If Skincare Gave Superlatives, Spot Treatments Would

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s a trick question, of course, because mother dinosaurs were popping out eggs long before mother earth decided to evolve some chickens. You might ask yourself a similar question about zits. Humans have always gotten ‘em, and spot treatments have always been around to get rid of ‘em. So which came first? Here’s the thing: New spot treatments are nothing like their predecessors of yore, or even their predecessors of just a few years ago, like the goopy pink drying lotions you used too liberally in high school. If breakouts are the egg, spot treatments are the chicken, and the more they evolve the better they are for your skin and your acne. Here’s what’s new and improved in the category—and man, is it a lot.

The Physical Blockers

Let’s say you don’t want to put anything on your pimple—it’s giving you too much grief as-is, and you both just need some space to calm down. That’s where pimple patches come in. To be clear, pimple patches aren’t anything new. But they’ve been evolving. Some have active ingredients fused into the hydrocolloid, like these from Cica Care with centella asiatica to soothe active or popped zits. Or, if you’re looking for something totally invisible, The Klog’s Soft Sheild Pimple Patches come in a big pack of 42 and go completely undetected during the day. (Play Where’s Waldo with this picture of founder Charlotte Cho, who swears she’s wearing eight of ‘em.) Patching for pleasure, not work? Starface’s limited edition glow in the dark and holographic Hydro Stars are back for one week only, so stock up while you can.

The Sneaky Soothers

When it’s time to make peace with a zit, use what’s basically an acne-friendly moisturizer. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Moisturizer? On a zit!? But before you scroll away in disbelief, hear me out. The gunk is just a red herring. You can actually bring down a pimple fast by addressing redness and dryness, two key signs of inflammation. Plus, treating inflammation while it’s happening lessens the risk for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. (Imagine you’re a hostage negotiator, and your skin is the hostage.)

This approach is why La Roche-Posay’s Cicaplast Baume is a historically great acne treatment, but if you’re looking to try something with a new penny shine, you could go with Rael’s Cica Spot Corrector, which pairs centella asiatica and its components madecassoside acid and asiaticoside with willow bark extract, a natural source of salicylic acid. CosRx’s AC Ultimate Spot Balm hides tea tree and calamine behind cica and zinc, to very sneakily treat zits while keeping them calm. And if you’ve already popped a zit, Hero Cosmetics’ Rescue Balm (with panthenol, peptides, allantoin, and vitamin E) is a good way to help them heal or smooth scaly scabs.

The Smelly Superheros

What do acne skincare and Shrek have in common? Lots of layers, like an onion It’s sulfur. You could always find the smelly stuff in derm-prescribed washes and and De La Cruz ointment, which has lovingly been described as both a mayonnaise emulsion and a creamy fart. But now it’s a dime a dozen in spot treatments, and luckily, brands have figured out how to neutralize most of the lingering stench. Sulfur makes a great spot treatment because it’s antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory, and although it can help dry out the infected pus (sorry) inside a whitehead, it does so gently. Plus, sulfur is keratolytic, which is a fancy way to say it exfoliates. An exfoliating anti-inflammatory is essentially the best thing you can use on an under-the-skin cyst, and anecdotally, sulfur is great at treating those too.

Vichy’s Normaderm S.O.S is the French answer to sulfur, and contains a whopping 10-percent of it. So does Versed’s Game Over. But if you just want to dip a toe, sulfur is a key player in The Inkey List’s Succinic Acid Treatment too, albeit at just 2-percent.

The Supercharged Staples

Friendly MD PhD Bruce Banner went in for some gamma radiation and came out The Hulk. Regular ‘ol Steve Rogers got a little dose of Super-Soldier Serum and became Captain America. And the use-daily ingredients your skin already loves can be bumped up to max safe concentrations and used as a spot treatment. These supercharged products have been popping up all over the place, and you’ve really got to know your skin before diving into them.

Have you had good reactions to vitamin C serums? Try Peach & Lily’s Transparen-C Pro Spot Treatment, which uses a super high percentage of THD ascorbate, a stable, oil-soluble form of vitamin C. This stuff is best to use once your zit has already come and gone and left an annoying dark mark—kojic and tranexamic acids also help to brighten, and the combo would likely irritate an active pimple. On those try BHA 9 from Paula’s Choice, the makers of your favorite daily sal. Used on your most stubborn bumps, it’s a more targeted way to help dissolve clogs. Finally, Kinship’s Pimple Potion combines two acne-fighting ingredients you might be wary about mixing on your own: salicylic acid and retinal, a super strong OTC retinoid. It’s best for combo breakouts, where all different kinds of zits are present at roll call.

—Ali Oshinsky

Photo via ITG

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