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Best spot cream: The best creams to clear up spots and prevent breakouts from £8

Jane Hoskyn
24 May 2022
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Treat and prevent blemishes, blackheads and breakouts with our guide to the best spot creams you can buy

Spots affect all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. Stress, hormones and pore-blocking skincare products can all take their toll on your complexion, especially if you’re prone to oily, teenage or congested skin. The best spot creams target spots caused by all these factors and more, helping to reduce inflammation and fight the excess oil and bacteria that cause breakouts.

Our roundup of the best acne treatments reveals the most powerful lotions, serums and patches you can buy over the counter (OTC) to unclog pores and battle the causes of acne. In this article, we’ll focus instead on creams designed to shrink existing spots and combat redness and inflammation, as well as preventing breakouts on your face, back and all over your body – ideally without drying your skin.

Read on for our guide to buying the best spot cream for your skin, depending on your skin type. To go straight to our recommended best spot creams, skip down the page.

READ NEXT: Best cleansing balm


Best spot cream: At a glance


How to choose the best spot cream for you

How do spot creams work?

Most OTC spot creams use ingredients that reduce inflammation, such as the increasingly popular medication niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3. This can help to reduce the appearance of spots within hours, and also calm down the redness that tends to come along for the bumpy ride.

Spot creams designed for longer-term use are a little more like acne treatments, and rely on exfoliating ingredients such as salicylic acid to clear your pores of debris and stop spots from forming in the first place.

“If you are suffering from a few spots or blackheads, over the counter medicines can really help,” says Hussain Abdeh, superintendent pharmacist at Medicine Direct. The British Association of Dermatologists’ (BAD) guide to acne agrees, recommending topical treatments such as creams and gels as “the first choice for those with mild to moderate acne”.

What ingredients should I look for?

Niacinamide, aka nicotinamide, is an increasingly popular spot cream ingredient that you’ll find in all sorts of skin treatments, including cleansers and moisturisers. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, so it can help to reduce the appearance of spots in just a few hours. Niacinamide can also calm down the effects of rosacea and patchy skin tone.

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that acts as an exfoliant, absorbing deep into skin to break down the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together. This helps to clear pores and prevent the build-up of dead skin and excess oil. It’s an extremely popular spot cream ingredient, but it doesn’t work overnight because it targets the causes of spots and blackheads rather than the results. As a longer-term treatment, though, it’s superbly effective.

Azelaic acid is a byproduct of yeast that occurs naturally in our skin. It has impressive anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and also works as an exfoliator. It's particularly good for penetrating your skin and tackling the problems that often coincide with acne, such as rosacea and high pigmentation.

Succinic acid is a relative newcomer, beloved by skincare experts for its ability to clear pores without causing irritation. Succinic acid also has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, and won’t dry your skin out.

Zinc can help to control oil levels on the skin, even when applied topically rather than being taken as a supplement.

Benzoyl peroxide is a highly renowned ingredient that is effective in treating many cases of acne,” says Abdeh. “It works to remove excess oil from the skin, as well as remove dead skin cells, which can unclog pores. Furthermore, benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that cause acne, helping to clear existing spots and prevent future ones from appearing.” Abdeh sounds a note of caution, though. “You may experience stinging, redness or burning while using products that contain this ingredient; it can also dry the skin out, so using a moisturiser is often beneficial.”

Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory properties to help calm acne and reduce redness. It’s natural, but no weakling: 5% tea tree oil has results comparable to 5% benzoyl peroxide. Like benzoyl peroxide, prolonged use may not suit sensitive skin.

READ NEXT: Best moisturiser

The best spot creams to buy now

1. V55 Max Double Strength Salicylic Acid Cream: Best spot cream for the face

Price: £16 for 50ml | Buy now from Amazon

First, the bad news: this stuff smells like medicine, and is definitely not the most fragrant skin cream you’ll ever try. Now the good news: V55 Max really does work to combat existing and future spots, and it absorbs really well (well enough to use at bedtime without getting a messy pillow), so a little goes a long way.

The combination of salicylic acid and tea tree oil gets straight to work minimising the appearance of spots, while also clearing dirt and impurities from the pores to prevent further breakouts. The high salicylic acid content (2%, the maximum allowed in the UK) does mean that your skin may become slightly more sensitive to the sun, so make sure to use a non-comedogenic sun cream during the day.

Key specs – Size: 50ml; Format: Cream; Active ingredients: Salicylic acid 2%, tea tree oil


2. Revolution Skincare Salicylic Acid and Zinc PCA Purifying Water Gel Cream: Best non-drying spot cream for the face

Price: £8 for 50ml | Buy now from LookFantastic

This wonderfully light gel cream is ideal for use by day, and particularly on skin that suffers occasional spots but won’t tolerate a higher dose of salicylic acid. The formula also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate your skin while the salicylic acid clears your pores, so after a few weeks of use your skin feels plumped and refreshed as well as clearer. It’s quite gentle, so this isn’t a cream for shrinking an angry zit just before a night out. But at just £8, this is a superb buy that will keep your skin soft as well as clear – and it’s vegan and cruelty-free.

