Best Acne Spot Treatments: The Top 3 Scientific Methods.

by | Last updated Apr 18, 2020 | 8 comments

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If you’re anything like me than you’ve probably had marginal success with MANY spot treatments. I mentioned this elsewhere on this blog, but I’d wager that 90% of time I try spot treating a pimple it just doesn’t work. It simply decides to rear it’s annoying head rather than go away on its own. Sigh…

But good news! In the recent year I’ve actually found a pretty fool proof way of spot treating that works considerably well. And surprisingly, I’ve never seen this method mentioned anywhere, so hurray for me being the first to report on it! :p

Just in case you’re interesting in trying other methods, I’ll make sure to include some popular ones as well, so you have plenty of options. Anyhow… let’s cut the crap and get right into it, shall we?

1. 20% Salicylic Acid Spot Treatment.

Alrighty, for this first method you’re gonna need 3 things:

  • 20% Salicylic Acid Peel, preferably suspended in a gel because this makes it less irritating than liquid varieties. This is the one I use.
  • Moisturizer of your choice (I use CeraVe PM)

Optional but useful items:

The shining star here is the chemical peel strength salicylic acid.

For a quick refresher on what salicylic acid is — it’s an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant with bacteriostatic, keratolytic, comedolytic, and anti-inflammatory properties meaning it addresses all the major causes of acne. In other words, it stops bacteria from reproducing, decongest the gunk inside pores, sloughs off dead skin which could clog pores, and reduces the swelling that goes hand in hand with having a pimple.

The reason we’re using chemical strength salicylic acid to spot treat is twofold:

  1. It has a lower pH than standard salicylic acid products found in drugstores.
  2. It has a higher free acid value (FAV).

In other words, it’s a more powerful and concentrated solution, which makes it an ideal candidate for nipping a forming pimple in the ass.

Note the emphasis on “forming pimple.” This is important. You’ll want to spot treat as soon as you see it forming. If you do this, you can stop the sucker in its tracks. Catch it too late, and you run the risk of it turning in a full blown pimple, and having to wait for the stupid thing to come to a head.


No worries, we will also discuss how to treat the ones we caught too late as well.

Alright, so here what you’re gonna do:

  1. Catch the pimple forming (hopefully).
  2. Grab a timer, and have your 20% salicylic acid ready.
  3. Using the dropper dispenser, carefully apply a drop of salicylic acid onto your pimple. If the salicylic acid you’re using doesn’t come with a dropper, use a q-tip instead.
  4. Watch your timer closely. 
  5. Once 3-5 minutes are up, rinse throughly with water. Alternatively, you can use a baking soda mix to neutralize the acid. To do this, simply mix 1 part water with 4 parts baking soda. This isn’t entirely necessary because salicylic acid is considered a self-neutralizing acid. But just in case you want to be EXTRA safe, feel free to add this step. :p

And viola! That’s it. Your cute pimple has now met its fate, and will die a fast death. 😀

But we’re not done yet! There is still an entire aftercare process, which is just as important. Because doing this method is akin to doing a chemical peel at home, there are two things we need to keep in mind.

Firstly, you CANNOT do this more than once per week! Sorry. But trust me on this one, it’s for your safety! Let me repeat that again because it’s important — if you decide to do this method, you can only spot treat a given pimple with 20% Salicylic Acid once per week! Do I make myself clear, skin soldier? Cool.

Secondly, just like we would after doing a chemical peel, we need to replenish our skin! Chemical peels are no joke. They’re aggressive and potentially irritating, so it’s important to rehydrate our skin so it heals faster.

There are many ways of doing this, but at the bare minimum make sure to follow up with a high-quality moisturizer. I like to use CeraVe PM because it’s cheap and comes with skin-repairing ingredients like ceramides, and cholesterol — both of which are natural parts of the lipid layer. Not to mention its inclusion of niacinamide, a b3 vitamin that brightens skin tone and treats hyperpigmentation.

Other healing agents to look out for would be hyaluronic acid and snail mucin. These aren’t necessary, but will definitely help. I like to use Hada Labo’s Hyaluronic Acid Lotion and Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence.

And lastly, consider using occlusives! These seal the surface of skin and prevent water from evaporating which keep the skin insanely hydrated. The two most popular options are vaseline and aquaphor.

2. Hydrocolloid Bandages.

Often is the case that we unfortunately don’t catch a pimple when its forming. The dang thing just so happens to sneak right past us, until we walk past a mirror and think, “WHAT THE HELL??!? Where did that thing come from??!!” Haha… Oh, boy. I know that feeling of dread all too well.

So what do we do in this scenario? Warm compresses and hydrocolloid bandages!

The warm compress will either soften and emulsify the pimple, or make it come to a head faster. Hydrocolloids are used in the second scenario, should your pimple not emulsify and go away on its own. More about this in a bit. But let’s first talk about making a warm compress.

If you have no idea how to make one, here’s a quick summary using the method outlined by Skinacea:

1. Get a big clean sock. You’ll have to excuse the fact that my sock is not white. I only have black socks as these reflect the color of my soul. Just kidding….

