These are the Best Grown Up Acne Treatments

By Tara Thompson Rasmus

I cringe at the thought of my high school skincare routine. I was (shocking for a future beauty editor) obsessed with products and tried different things all the time. Like many teenagers, I was convinced that I needed strong scrubs and bracing toners to clear up breakouts. If it’s not burning a little, then it’s not working, right? (That’s the sound of me rolling my eyes.)

Thankfully, I’m older and wiser these days, and I take much gentler care of my skin. Rather than rubbing my skin raw or splashing my skin with alcohol-laden toners, I use simpler, more nourishing products daily and then spot treat breakouts only as needed with more sophisticated formulas that treat—rather than burn—my complexion.

Ahead are my picks for decidedly grown-up acne treatments that will truly work, without making your skin freak out. Because we’re grown-ass women, not teenagers, and we deserve elegant pimple products, right? Right. 

featured image by jana kirn for free people

The Ordinary Salicyclic Acid 2%

This solution is potent yet alcohol-free, so it makes a big difference in skin clarity without drying it out. Use as needed as a spot treatment, or apply all over to keep breakouts at bay.

Peace Out Acne Stickers

Acne stickers? Believe it. These little dots are infused with salicylic acid and vitamin A to zap zits overnight. The sticker acts as a kind of seal to keep the meds in and irritants out, so that little bugger ends up shrunken in less than six hours.


Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment

This ain’t no Sea Breeze toner: this gorgeous green mask is packed with clarifying clay and nourishing Manuka oil to clear up spots while leaving your skin smooth and even.

Honest Beauty Younger + Clearer Spot On Remedy

This 2% salicylic acid spot treatment is infused with neem and reship extracts to baby your face while it kicks breakouts to the curb.


Acure Incredibly Clear Sheet Mask

So, I actually think my teenage self would have thought that this charcoal-infused sheet mask was super cool. It has cucumber and white willow to soothe and detoxify, while beta hydroxy acids exfoliate and clear up congestion.


Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Camo Drops

So, listen, there’s no ACTUAL magic potion for irritated, breakout-prone skin… but this is pretty damn close. This serum/color corrector hybrid contains centella asiatica extract and chlorophyll to soothe and even out skin tone while its green tint counteracts redness. If you suffer from allover breakouts, this stuff is what’s up.

Evologie Intensive Blemish Serum

An all-around multitasker, this serum clears up existing breakouts, prevents new ones from forming, and helps to fade the scars from old breakouts, with a gentle yet powerful combination of salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and willowbank.