Main content
How To Manage Blemishes: A 7-Step Routine

4 Blemish Types and How To Manage Them

We at Kiehl’s have been helping take care of people’s skin for a long time—nearly 170 years, in fact. And in that time, we’ve helped countless customers with their skincare concerns, from helping people determine their skin type to offering anti-aging tips for those with mature skin. But one question that comes up again and again is: “What is the best skincare for blemished skin?” If you have blemish-prone skin, you can probably relate to this question. After all, it can be challenging to find products that manage to walk the fine line between reducing your blemishes (yes, please) and drying out your skin (no thanks).

Since this is such a common query, we’ve put together a guide to caring for blemish-prone skin. Ahead, you’ll learn about the different types of blemishes, what causes them, and how to treat them. Plus, we’ll teach you how to repair skin blemishes (or at least improve their appearance) with a simple, seven-step skincare routine. Read on to learn everything you need to know about caring for blemish-prone skin.

What Are Blemishes?

A blemish is defined as any noticeable imperfection that alters something’s appearance. While “blemish” can be used to describe virtually any mark or spot, in skincare, it usually refers to acne. There are many different types of blemishes, but they typically fall under four main categories: blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and cysts. You’ll find a brief overview of each type below.


All acne results (at least in part) from excess sebum production. When the skin produces too much oil, it can mix with dead skin cells and dirt and get stuck within the pore, causing it to become clogged. A blackhead develops when the pore dilates, and the contents inside oxidize, or darken, upon contact with the air. Blackheads are also known as “open comedones.”


Like blackheads, whiteheads result from clogged pores. However, unlike blackheads, the contents of these clogged pores do not get exposed to air, and therefore have no chance to oxidize. For this reason, whiteheads are sometimes referred to as “closed comedones.”


Pimples are probably what you think of when you hear the word “acne.” These blemishes develop when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria (specifically, the P. acnes bacteria) get stuck within pores, leading to localized infections. Pimples are often inflamed or swollen and generally have a small amount of pus inside.

Cysts and Nodules

Cysts and nodules are the most severe type of acne blemishes. Like pimples, they occur when oil and bacteria get stuck inside pores and become infected. If the infection continues to grow, deep, painful cysts can develop. These types of breakouts are commonly associated with acne scars.

What Is The Difference Between Acne and Blemishes?

Though the words blemish and acne usually refer to the same thing, there is a difference between the two. Though smaller blemishes, like blackheads, are medically considered acne, in practice, acne is most commonly used to describe any type of widespread breakout. Colloquially, it refers to the condition as a whole, rather than an individual spot. Blemish, on the other hand, can refer to any type of individual skin imperfection. When used to describe acne, it’s most often used as a blanket term to describe a singular spot, like an individual pimple or mark. However, in skincare, acne and blemish are used more or less interchangeably.

How To Manage Blemishes

One question we hear all the time is: “How do you get rid of blemishes?” Ultimately, there is no definitive answer to this question since everyone’s skin is different and nothing is guaranteed. That said, there are ways to manage blemish-prone skin. In addition to following healthy skin habits like drinking enough water, following a dedicated skincare routine for blemish-prone skin can help keep breakouts at bay. Keep reading for our seven-step routine for blemish-prone skin.

Step 1: Remove Dirt and Excess Oil

Regardless of your skin type or concerns, cleansing should always be the first step in your skincare routine. If you have mild blemishes, like blackheads, we recommend reaching for a gentle, purifying cleanser, like Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Cleanser. This face wash for problem skin is formulated with 96% naturally-derived ingredients, including Cannabis sativa seed oil and green oregano oil.* It helps remove excess oil and dirt without stripping the skin of its essential moisture. The calming formula also helps soothe discomfort and reduce the appearance of redness for refreshed, healthy-looking skin.

To help address active breakouts, try Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment. This acne face wash contains salicylic acid and ginger root essential oil to help clear blemishes and prevent new ones from forming. The foaming formula provides a deep, purifying cleanse, making it ideal for those with stubborn blemishes or extremely oily skin.

