The Best Acne Treatment For When Holiday Gatherings Get Too Stressful

I was 13 years old when puberty hit my face in full force. The summer between 7th and 8th grade, I developed what my peers called "pizza face" — red, painful pimples sprinkled generously across my forehead, nose, and cheeks. Naturally, this is when I tried my first acne product: OXY clearing lotion.

I used that thick, white paste like there was no tomorrow, smearing it with abandon over my problem areas in the hope it would zap those zits to oblivion. What actually happened, though, was more irritation and a lot of dryness — a common side effect of active ingredient benzoyl peroxide.

Fast forward nine years and my acne is finally in a manageable place (thanks to a few tortuous months of using prescription Retin-A my senior year of high school), but I still experience semi-regular breakouts, usually along my jawline or on my cheeks. I've been turning to over-the-counter spot treatments to get the job done, and I can say with certainty that this new one by Kiehl's is hands-down the best I've used.

It was created with adult acne in mind, meaning that unlike most OTC acne treatments, it was specifically formulated to be highly potent and highly hydrating. It nixes common acne-fighting ingredients — like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid — in favor of sulfur, a mineral known for its oil-absorbing and antibacterial properties. The ingredient is great for clearing up mild acne and for my consistent breakouts — I probably get a new cluster of pimples every couple of weeks— it does the job.

"Sulfur can certainly calm down acne," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. "But for moderate-to-severe cases, you will likely need a harder hitter that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, or even a prescription product like Aczone or Epiduo Forte."

A light layer of this cream tapped on top of my zits cuts the healing time in half, and when I have a particularly angry, inflamed zit, it calms it down within a matter of hours. The major perk is that it contains glycerin and aloe vera to hydrate, soothe, and reduce redness, and brightening niacinamide to help fade discoloration. And having just spent a week home for Thanksgiving surrounded by prying family members, old friends, and loads of sugar, you can bet I'm relying on this treatment to deal with all the stress- and diet-related pimples that have cropped up — just in time for Christmas, when we'll do it all over again.

Kiehl's
Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment, $28, available at Kiehl's.
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