The Affordable & Effective Acne Ingredient Derms Recommend

There's no nice way to put it: Pimples are annoying little suckers. Despite who you are or what important event might be happening soon — like meeting your significant other's family for the first time, getting your passport photo taken, or heading off to a job interview — they always seem to pop up when least invited.

Thankfully, there's a range of over-the-counter skin-care products that can help kill bacteria, increase cell turnover, and dry out oil to help give you a clearer complexion. At the top of that list is benzoyl peroxide — a common medication found in several acne-fighting cleansers and treatments. In fact, according to Mount Sinai Hospital dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, it's one of the most powerful anti-acne ingredients available.

"By killing acne-causing bacteria, BPO [benzoyl peroxide] helps reduce skin inflammation," he tells Refinery29. "At the same time, BPO can also help remove blockages from the pores." However, make note that benzoyl peroxide shouldn't be confused with salicylic acid — another popular skin clearing medication. His rule of thumb: Salicylic acid is best to treat blackheads and whiteheads, while benzoyl peroxide on the other hand targets "red, angry pimples" that are oftentimes hidden beneath the skin's surface, Dr. Zeichner explains.

Likewise, because benzoyl peroxide is so potent, Dr. Zeichner suggests keeping a close eye on how your skin may react to it. Although true allergies are quite rare, "If your skin gets red, itchy, burns, or peels, you may have developed an irritant reaction from it," he says. It's also important to note that not all skin pros swear by the stuff — some say it's so drying that it can do more harm than good, just another reason to ease in and decide for yourself if your skin reacts favorably. See your skin clearing? That's great, but if you have dry, flaky skin that's irritated and out of wack, it might not be for you. It's also easy to overdo it, so read the instructions carefully and don't exceed them — less is more in this case.

"Also, BPO can bleach your fabrics, so be careful about letting it touch any darkly colored pillow cases, towels, or clothing," he notes. "I typically recommend using BPO in the evening before bed and it can be incorporated into your regular skin-care regimen."

More advice from top derms and the products they recommend, ahead.

The Expert: Joshua Zeichner, MD

"When it comes to BPO [benzoyl peroxide], more is not necessarily better. 2.5% BPO has
been shown to be as effective as 5 or 10% BPO, but less irritating," according to Dr. Zeichner. "It is important not to overly dry out the skin in treating acne, so I frequently recommend sticking to lower concentrations of BPO. I also recommend treating the full face because we want to clear pimples you currently have and prevent new ones from popping out."

Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask, $9.98, available at Jet.
The Expert: Sejal Shah, MD

As you may already know, pimples don't discriminate — they can appear anywhere on the body. To treat places other than your face, Dr. Sejal Shah told Self that she recommends cleansing with a maximum strength acne wash. This one helps to kill bacteria on contact and unclog pores, all without needing a prescription.

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash, $12.78, available at Jet.
The Expert: Sandra Lee, MD

No one knows acne quite like Dr. Sandra Lee (i.e. Dr. Pimple Popper). If you've ever stumbled across one of her gruesome extraction videos, you get the idea. She really takes an up close and personal approach, showing viewers time and time again what often lurks inside even the most unsuspecting zits.

Offline, however, Dr. Lee has created her very own acne-fighting system that treats and prevents blemishes from ever reaching the surface. Made with benzoyl peroxide, aloe, lilac, and various other plant extracts, the SLMD Acne Lotion can be applied after cleansing and before moisturizing to enhance your skin's healing process.

SLMD Skin Care Acne Lotion, $30.00, available at SLMD Skin Care.
The Expert: Debra Jaliman, MD

When we spoke to Dr. Jaliman back in July about balancing oily skin fast, she sang praises for Neutrogena's Clear Pore line. Unlike other drugstore options, this product combats excess shine in two ways — as a daily cleanser and an intensive mask perfect for unclogging congested skin.

Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask, $6.69, available at Target.
The Expert: Doris Day, MD

Although effective, some spot treatments are just way too harsh — but apparently not this one. Chatting with E! News, Dr. Day explained that unlike traditional benzoyl peroxide treatments, this soothes and hydrates skin while clearing breakouts.

MD Complete Skin Clearing Breakout Spot Treatment With Natural Botanicals Clear Pore, $19.99, available at Target.
The Expert: Neil Sadick, MD

When you have acne, nothing feels worse than a throbbing, inflamed pimple that just won't go away. Rather than picking at it, consider dabbing on a gentle (yet effective) spot treatment. "The benzoyl peroxide penetrates pores and micro-exfoliating lipo hydroxy acid evens texture," Dr. Neil Sadick told Allure.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment, $20.99, available at Target.
The Expert: Marisa Potter, MD

Recommended by Dr. Marisa Potter during an interview with Women's Health, Clearasil's Daily Clear Acne Treatment Cream features features a concentrated dosage of benzoyl peroxide to dry up pimples fast.

Clearasil Daily Clear Acne Treatment Cream, $6.31, available at Jet.
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