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Best Ingredients for Spot-Treating Acne

October 27, 2021

Best Ingredients for Spot-Treating Acne

One of the worst things that can happen before an important occasion or an exciting date is getting a pimple or an acne breakout. If this ever happens to you, remember not to worry as everybody experiences this at some point in their lives. The good news, however, is that there are ingredients that you can rely on to effectively fight pesky pimples that appear overnight!

Spot Treatment Ingredients to Fight Acne

Even if you religiously observe proper skincare habits to prevent acne and other skin issues, there is always a possibility of an acne breakout. For such cases, you can rely on acne-fighting treatments and products that contain fast-acting ingredients that quickly help to heal annoying pimples. Here are some of the best ingredients for this purpose:

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is one of the most widely-used hydroxy acids in cosmetic and therapeutic formulations to achieve various beneficial effects for skin. Its ability to treat different types of skin disorders has been known as far back as 2,000 years ago. Today, salicylic acid is one of the most popular over-the-counter treatments for acne.

One of the reasons why salicylic acid is an effective remedy for a stubborn pimple is its comedolytic property. This means that it can inhibit the formation of comedones on the skin or the blemishes that form when oil and skin cells get trapped inside a pore. Salicylic acid works by penetrating beneath the surface of the skin, cleaning out excess sebum from the pores, and reducing oiliness.

Apart from its comedolytic property, salicylic acid also has a keratolytic property which works by increasing the amount of moisture in the skin and dissolving the substance that causes the skin cells to stick together. Through salicylic acid’s keratolytic effect, acne breakouts can be easily minimized. Studies of salicylic acid have shown how these properties work effectively to reduce the number of acne lesions.


If you associate sulfur with gunpowder and geysers, it is time for you to learn about its numerous skincare benefits. Sulfur is a natural, non-metallic element which has been used for treating acne since the time of Cleopatra. Its acne-fighting effects can be attributed to its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and drying effects.

Sulfur is available in different forms of skincare products such as lotions, foams, washes, as well as prescription and non-prescription masks. Whether it is used alone or in combination with other ingredients like salicylic acid, sulfur helps in the shedding off acne lesions and is beneficial for treating other skin conditions, such as rosacea and dermatitis. 

Clay Minerals

Clay minerals or natural clays have been used for various medical and skin care purposes since the ancient times. But the practice never ceased considering that clay minerals like bentonite, kaolinite, montmorillonite, illite, and attapulgite are still widely used today particularly in the field of aesthetics and cosmetology. Spa treatments include these clay minerals as they help clean, moisturize, and exfoliate the skin as well as fight acne and cellulite.

Clay minerals healing effect against acne can be attributed to its high adsorbing and absorbing capacities. By adsorbing and absorbing moisture and impurities from the skin, the clay minerals also work to cleanse and refresh the skin surface and to help in the healing of topical blemishes.

Fruit Acids (Glycolic, Malic & Lactic Acids)

Fruit acids, also known as alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs), such as glycolic, malic, and lactic acids have been widely used to address numerous skin issues including acne. These acids act as peeling and exfoliating agents which help manage both acne and acne scars.

How do they fight acne? Fruit acids act by causing a controlled destruction of a part or the entire epidermis which eventually leads to the exfoliation or removal of superficial acne lesions. Apart from addressing the unsightly protruding pimple, the application and use of skin products with AHAs can also help to generally improve smoothness and the appearance of wrinkles by enhancing skin's thickness.


If you are into essential oils, you can rely on lavender oil to address acne breakouts. Lavender oil is one of the many essential oils that can be used for treating dermatological conditions and skin infections like acne.

In a 2010 study on the antibacterial activities of ten essential oils towards Propionibacterium acnes, lavender oil had been found to have one of the strongest bactericidal activities. Results of the experiment showed that lavender essential oil completely killed P. acnes after just 5 minutes.

Lavender oil is also gentle on the skin and doesn't cause excessive dryness and irritation unlike other over-the-counter acne treatments available.

Aloe Vera

One of the most widely-used natural ingredients in addressing acne is aloe vera, a succulent plant that produces antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. This botanical ingredient is present in many over-the-counter acne treatments as it fights bacteria and reduces inflammation.

Apart from being effective on its own, aloe vera has been found to boost the effectiveness of other traditional acne treatments. One study showed that a combination of aloe vera topical gel and tretinoin cream, a known first-line acne medication, is significantly more effective in treating moderate acne vulgaris than the topical retinoid (tretinoin) cream alone.

Green Tea

Green tea is one of the many plant extracts that have been found to offer many skin benefits, one of which is the treatment of acne. Green tea contains polyphenols which contain antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that are helpful in getting rid of acne.

A review of recent studies on tea polyphenols for topical and oral use revealed promising results in the fight against acne. There's evidence that shows how tea polyphenols in a topical formulation can be beneficial in reducing sebum secretion and in the overall treatment of acne.


Chamomile is one of the most heavily relied upon herbal medicine since ancient times. It has been found effective for treating acne and other skin irritations because of its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and mildly astringent properties.

Chamomile is an effective natural alternative to hydrocortisone, which is a topical cream commonly used to immediately reduce redness and inflammation and dry out pimples. One study found topical application of chamomile to be about 60% effective as .25% hydrocortisone cream.

Harmful DIY Acne Remedies

While there are always do-it-yourself (DIY) recipes for at-home acne remedies that are supposedly “harmless” and “safe,” many of these unscientific treatments can actually do more harm than good.

One example is the application of toothpaste to dry a pimple out. Dermatologists are against this DIY considering many kinds of toothpaste contain skin-toxic ingredients meant to bleach teeth and those can hurt your skin, especially if left on skin for any significant amount of time. Whether left on over a minute or overnight, toothpastes can damage your skin.  

Another popular DIY acne remedy is the application of a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda on the acne-affected area. There is no scientific evidence that supports this remedy but there is a documented case on how lemon juice can cause phytophototoxic dermatitis.

A young girl squeezed lemon juice on her skin while exposed to the hot sun, within 24 hours the subject suffered from first-degree and second-degree burn-like lesions on her skin. This case illustrates the intensity of lemon juice and how it is too potent for any DIY, whether for spot-treating acne, skin-lightening, or anything else. 

Bottom Line

While you may be tempted to go to the kitchen and find ingredients that you've heard can “naturally” help you address a pimple, you should stop yourself. The risk of lasting damage isn't worth the risk.

Instead of relying on a mixture you concoct yourself, it's best to use skin care products that contain the above-mentioned natural ingredients that have been scientifically proven to treat acne. Products containing the correct concentrations of the most effective botanical ingredients will not only help you get rid of existing acne but can prevent future breakouts as well.