Behind The Internet's Obsession With The Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

Here’s what dermatologists think of the OG zit zapper.

Does the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion work? Here's why it's such a popular acne treatment..
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If you’ve ever applied a blob of Mario Badecscu Drying Lotion to your skin and prayed to the acne gods that it would shrink that pimple overnight, you’re in good company. This cult-favorite acne treatment has been around so long it became a hit well before social media — or even the internet — was a thing, and it’s been used by millions around the world ever since.

The best-selling Drying Lotion hasn’t changed much since it was first formulated in the 1960s by Mario Badescu, a chemist and pharmacist who landed in New York City by way of Vienna, Austria. In the decades since, his acne-fighting concoction has been featured in magazines and lauded by celebs like Bella Hadid and Jennifer Aniston as a go-to zit shrinker. Today, Gen Z is keeping the product’s fame alive: On TikTok, the hashtag #mariobadescudryinglotion has over 107 million views and countless videos of folks sharing success stories while zooming in on their noticeably clearer skin.

Beyond the Drying Lotion, Mario Badescu’s entire line of skin care essentials has a special appeal — largely because of their simplicity. As you browse the collection of colorful cleansing gels and face mists along with the minimally-packaged moisturizers, you’ll see that each bottle clearly states the key ingredients within the formulas. The brand did it before The Ordinary.

Inside the renowned bubblegum-pink Drying Lotion are just six ingredients: calamine, camphor, sulfur, zinc oxide, talc, and salicylic acid. And each one contributes to the product’s efficacy. “It has been so popular because it’s an effective option that delivers quick results, which can be very satisfying,” says Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist. Here’s everything to know about the near-magical potion and how it came to be the holy grail spot treatment.

What Is The Mario Badescu Drying Lotion?

The Drying Lotion is a topical treatment designed to, well, dry up breakouts and blemishes on the surface of your skin, Garshick says. But unlike most other acne treatments on the market, Mario Badescu’s is a bi-phase solution that comes in a glass bottle with its ingredients naturally separated. There’s water and alcohol on the top and zinc oxide and talc settled on the bottom. This separation is for a reason — so however tempting it may be, you’re not supposed to shake the bottle.

According to Dr. Leah Ansell, a board-certified dermatologist with Treiber Dermatology, the concoction works so well because it tackles acne in two ways. “It has active ingredients that target acne specifically — sulfur and salicylic acid — but also contains topicals that dry it out, such as isopropyl alcohol, zinc oxide, and talc,” she tells Bustle.

The result? A blend of research-backed active ingredients and drying agents that work together in two phases, Ansell says. “This combo is great because some of the ingredients can be quite irritating to the skin, so the combination helps to combat adverse side effects,” she explains.

While the drying agents are doing their thing, the acne-fighting salicylic acid and sulfur are busy getting to the source of the breakout. “They work together to reduce oil and unclog the pores,” Garshick says. To finish the job, the soothing ingredients, like camphor and calamine, help keep your skin calm. Done and done.

How To Use The Drying Lotion

The Drying Lotion is a good choice if you have whiteheads or other surface-level blemishes — not cystic acne or zits that haven’t fully formed yet. Ansell recommends applying the solution just to the pimple, not all over your face, since drying agents can cause irritation. “Using [this lotion] periodically is absolutely fine,” she says.

The best way to apply it is by dipping a cotton swab into the mix until it hits the pink sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Once there’s solution on the swab, gently tap it onto your breakout. According to the brand, you can think of the Drying Lotion as a “tiny pink mask” for your pimple. Wear it overnight and you should see a reduction in your breakouts by morning.

The Bottom Line

“There is a reason this product is so well-regarded,” says Garshick. “It can be a good option for a spot treatment that helps to quickly dry up a breakout.” It’s best to use in a pinch, like when a giant pimple pops up the day before a meeting or event.

For best results, of course, Garshick recommends establishing a skin care routine that’s designed to prevent new breakouts from forming in the first place. But the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion is here for those pesky pimples that sneak through — and it really works.

If you need to restock your stash or want to try the superstar acne treatment for the first time, shop the cult fave below.

Studies referenced:

Fox, L. (2016). Treatment Modalities for Acne. Molecules, 21(8).

Gupta, M. (2013). Zinc Therapy in Dermatology: A Review. Dermatology Research and Practice, 2014.

Meng, C. (2022). Effectiveness of calamine lotion as an adjunctive therapy to mometasone furoate ointment in the treatment of infant eczema: A retrospective study. Medicine, 101(35).

Yee, BE. (2020). Serum zinc levels and efficacy of zinc treatment in acne vulgaris: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Dermatol Ther. doi: 10.1111/dth.14252.


Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD, board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Leah Ansell, M.D., board-certified dermatologist with Treiber Dermatology