2. Put 1/3 cup of dried rice in the black soul-less sock.


3. Tie a knock at the end of the sock so the rice doesn’t escape.


4. Microwave the sock for approximately 30 seconds.


5. Remove it from the microwave, and make sure the sock isn’t too hot. I like to test this by placing it on the sensitive part of my forearm or neck. If you can tolerate it those places, then you may proceed to place it on your bumpy red friend.

6. When you feel that the sock is no longer warm, reheat it as needed. This will usually take 15-20 seconds.

7. Rinse and repeat.

You may do this as many times as you like. Just make sure the sock isn’t hot! (That will only do more harm than good.) Aim for a nice warm sock. I like mine at cozy-blanket-just-removed-from-the-dryer temperature. 🙂

In the scenario that the warm compress didn’t outright kill the pimple, and instead made it come to a whitehead faster — use a hydrocolloid bandaid! I have written an extensive blog post about popping pimples and hydrocolloid bandanges, so make sure to check it out for very detailed steps. Not to mention a discussion about which hydrocolloid bandages are best. Here’s a quick summary in the meantime.

NOTE: this method can only be used on whiteheads! Don’t you dare try lancing a pimple otherwise.

Step #1: Cut your hydrocolloid bandaid to the approximate size of your pimple. I like to use duoderm. They’re medical grade, and used on surgical wounds. They may seem more expensive initially, but considering how many of them you actually get, it’s waaaay more cost-effective than other brands.


Step #2: Cleanse your skin.

Step #3: Lance the whitehead gently with a single-use diabetic lancet needle. These are the ones I use.


Step #4: Using your comedone extractors, gently press down against the pimple.

comedone extractor

Doing so should remove the “plug.” In other words, the clog that looks like a tiny grain of rice. If the “plug” doesn’t come out when you press against the whitehead, you dun goofed and the pimple wasn’t ready for extraction. Shake my head.

Just kidding! Sort of…

If this happens to you, just leave it alone! The last thing you wanna do is continually press against the pimple in hopes that you’ll get the clog out. Trust me on this one, doing so is a one way trip to acne scar boulevard. Put the comedone extractors down, and walk away from the mirror.

Step #5: Place your hydrocolloid bandaid over the freshly lanced and extracted whitehead.

Step #6: Leave it alone for a minimum of 8-10 hours. If done correctly, it should look something like this:

[Misc] Is there anything more satisfying than waking up to 4 full hydrocolloids? No.

Step #7: Remove the bandaid, show all your friends, and become instantly popular!

And viola! You’ve done it. Your pimple is now in acne heaven (or hell?), and you can go about your life knowing another one bit the dust. 😉

3. The ZIIT Method

A.k.a. zinc, ibuprofen, ice, and treat. A method popularized by Daniel Kern from This one’s pretty straightforward.

Step #1: take approximately 30 to 50 mg of zinc gluconate per day with food. This is the brand I used in the past.

Zinc helps wound healing and is anti-inflammatory. A couple studies have also shown that supplementing with it orally is beneficial for inflammatory acne. (1)

Step #2: pop some Ibuprofen, or an NSAID of your choice (for example, Aspirin or Advil). These help reduce swelling and any pain that might be associated with a pimple.

In my opinion this step isn’t entirely necessary, unless your wedding or some crazy major event is coming up. It’s important to remember that  NSAIDs are quick temporary fixes, and shouldn’t be taken daily as they can mess with gastrointestinal health in the longterm. Use your best judgment, and try to avoid this step if you can.

Step #3: ice your pimple until you develop frostbite. Just kidding! DON’T ACTUALLY DO THAT. O_o

Simply ice your pimple gently for approximately five minutes a couple times throughout the day. You can even do this every hour if you want.

To make it easier on yourself, put the ice inside a sandwich baggy. This will keep the melting ice from slobbering all over your face.

The reason we use ice is because it helps constrict blood vessels which slows down blood flow. This helps reduce inflammation by preventing fluid buildup and swelling.

Step #4: apply 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, let it dry, then dab on a little glycolic acid (AHA).

Benzoyl peroxide is probably the most effective topical acne medication available today, capable of killing up to 99% of acne-causing bacteria.


( 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide)

Glycolic acid (AHA) is a chemical exfoliant, that increases cell turnover, provides a little bit of hydration, and sloughs off dead skin from the epidermis. aha

( 10% Glycolic Acid)

Combined, both of these will target acne in different ways. Consider it the dynamic duo.

Alternatively, you may use BHA (salicylic acid) instead of glycolic acid. To be honest, it’s probably even more effective than AHA given that it doesn’t cause unnecessary irritation or dryness. The reason being, that salicylic acid is oil soluble unlike glycolic acid. This means it will penetrate more deeply into pores to decongest oil, dead skin, bacteria — all that lovely stuff.

Just make sure that if you decide to use salicylic acid instead of glycolic acid, that it’s a low strength product. 2% should work just fine. My favorite is the COSRX BHA.

And that does it for the best acne spot treatments! Hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post, and let me know how goes for you!

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