot Treatment
This spot treatment from Murad is all about quick results. When a blemish appears, apply a thin layer of the cream to the area to reduce its size and redness in around four hours.
With Salicylic Acid in the formula, the product works to clear pores and kill bacteria. What’s more, it dries completely clear and does not flake when concealer or other makeup is applied on top.
Spot type tested: Red, angry and hormonal
Results: Reduced redness in 4-6 hours, no spot at all in 48 hours
sk:n Anti Blemish Control Serum
Your blemish may have just met its match with this product from Harley Street-based clinic Sk:n. The serum may be appear small but the formula is mighty where a little goes a long way. Containing Malic, Salicylic and Azelaic acid, the cream works to slow down oil production and fights spots with a patented anti-bacterial peptide named Olegopeptide 10.
Spot type tested: Deep, oily and all over
Results: Better as an overnight treatment (it gets a little cakey when used with makeup) this one tackled a stress breakout within two days and kept the deep, cystic spots from erupting.
Sudocrem Antiseptic Healing Cream
You will probably already be familiar with Sudocream from your childhood but the multipurpose antiseptic cream works for so much more than just nappy rash. Designed for Eczema, wounds, bed sores, minor burns and more, it is also a great treatment for spots. The cream forms a protective layer to prevent harmful irritants reaching the area with additional soothing antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Spot type tested: Small, red spots on dry skin
Results: Less inflammation within 24 hours. Less is more! Use this product sparingly for best results.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar A.I. Breakout Corrector
La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar collection is specially formulated to unblock pores, particularly for those with sensitive skin. The label’s Breakout Corrector targets individual blemishes, encouraging skin regeneration to prevent scarring. The formula is easy to apply and does not feel at all harsh on the skin.
Spot type tested: A whitehead in the making and those under the skin spots to eliminate them before they've even arrived
Results: Reduced redness and swelling over night with no stinging. It's also lightweight enough to use under makeup.
Clear Skin Clearing Treatment
Deigned for all skin types, the Paula’s Choice treatment is an all-rounder targeting break outs as well as brown spots and wrinkles. The multipurpose product is not your traditional drying zit-zapping formula. While it does contain salicylic acid, it is lightly hydrating, so works to soothe overall inflammation as well as target spots.
Spot type tested: Swollen cystic spots and hormonal breakouts
Results: Controlled without over drying skin or post inflammation redness.
Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment
Kate Somerville made a huge splash when it arrived from across the pond to the UK, especially for acne sufferers everywhere. The EradiKate contains 10 per cent sulphur (the highest allowance in skincare) to fight against blemishes that has been combined with zinc oxide that absorbs excess sebum and prevents further spots appearing. The treatment is particularly effective for those under-the-skin spots that could rear their ugly head at any minute.
Spot type tested: Hormonal chin breakout
Results: Dries out spots, which are reduced overnight.
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
You may already be a fan of Mario Badescu from the label’s cooling face mist, but have you tried the Drying Lotion? Through the combination of calamine and salicylic acid, the formula works to clear skin, without further irritating. It is also ideal for sensitive skin as the lotion is very gentle. In an office poll taken around the water cooler we discovered several of us own this product and each one of us found it reliably excellent.
Spot type tested:â Stubborn and persistent whiteheads
Results: More effective formula for flattening spots and less scarring than squeezing
Origins Super Spot Remover
This Origins hero Spot Remover is a beauty editor’s favourite due to the fast-acting nature of the formula. The cooling gel helps to de-clog pores with salicylic acid and calm skin thanks to the combination of caffeine and red algae. We found a significant reduction in spot redness and tenderness within just two days.
Spot type tested: Painful and angry spots that need taming ASAP
âResults: Shrinks rapidly without over drying
Medik8’s Blemish Control Pads
Dermatologist recommended, the Medik8’s Blemish Control Pads are an effective salicylic acid-based product.
The alcohol-free formula is pre-soaked on a pad that you wipe over your face after cleansing. The pads are gentle on skin without drying it out and are especially ideal for large clusters of spots like on your back or forehead.
Spot type tested: Large clusters of spots
âResults: Delicate solution leaves you feeling and looking fresh
The Kate Somerville and Mario Badescu spot treatments are brilliant — effective, non-irritating, compatible for many skin types and with the added bonus of looking nice on the shelf. Murad's Rapid Relief Spot Treatment also tackles blemishes where all shapes, and sizes were either significantly reduced or totally obliterated within the first one to two days.
But for us, the impressive results from Avène’s Cleanance Comedomed Concentrate speak for themselves. 90 per cent of people saw a visible difference after just a week. Unlike any spot cream you will have used in the past, it tackles spots before they have fully emerged. There are also minimal ingredients that work to soothe and soften skin and so won’t leave it dry and peeling like some of the harsher options on the market.