The Best Acne Treatment For 2020

There’s something universally cringe-inducing about noticing a pimple on the way to a job interview or a first date. If only there were a special word in the dictionary for that miserable moment!

Things get even worse when you try to cover up the pimple and end up adding to the redness instead.

What is it about one little blemish that can make years of self-confidence vanish in an instant?

Don’t despair: no matter your skin type, there’s a cure for the pimples that ail you. Here’s a low-down on how to find the best acne treatment for your skin, and a little 101 on how acne works.

What causes acne?

Before we dig into the best acne treatments, let’s start with a refresher course on what causes acne in the first place. Below are a few reasons those pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads keep popping up.

Excess Oil In Skin

Generally, oil in your skin (also known as sebum) is a good thing, because it keeps your skin healthy and safe from pollutants. When your skin produces oil in excess, however, it can lead to acne.

Dermatologists categorize each person’s skin as a “dry,” “oily,” or “combination” type. While having an oily skin type doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have tons of acne, you might be more prone to it than your peers.

Pore Clogging

If your skin suddenly starts to produce more oil than before, it can change the process of your skin cells’ maturation cycle. This makes your pores more likely to be clogged with dead skin cells or oil, and that clogging can start the process of a blemish forming. As the clogged pore gets bigger, it can take on that pimple-like appearance we’ve all come to dread.

Bacteria In The Skin

If you’ve got an inflamed pore or a pore that’s growing in size, the pore wall becomes weaker and prone to irritation. When this happens, bacteria can make its way deeper into the skin at the pimple point. That equates to redness and irritation.

Hormonal Changes

Hormones are a major culprit when it comes to acne. During puberty, hormones like androgens increase in your system, which can cause your skin to produce more oil.

You can also experience hormonal changes (and in turn, a change in your skin’s oil production) during pregnancy or other life phases that cause hormonal shifts. (You might find that acne caused by hormonal changes is especially common around your chin or jaw.)

What types of acne treatment are out there?

If overflowing drugstore aisles are any indication, there are more acne treatments on the market than you can count.

Fortunately, most treatments come down to a few core methods, which makes it easier to narrow down your options.

Topical Creams

Topical creams are usually applied as spot treatment when individual pimples appear. If you’ve ever noticed a blemish and applied product directly to the pimple overnight, you’ve used a topical cream.

Topical Face Washes, Scrubs, And Exfoliators

These treatments usually involve daily use, even when you’re not breaking out, and are part of your regular skincare routine. They often have more of a focus on prevention. Acne scrubs, acne-focused face washes, and even Clarisonic exfoliators fit into this category.


If you’ve tried over-the-counter acne options and aren’t seeing the results you want, doctors will sometimes prescribe medications to help prevent your acne. These are usually pills you’ll take every day.

Lifestyle Changes

Some people can reduce acne by making changes to their lifestyle, like managing their diet and stress levels. (Research points to the fact that stress and foods like chocolate might contribute to acne.)

Obviously, these types of lifestyle treatments are more about trial and error, and they can take patience.

Dermatology Treatments

Your dermatologist might help manage your acne with laser treatments or other procedures that can be done in their office.

Best Acne Treatment Ingredients

The most important thing when choosing an acne treatment is knowing which ingredients you’re looking for. A leading best acne treatment will usually incorporate at least one of the effective ingredients below.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most popular ingredients out there, and for good reason. It can be very effective in removing extra oil and eliminating bacteria.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Also known as AHAs (and adored by many skincare addicts), alpha hydroxy acids help remove dead skin cells that clog your pores. Many people who use AHAs find themselves with softer skin on top of seeing an acne reduction.


Clay can help slow your skin’s oil production temporarily. It can also be a soothing contrast to some of the more acidic ingredients in other acne treatments.

Salicylic Acid

This popular ingredient can exfoliate within your pores, which can help keep them free of acne-causing clogs. It can also have an anti-inflammatory effect, which can ease redness.

Tea Tree Oil

This is a great natural ingredient option, as it combines antibacterial capabilities and anti-inflammation properties. Natural ingredients can have a reputation for being gentle, so be aware that tea tree oil is actually a bit harsh for people with sensitive skin. Start with small quantities and be sure to moisturize while using it.