Step 2: Tone and Balance Skin

After cleansing, reach for a soothing toner, such as Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion. This iconic formula—a Kiehl’s favorite for nearly 60 years—contains cooling menthol and camphor to refresh and soothe the skin. It also contains a natural moisturizer known as sodium PCA, which helps balance hydration for those with oily or acne-prone skin.

Step #3: Address Skin Concerns

Though acne results from excess oil production, other factors can trigger breakouts, including hormonal changes, stress, and even a poor diet. A properly-functioning skin barrier can help your skin defend itself against these aggressors. Keep your skin barrier strong and hydrated with Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum. This powerful serum stars 11kDa hyaluronic acid, an engineered form of hyaluronic acid capable of penetrating skin’s deeper layers. It also contains a blend of adaptogenic herbs, including red ginseng root. Together, these powerful ingredients help improve skin tone for visibly more radiant skin. The unique formula is clinically-demonstrated to double skin’s strength and boost resilience while improving skin texture.** The lightweight formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for glowing, healthy-looking skin.

If you’re prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, also known as post-acne marks, even small blemishes can leave behind lasting dark spots. You can reduce these discolorations with Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution. This best-selling serum contains activated C, white birch extract, and peony root to help improve the appearance of a wide range of dark spots and discolorations. The effective formula also helps brighten skin over time for a more even, radiant appearance. Use it all over or as a spot treatment to target stubborn post-acne marks.

Step #4: Reach For a Calming Facial Oil

Using a facial oil can be a little intimidating if you have blemish-prone skin. Start with a gentle, non-comedogenic formula, such as Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Face Oil. This best-selling facial oil is formulated with 100% naturally-derived ingredients, including Cannabis sativa seed oil and green oregano oil.* The lightweight formula for problem skin helps visibly relieve the signs of stress, including redness and discomfort, for calmer-looking skin. The top-rated facial oil also helps strengthen the skin barrier for more hydrated, balanced skin. A little goes a long way, as with any facial oil: You need just a few drops for your entire face.

Step 5: Hydrate Your Skin

Fun fact: Moisturizing is essential for all skin types, but even more so for those with oily, blemish-prone skin. Research shows that when the skin is dehydrated, it produces more oil to make up for the lack of natural hydration.I This, in turn, can lead to clogged pores and blemishes.

For everyday hydration, we recommend Calendula Serum-Infused Water Cream. This unique gel moisturizer stars calendula extract and glycerin to moisturize the skin with lasting, 24-hour hydration. The weightless formula visibly evens skin tone and boosts radiance after just one week, while continued use helps reduce the appearance of redness. Use it morning and night for fresher-looking skin.

When you’re breaking out, reach for Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion. This effective formula contains salicylic acid and niacinamide to visibly reduce the appearance of blemishes and help prevent new ones from forming. The lightweight moisturizer also helps reduce dullness and smooth rough texture for clearer, more even-looking skin.

Step 6: Treat Individual Blemishes

Even with a perfect skincare routine, you’ll still break out every once in a while. When that happens, reach for an acne spot treatment, such as Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. This potent pimple cream features sulfur and niacinamide to target stubborn breakouts, including pimples and whiteheads. The potent formula is clinically-demonstrated to rapidly reduce the appearance of acne blemishes for visibly clearer skin.*** Apply a small amount to problem areas once to three times daily while the breakout persists.

Step 7: Once Weekly, Give Yourself a Facial

Once a week, or whenever your skin feels congested, treat your skin to a pampering facial. We recommend Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask, particularly for those with oily and blemish-prone skin. The best-selling formula contains Amazonian white clay and aloe vera to draw out dirt and oil from within clogged pores and purify the skin. It’s clinically-demonstrated to minimize skin’s surface oil production by 46.7%, which helps reduce the appearance of enlarged pores for more refined-looking skin.****

Next: The Best Ingredients For Treating Pimples

*We consider ingredients to be naturally-derived if they retain more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.
**Based on a 4-week clinical study on 58 subjects tested in urban and polluted environments, using the Skin Strength Index = Composite average score of skin suppleness, plumpness, and resiliency.
***Tested in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study.
****Based on results two hours after use vs. untreated skin.

I.“Moisturizer: Why you may need it if you have acne.” American Academy of Dermatology. 2020.

Orientation message
For the best experience, please turn your device