13 Dermatologist-Approved Acne Treatments That Don't Require A Prescription

More money, more problems? In some ways, we believe it. For common people on a budget, no long-lost family members have the audacity to come asking for cash. But it’s easy to poke a few glaring holes in the theory, and one of them is how the well-to-do are able to tackle a thing like acne.

For those with unlimited resources, popping in for a pricy dermatologist visit and a cortisone shot at the first signs of a baby blemish ain’t no thing. For those who don’t have gobs of money to throw at a rising zit, there are over-the-counter treatments to get us through. But which will take us from congested, inflamed, and tender to looking as if we have a derm on speed dial?


For that, we turned to big-league dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, who also serves as the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “I recommend treating acne at home in the same way that we approach it in the office: You want to get to the root of what causes acne by combining multiple different active ingredients that address different causative factors,” he says.

Dr. Zeichner's go-to combination for an at-home treatment? Topical benzoyl peroxide products paired with salicylic acid cleansers or scrubs. “Benzoyl peroxide helps lower levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin and helps reduce inflammation, while salicylic acid helps remove excess oil and exfoliate the dead cells from the surface of the skin,” he says. Find the skin pro’s other first-line remedies, ahead, which makes getting rich-girl skin possible without a trip to the derm or a call to increase your credit line.

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

Glytone Acne 3P Treatment Gel

Benzoyl peroxide can prove too harsh for some, but this oil- and fragrance-free gel bypasses those uncomfortable side effects thanks to a time-released, micronized form of the active ingredient, which gives an as-you-need it dose that’s small enough to penetrate the skin for a more gentle and effective zit-fighting experience.
Glytone Acne 3P Treatment Gel$32.00 Buy

Tula Acne Clearing & Tone Correcting Gel

This acne-fighting gel serum address breakouts past and present with a one-two punch of azelaic and salicylic acid, which help clear pores and fade existing acne scars.
Tula Acne Clearing & Tone Correcting Gel$36.00 Buy

Honest Beauty Clearing Cleanser

This foaming cleanser is bolstered by salicylic acid to help balance oil production as it washes away the day's grime.
Honest Beauty Clearing Cleanser$13.59 Buy

Zo Skin Health Complexion Renewal Pads

For a quick and easy way to remove excess oil, try a treatment pad soaked with salicylic acid. This one also taps glycolic acid and has a textured surface to gently exfoliate skin.
Zo Skin Health Complexion Renewal Pads$51.00 Buy

PCA Skin BPO 5% Cleanser

This cleansing wash not only rids skin of dirt and makeup; it contains a staggering 5% benzoyl peroxide to tackle existing breakouts, too.
PCA Skin BPO 5 Percent Cleanser$39.00 Buy

Arcona Raspberry Clarifying Pads

We’ve been using these treatment pads every day for the past month to keep our oily skin — and breakouts — in check. Salicylic acid exfoliates and absorbs excess oil, while antimicrobial and antiseptic raspberry extracts and witch hazel help defend against future breakouts. With regular use, we managed to sideline the usual cystic bump that comes like clockwork each month.
Arcona Raspberry Clarifying Pads$38.00 Buy

iS Clinical Active Serum

Our number-one gripe with many acid-charged acne treatments? They can make skin feel dry, tight, and desperately in need of moisturizer. This one is designed to nourish with botanical extracts and address congestion with glycolic and salicylic acid all at once.
iS Clinical Active Serum (1 fl oz.)$135.00 Buy

SLMD Acne Body Spray

Acne doesn't end at your face: Zits can also pop up on your chest, your back, and... well, pretty much anywhere. This body spray from Dr. Pimple Popper is packed with a potent 2% salicylic acid and calming rosemary extract to make quick work of targeting hard-to-reach places, like the center of your back.
SLMD Acne Body Spray$38.00 Buy

Cosmedix Clarity Skin-Clarifying Serum

This serum can be smoothed all over the face or applied as a spot treatment for active breakouts. While salicylic acid does most of the blemish-fighting legwork, other ingredients like aloe vera and willowherb are included to soothe redness and irritation.
Cosmedix Clarity Skin-Clarifying Serum$42.00 Buy

REN Clearcalm 3 Replenishing Gel Cream

Many moisturizers targeted toward acne-prone skin tout oil-free formulas, but they can make skin feel dry and tight. This gel-cream hybrid sinks into skin to hydrate without adding shine, and includes licorice extracts to help reduce redness, scarring, and inflammation.
REN ClearCalm 3 Replenishing Gel Cream$40.00 Buy

Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask

Another first-line ingredient that Dr. Zeichner favors for addressing acne? Sulfur, which can pull oil and gunk from congested pores. And with a whopping 10% of the stuff inside this jar, the treatment is no joke. (We recommend spot-treating versus slathering it on all at once.)
Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask$55.00 Buy

Renée Rouleau Anti Bump Solution

This magic cystic-zit eraser is an editor favorite for a reason: It taps lactic acid to target the acne formation beneath the skin's surface and forces the cyst to a head.
Renée Rouleau Anti Bump Solution$47.50 Buy

Paula's Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

If there is one true "secret ingredient" for treating acne that most people haven't tried, azelaic acid is it. The dicarboxylic acid is hard to find in effective concentrations in over-the-counter formulas, and derm-prescribed treatments like Finacea (a foam that provides 15% of the stuff) can be expensive. This cream-gel contains 10% azelaic acid, the highest you'll find without an insurance copay, and packs in salicylic acid and soothing ingredients to create one of the most exciting products on the market for acne sufferers.
Paula's Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster$36.00 Buy
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