Key specs – Size: 50ml; Format: Gel cream; Active ingredients: Salicylic acid 0.5%, hyaluronic acid, zinc

Buy now from LookFantastic


3. Dermalex Acne Treatment Cream: Best spot cream for teenage skin

Price: £13 for 30g | Buy now from Amazon

Don't be misled by Amazon’s description: Dermalex Acne does not include any salicylic acid, which is quite unusual these days in an acne treatment. Nor does it contain benzoyl peroxide, the other ingredient you’re most likely to see listed on acne treatment boxes. Instead, this cream blends the anti-inflammatory escin and oil-absorbing krameria triandra root extract to calm down angry zits while also fighting the causes of future breakouts.

You’ll need to give it a few weeks to work its magic, but over time it will restore the natural acidic film that protects your skin, maintaining the correct pH and limiting the severity of spots. The cream itself has a beautifully smooth, cooling texture that immediately makes skin feel less inflamed and itchy. Even if you’re not a teen and you only suffer occasional spots, this is a wonderfully soothing cream that will help restore your skin’s natural balance and protection.

Key specs – Size: 30g; Format: Cream; Active ingredients: Escin, krameria triandra root extract


4. The Inkey List Succinic Acid Blemish Treatment 15ml: Best over-the-counter acne treatment cream

Price: £8 for 15ml | Buy now from LookFantastic

This product gained our top award in our best acne treatments roundup, thanks to its excellent balance of breakout-preventing ingredients and complexion-calming properties. In other words, it gets the job done without being too harsh.

Succinic acid, like salicylic acid, is a long-term treatment that works by fighting the causes of breakouts rather than shrinking the appearance of existing spots, but this rich, creamy treatment really works to soothe inflamed skin. The cream absorbs fast and doesn’t leave any residue, so it’s great for using under makeup.

Key specs – Size: 15ml; Format: Cream; Active ingredients: Succinic acid 2%, salicylic acid 1%

Buy now from LookFantastic


5. CeraVe SA Smoothing Cream: Best spot cream for the body

Price: £15 for 340g | Buy now from LookFantastic

Spots aren’t just for faces. Anyone who suffers from zits, rough skin, clogged pores and whiteheads on their back, shoulders, chest, bum, thighs (all of us at times) will love this rich cream, the ingredients list of which reads like a Hall of Fame of skin-kind substances: niacinamide to reduce swelling and redness, salicylic acid to unclog pores, and hyaluronic acid to keep the skin hydrated. We’ve found this formula to be effective on razor bumps and ingrown hairs as well as spots.

The cream itself feels really soft and smooth and, unlike many moisturising creams, its hydrating effects don’t wear off quickly: you’ll only need to apply it once a day, and a little goes a long way, so this 340g tub should last you a while. It’s normally £19, and is currently on special offer.

Key specs – Size: 340g; Format: Cream; Active ingredients: Niacinamide, salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid

Buy now from LookFantastic


6. COSRX AC Collection Ultimate Spot Cream: Best spot cream for sensitive skin

Price: £25 for 30g | Buy now from FeelUnique

There are no acids or peroxides here; just zinc and calamine for a wonderfully cooling effect, even on very sensitive skin that can’t tolerate those harsher ingredients. It also has a lovely herbal scent, unlike a couple of the more medicinal formulations on this list, and works really well to calm down angry spots and minimise itching.

As you’ll know if you ever had calamine lotion slapped on your nettle stings as a child, it’s brilliant for reducing redness and inflammation, but it doesn’t absorb very well, so be prepared for a bit of residue on your skin. That may not bother you at night, but it means the cream may not be suitable for your face during the day.

Key specs – Size: 30g; Format: Cream; Active ingredients: Zinc, calamine

Buy now from FeelUnique


7. Revolution Skincare Anti-Blemish Boost Cream with Azelaic Acid: Best spot cream for acne scars and redness

Price: £7.50 for 50ml | Buy now from LookFantastic

Azelaic acid features in numerous spot treatments – skincare experts love it for its anti-inflammatory and redness-reducing properties – but it can irritate your skin when you're not used to it. So, in this cream, Revolution Skincare blends azelaic acid with soothing shea butter and sunflower seed oil to boost hydration and reduce the chances of irritation. As a result, it actually works really well as a moisturiser as well as a spot cream, as long as you don't apply too much of it. It does feel a bit gritty at first, but the texture completely smooths out as it absorbs into the skin.

Key specs – Size: 50ml; Format: Cream; Active ingredient: Azelaic acid

Buy now from LookFantastic


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