Retinol is usually recognized for its anti-aging power, but it can also be used to treat acne. This powerful vitamin A ingredient can increase the speed at which your skin cells turn over and reduce inflammation. Retinol can also aid in exfoliation and help reduce your skin’s oil production.


Sulfur is a great option for removing oil from your pimples and drying them out. (That said, be aware that sulfur may also dry out the skin surrounding the pimple.)

The Top 5 Best Acne Treatments

Best Overall Acne Treatment: Exposed Skincare Ultimate Kit

This kit covers all the bases to clear your skin in 30 days with the combined power of science and natural ingredients.

Why we like it:

  • 9 Pieces In One
  • Uses Natural Extracts
  • Targets All Acne Causes At Once
  • Responsibly Sourced Ingredients

You might want to choose this one if:

You want something comprehensive, and are looking for the best of the best.

The Exposed Skincare Ultimate Kit provides all the products and skincare steps you need to effectively treat your acne, so you don’t have to worry about anything except applying each step as instructed. This kit combines natural extracts fueled by the power of advanced science, so you’re getting the best of both the natural and medicinal skincare worlds.

After 30 days of use, you’ll see unclogged pores, less oil production, and soothed redness. In addition to a decrease in acne, you’ll also experience an overall improvement in other aspects of your skin, like smoothness. Another fantastic perk of the kit is that Exposed never tests on animals and ethically sources their ingredients.

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Best Natural Acne Treatment: Keeva’s Original Tea Tree Oil Acne Treatment Cream

Keeva’s cream keeps things all-natural, with tea tree oil as the central ingredient.

Why we like it:

  • Lightweight
  • All-Natural
  • Extremely Powerful

You might want to choose this one if:

You like to keep your skincare all-natural without sacrificing effectiveness.

This cream utilizes tea tree oil’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties to zap acne. You’ll feel a tingly sensation when using it, so you’ll know right away that you’re getting results. The cream helps smooth out excess oil production while also moisturizing, which is a key step when using drying ingredients like tea tree oil.

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Best Acne Treatment for Individual Pimples: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

This spot treatment packs a powerful punch on individual pimples while you sleep.

Why we like it:

  • Treats Pimples Overnight
  • Soothes And Cools While Treating

You might want to choose this one if:

You get a few isolated stubborn pimples at a time.

This popular treatment works by drying out pimples and blemishes while you sleep. You can simply dab it on the pimple, head to bed, and wake up to find that it’s vanished. The product uses salicylic acid, sulfur, zinc oxide, and calamine lotion for a one-two punch effect of acne treatment and skin soothing.

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Best Acne Treatment For Dry Skin: Paula’s Choice CLEAR Acne Treatment

CLEAR uses the ever-effective benzoyl peroxide with a gentle formula to protect dry skin while using powerful acne-crushing ingredients.

Why we like it:

  • Treats Acne While Keeping Skin Hydrated
  • Uses Benzoyl Peroxide, A Top Acne Fighting Ingredient

You might want to choose this one if:

You have dry, sensitive skin in addition to acne.

CLEAR can be used daily (even under makeup or other grooming products) and helps soothe redness while reducing oil production. It stands out for its ability to keep skin hydrated and minimize any flaking with gentle ingredients.

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Best Acne Treatment For Oily Skin: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare One Step Acne Eliminating Pads

These easy-to-use pads treat acne at all stages, and are great for soothing oily skin.

Why we like it:

  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Uses Salicylic Acid, A Powerful Acne Fighting Ingredient

You might want to choose this one if:

You have oily skin and stubborn, deep-rooted acne that won’t budge.

This treatment combats excess oil and uses two leading ingredients: salicylic acid and L-carnitine. It helps prevent pore blockage, clear any clogging that already exists, and soothe the skin after treatment. It’s also known to reduce redness.

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An acne-free future is closer than you think

Acne can be emotionally debilitating, but it is not a life sentence. As powerless as acne can feel, one of the most important factors in treating it is not giving up.

It can take time to find the treatment plan that does the trick for you. Stick with it and keep your eyes on the prize. Before you know it, the word “zit” won’t even be a blip on your radar anymore.

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