Whether you’re dealing with regular breakouts or the occasional
period pimple, finding the right products to address your acne-prone skin can feel like a full-time job — only one that actually takes your money. Still, those with breakouts are often on the hunt for remedies. Bad skin days can be tough: Having acne can chip away at self-confidence, and even lead to serious mental health concerns like isolation, anxiety, and depression. Though it may sometimes feel like it, the pursuit of blemish-free skin doesn’t need to be futile or outrageously expensive. To prove it, Bustle polled a handful of dermatologists for their picks of the best acne treatments under $20.
Ahead, discover washes, serums, scrubs, and
spot treatments that are proven to address everything from active facial lesions to dark spots and back acne. The trick as you peruse the shelves? According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., it’s all about reaching for products with actives that “have been proven to work.” So keep an eye out for acne-fighting ingredients like adapalene, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur, to name a few star examples. To help combat any irritation from these potentially harsh actives, dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D. recommends looking for formulas that also contain calming ingredients that support the skin barrier.
To help you shop, scroll on for 15 acne products under $20 that dermatologists swear by for their patients.
We at Bustle only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. The Experts Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist specializing in general medical dermatology, surgical dermatology, cosmetics, and pediatric dermatology. Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Dr. Heather Woolery-LLoyd, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and a member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Dr. Mona Gohara, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist who serves as vice president of the Women’s Dermatologic Society. Dr. Papri Sarkar. M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery and American Academy of Dermatology. Dr. Chris Tomassian, M.D., dermatologist at North Pacific Dermatology. The Fan-Fave Topical Retinoid
If you’ve struggled with acne, then you’re probably familiar with this adapalene gel. It’s an over-the-counter, super effective topical retinoid, which board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D. says is the foundation for treating and preventing acne and helping with acne scars. “This is more gentle for beginners, and, best of all, you don’t need a prescription,” Liu says.
Dr. Heather Woolery-LLoyd, M.D. says Differin is well-tolerated by most patients. For best results, use it at night and follow it up with your favorite moisturizer. Active Ingredients: adapalene The Salicylic Acid Cleanser
Woolery-Lloyd says this 2% salicylic acid-based face wash used to be a go-to prescription, but is (thankfully) now available OTC. The Miami-based derm says it’s perfect for people with sensitive skin who may not tolerate benzoyl peroxide well. It also boasts lipo-hydroxy acid (an exfoliating derivative of salicylic acid) and
glycerin, a popular humectant that draws in moisture and can offset any dryness that comes from the chemical exfoliant. Active Ingredients: 2% salicylic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid, glycerin The Benzoyl Peroxide Wash
Zubritsky says this 4% benzoyl peroxide is one of her favorite breakout remedies. “Benzoyl peroxide helps to decrease inflammation and eliminate acne-causing bacteria,” she explains. The ingredient can be drying and hard to tolerate, Liu adds, but this gentle cleanser also boasts
ceramides and hyaluronic acid — a hydrating humectant — to help keep things calm. Active Ingredients: 4% benzoyl peroxide, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide The Hydrocolloid Patches
For a spot treatment, board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Mona Gohara, M.D. says hydrocolloid dressings like these are an effective choice. Essentially, they work to suck moisture out of your breakout. As an added bonus, they keep you from picking and popping your zits. Stick one on a pimple overnight, and it’ll absorb gunk to reveal clearer-looking skin. Active Ingredients: medical-grade hydrocolloid The Salicylic Acid-Spiked Moisturizer
You’ll notice that many derm-recommended acne treatments rely on
salicylic acid — that’s because the beta hydroxy acid helps with pore congestion, blackheads, whiteheads, and even post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (i.e. dark spots), explains Liu. This lightweight, calming moisturizer also contains niacinamide (a skin-soother) and tranexamic acid, which also help with post-acne scarring. Active Ingredients: 1% salicylic acid, niacinamide, glycerin, tranexamic acid, allantoin, sunflower seed oil The AHA/BHA Peel Pads
