Pimples: We all get them occasionally. For some, blemishes are infrequent and nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Others—particularly those with oily or acne-prone skin—may struggle with breakouts on a more regular basis. In both cases, a proper skincare routine is a must. Cleanser and moisturizer, of course, are essential (this goes for everybody), but you should also keep a spot treatment on hand to help tackle blemishes as they appear.
However, even the most powerful spot treatment won’t do much good if you don’t know how to use it. So here, we’ll give you the rundown on how to spot treat acne blemishes. You’ll also get acquainted with our best spot treatments for acne and learn how to incorporate these skincare heroes into your routine. Keep scrolling for your Kiehl’s introductory course on acne spot treatments.
What Is a Spot Treatment?
Put simply, a spot treatment is a type of concentrated skincare product designed to help address acute skin concerns, usually pimples. They often contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or other blemish-fighting ingredients and are meant to be applied directly to the problem area rather than all over the face (hence the name). And this isn’t the only way in which they qualify as a targeted treatment. Unlike serums and moisturizers, spot treatments aren’t typically intended for daily use; instead, they’re applied as needed until the concern resolves. While acne spot treatments are far and away the most common type of spot treatments, you can also find formulas that target dark spots and discolorations, such as post-blemish marks.
Our Best Spot Treatments To Add To Your Skincare Routine
Blue Herbal Spot Treatment
At Kiehl’s, we have a few different spot treatments in our repertoire. First up is Blue Herbal Spot Treatment, made with 1.5% salicylic acid, witch hazel water, and zinc. The powerful formula targets problem areas to help clear blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of acne blemishes, leaving the skin clearer-looking and more comfortable. It’s dermatologist-tested, fragrance-free, and best suited for oily or blemish-prone skin.
We also offer a spot treatment designed specifically to help address skin discolorations (such as age spots). Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector is a dual-use serum and spot treatment with activated vitamin C and buffered salicylic acid. It helps brighten dull-looking skin and is clinically-demonstrated to visibly improve the appearance of dark spots, including those caused by age or excessive sun exposure.* The lightweight formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for skin that appears radiant and more even.
*Based on a 12-week clinical study of 17 women presented with mild to moderate severity of attributes, including post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
How To Use a Spot Treatment For Acne Blemishes
Here, learn how to spot treat your skin for a clearer, more even appearance.
Cleanse and Tone Your Face
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: A thorough cleanse should always be the first step in your skincare routine. If you’re struggling with blemishes, we suggest reaching for an exfoliating cleanser to help remove excess oil and other pore-clogging impurities.
If you’re after physical exfoliation, try Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser. Made with Amazonian white clay and diatomaceous earth, this purifying face wash exfoliates and softens without stripping the skin. With consistent use, it also helps make enlarged pores appear smaller. The gentle formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used morning and night for fresh, healthy-looking skin.
For those who prefer chemical exfoliation, we recommend Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment. This foaming face wash for blemish-prone skin stars salicylic acid and ginger root essential oil. It deep-cleans pores to help reduce blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of acne blemishes. When used consistently, the effective formula also helps keep new breakouts from forming.
After washing your face (and rinsing it thoroughly with lukewarm water), tone with Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion. Originally formulated in 1964, this Kiehl’s classic helps balance and soothe the skin. While it isn’t a spot treatment in the traditional sense, it can help spot-treat oily areas, like the T-zone. It also doubles as a refreshing alternative to aftershave if you shave your face. Use a cotton round to apply it over your entire face, or apply it directly to problem areas after cleansing.
Layer On Your Essences and Serums
Next, apply your daily treatments—essences, serums, and the like. If you’re prone to blemishes, we recommend seeking out lightweight formulas that hydrate your skin without leaving behind an oily residue. Formulas that help reduce the appearance of large pores can also be beneficial for those with blemish-prone skin. Ultimately, though, it’s a matter of personal preference. Whichever products you choose, remember to layer them in order of weight: Your lighter products should be applied first, followed by your richer, more hydrating formulas. For more details on how to layer skincare products, check out our article Your Skincare Routine Order: A Step-By-Step Guide.
Apply Your Spot Treatment
After giving your skincare treatments time to absorb, you can go ahead and apply your spot treatment. If you’re using a spot treatment for acne (like Blue Herbal Spot Treatment), dispense a small amount of the product onto clean fingertips, then dab the formula directly onto your skin. For individual blemishes, you don’t need much product at all: A dot the size of a sunflower seed should be plenty (and if it’s not, you can always add more). To treat larger areas—for example, a patch of pimples on your forehead—start with a pea-sized amount of product. Gently smooth the spot treatment over the entire affected area to blend the product into your skin.
For dark spot treatments like Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector, you’ll want to apply a thin, even layer of the serum to the affected area (be that a single dark spot or several) and lightly tap the product in. Again, allow the formula to absorb before continuing to the next step in your routine.
Kiehl’s Tip: Generally speaking, you should apply spot treatments to freshly washed skin. Spot-clean individual blemishes with a wet cotton swab before applying your spot treatment to help get the most out of your chosen formula.
Moisturize All Over
Even for oily skin, moisturizer is a must. Like any other skin type, it can get dehydrated. And if left unchecked, this dehydration can trigger skin to become even oilier to make up for the lack of moisture. Ultimately, this can lead to a host of skin concerns, from visible greasiness to clogged pores and breakouts.
Of course, choosing the right formula is crucial. After allowing your spot treatment to absorb, hydrate with a lightweight gel moisturizer, such as Ultra Facial Oil-Free Moisturizer. Made with glycerin and micronized amino acid, this non-comedogenic formula provides all-day hydration to help balance skin’s natural moisture levels. It also offers shine control for up to 24 hours, while continued use over time helps visibly minimize enlarged pores. Apply an even layer of the fast-absorbing formula to your face and neck morning and night for skin that looks fresh and healthy.
Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion
For added acne-fighting benefits, reach for an acne moisturizer, like Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion. It’s formulated with aloe vera, salicylic acid, and niacinamide and is clinically-demonstrated to help reduce breakouts while helping to prevent new blemishes from forming.* With consistent use, it also helps diminish roughness and dullness. Use this non-comedogenic moisturizer daily or as needed to reveal skin that appears visibly clearer and more even over time. In the daytime, complete your routine with SPF to help protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays.
*Tested in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study.