Dr. Papri Sarkar. M.D. points to these pads as an easy and effective treatment for acne, dark spots, and blackheads. They feature both alpha and beta hydroxy acids for exfoliation as well as antioxidants for brightening. A tip courtesy of Sarkar: “Just make sure not to overdo it as using too frequently can lead to irritation, dryness, or a compromised skin barrier.” Active Ingredients: glycolic acid, witch hazel, salicylic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid, camellia leaf extract, ascorbic acid, retinol, glycerin The Body Scrub
Acne doesn’t just show up on your face (sad). If you’re dealing with back, butt, shoulder acne — or breakouts anywhere else on your body — consider this all-over scrub. It features an AHA/BHA complex of
glycolic acid and salicylic acid to unjam pores, exfoliate, and treat post-acne marks and discoloration. Active Ingredients: glycolic acid, salicylic acid, vitamin E The Retinol Serum
Whether you’re dealing with cystic acne, hormonal pimples, or more moderate breakouts, Bhanusali calls
retinol a star player in any strong acne-fighting game. The ingredient speeds up cell turnover, which helps keep pores clear, and also addresses hyperpigmentation for a more even complexion. This retinol serum balances the potent ingredient with hydrating hyaluronic acid — and only costs $13. Active Ingredients: retinol, hyaluronic acid, witch hazel, aloe The Oil-Free SPF
Everyone needs to be
wearing sunscreen on the daily — breakout-prone skin types included. But you’ll never fear pore-clogging sunscreen again when you discover this lightweight SPF that’s oil-free and non-comedogenic (which means its molecules are too big to clog your pores). Plus it contains hyaluronic acid and glycerin for added skin barrier-protecting hydration. Active Ingredients: avobenzone (2.7%), homosalate (9%), octisalate (5%), octocrylene (9%), oxybenzone (4.5%), glycerin, hyaluronic acid The Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment
To zap your breakouts away, try this benzoyl peroxide-based skin-clearing treatment. Just remember that benzoyl peroxide can be irritating as a leave-on treatment, notes Liu, but this one has a lower concentration of 2.5% (Liu recommends 2.5%-5%). It’s a lightweight formula that can help fight zits while preventing future breakouts. Simply apply after cleansing to treat inflamed skin.
Active Ingredients: benzoyl peroxide, allantoin, bisabolol The Dark Spot Corrector This brightening serum is a true multitasker that’s become a cult favorite among beauty aficionados. It uses a blend of tranexamic, niacinamide, and azelaic acid to help reduce the appearance of active blemishes, fight against free radical damage, fade dark spots, and even skin tone and texture, all in one tube. Active Ingredients: tranexamic acid, niacinamide, azelaic acid, glycerin, jojoba seed oil, squalane The Patient-Fave Benzoyl Peroxide Wash
You may recognize this baby from your teen years. Woolery-Lloyd calls the creamy acne cleanser a favorite among her patients. “It’s an extremely effective acne wash for resistant acne,” she says. That’s because it features a potent 4% benzoyl peroxide along with a slew of humectants and emollients to hydrate while eliminating bacteria and controlling oil on both your face and body.
Active Ingredients: 4% benzoyl peroxide, glycerin, propanediol The Charcoal Mask
Clean deep into your pores and remove problem-causing impurities, dirt, and grime with these
charcoal-based peel-off masks. Charcoal, BTW, is a natural ingredient that has the power to expunge acne-causing gunk from the skin’s surface. To balance dryness, these masks also contain honey — a popular humectant that helps pull moisture from the air and into your skin. Active Ingredients: glycerin, honey extract, willow bark extract, clary extract The Exfoliating Mask
If you’re into
physical exfoliants, try this highly-rated scrub. It works to improve the appearance of pores, gently buff away blackheads, reduce blemishes, and fade acne scars with its zit-busting formula that replicates microdermabrasion in scrub form. Aside from tiny pumice granules for exfoliation, it also features sugar cane, apple, lemon, and green tea extracts to gently brighten and clear the skin. Active Ingredients: pumice granules, sugar cane extract, lemon fruit extract, apple fruit extract, green tea leaf extract, glycerin The Azelaic Acid Topical
For an ingredient that fights acne and rosacea that’s also safe to use while pregnant, look to
azelaic acid, says dermatologist Dr. Chris Tomassian, M.D. “It’s antibacterial and also helps fade hyperpigmentation left by acne,” he says of the powerhouse ingredient. This lightweight serum also contains niacinamide and vitamin C for added brightening. Active Ingredients: 10% azelaic acid, niacinamide, ascorbic acid, coffee seed extract, sodium hyaluronate
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