How to Layer Products in Your Skin-Care Routine Correctly

There is no such thing as a single “correct” skin-care routine, but there’s definitely an optimal way to apply your products. Whether you’re a minimalist who prefers sticking to a three-step routine or the type of person willing to undertake 11 steps daily in pursuit of glass skin, the way you layer your chosen products has a big impact on how well they work. The more product-intense you go, the more important this order becomes.

There’s a reason cleansing comes first, serum sits beneath moisturizer, and sunscreen goes on last. Understanding this order will ensure your favorite skin-care products work effectively—because no one wants to splurge on a luxury serum only to render it useless because of misapplication. If you’ve ever looked at a tube of retinol or a bottle of face oil and wondered exactly how (and when) to use it, wonder no more. Below, dermatologists and skin-care experts explain the most effective way to apply every single product in your routine.

The Best Order to Apply Skin-Care Products

The easiest way to break it down is to refer to the table above, which lays out the best order for your separate morning and night skin-care routines. “The principle behind ordering is to cleanse your skin, open your skin so products can soak in, add actives on, then seal with moisturizing products,” says Morgan Rabach, M.D., dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC. Below, the detailed breakdown of every single step in your daily skin care routine.

1. Makeup Remover/Cleansing Oil

Unless you went to bed with makeup on (please don’t), there’s no reason to do this step in the morning. But at night it makes your cleanser’s job a lot easier.

Removing all makeup from your skin should always be your first step at the end of the day,” says Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare. Look for formulas that are effective enough to melt away waterproof mascara, but still gentle on your face—like micellar water. You can also double-cleanse with an emulsifying oil, which gets rid of the need to buy cotton rounds.

2. Cleanser

Do this step: Morning and night.

Now that your makeup layer is gone, you can proceed with washing your face. “A cleanser gets rid of dead skin, pollutants, oils, dirt, and bacteria,” says Rabach. Both she and Ciraldo recommend also doing this step when you first wake up in the morning, in order to prep your skin to absorb the active ingredients in your other products.

The best cleanser for you will depend on your skin type. “It’s important to pay attention to what’s in your cleanser and what’s not in it,” says Ciraldo. She recommends avoiding sulfates, which can have a harsh, stripping effect on your face, and looking for actives that suit your needs. “For normal or dry skin, I favor a hydrating cleanser with peptides,” she says. “If you’re oily or acne-prone, use a mild exfoliating cleanser with salicylic acid, which dislodges the dead cells that can clog pores.

3. Eye Cream

Do this step: Morning and night.

The first product to go on your face? Eye cream. The reason is simple—because you’ll probably forget to do it otherwise. Ciraldo recommends patting eye cream on gently with your ring finger (this way you’ll tug less at the delicate skin there) all the way around your eyes, not just underneath them. If you’re worried about eye cream causing your concealer or eye makeup to smear, choose a more lightweight option, like a hydrating gel that sinks in quickly and stays put.

For the best results, look for ingredients like peptides—which help tighten your skin and depuff—as well as antioxidants. Rabach recommends formulas that contain hydrating hyaluronic acid, brightening caffeine, and ceramides (these lock in moisture and help strengthen your skin barrier).

4. Toner/Essence

Do this step: Morning and night.

Both toners and essences are meant to help further prime your skin to absorb active ingredients, but the one you choose will depend on your skin type. Old-school toners were meant to balance skin pH and counteract alkaline soaps, before soap-free cleansers became popular. Now toner usually refers to liquid formulations geared toward oily skin that’s in need of gentle exfoliation and resurfacing. Ciraldo says those with oily or acne-prone skin should look for toners with ingredients like glycolic or salicylic acid.

Essences, on the other hand, tend to be more hydrating. Rabach recommends looking for actives like hyaluronic acid, which will flood your skin with moisture that you can lock in during subsequent steps. To apply, soak a cotton pad in liquid and gently pat it over your face. Alternatively, you can use your hands to do the same thing.

5. Serum

Do this step: Morning and night.

This is the step where you’ll deliver the bulk of active ingredients to your toner/essence-primed face, and it’s important to do it early on in your routine. “Serums are formulated with smaller molecular-weight actives so they penetrate into deeper skin layers,” says Ciraldo. “If you apply your serum after a thicker formulation, the active ingredients may not penetrate as well.

While you should apply serum twice a day, you shouldn’t be using the same formulation. “Serum actives differ for day and night,” says Rabach. During the day, she likes to choose serums with antioxidants that protect skin from daytime stressors like free radicals (caused by UV rays), pollutants, and blue light. The most popular ingredient for this is vitamin C, which you will have no problem finding in serum form. (Just make sure to choose one that’s properly stabilized for maximum effect.) At night, opt for a serum with peptides and growth factors to repair skin.

For both daytime and nighttime serums, Rabach also has a general list of ingredients she likes to look for across both formulations: Niacinamide to reduce redness, hyaluronic acid to pull moisture into your skin, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs), which help boost collagen and even out skin pigmentation. Ciraldo further splits up her preferred serum ingredients by skin type. “For acne-prone skin, look for stem cells, retinol, and green tea,” she says. “For dehydrated skin, look for lipids, hyaluronic acid, and peptides. And for hyperpigmented skin, look for vitamin C.”

6. Retinol

Do this step: At night only.

Retinol truly deserves its own essay, but the short version is this: The vitamin A derivative boosts collagen production and increases the rate of cellular turnover. “Retinol reduces fine lines, reduces pore size, increases collagen and elastin production, takes off dead skin, reduces oil production, unclogs pores, and evens out skin tone,” says Rabach. Whether you want to clear breakouts or fade fine lines—or basically do anything to your face—retinol is your friend.

On the flip side, this is a strong ingredient, and beginners should proceed with caution when adding to their routines. Potential side effects can include flaking, dryness, retinol burn, and increased sensitivity to the sun, which is why you should stick to applying it at night. Dermatologists often recommend easing into daily application slowly. “Start three times a week for the first week or two,” says Ciraldo. From there, you can gradually increase the frequency of application.

Most will apply their retinol layer after their serums and before moisturizer, but there is one exception. If your skin has trouble tolerating retinol and you want to minimize its side effects, you can buffer it instead. Retinol buffering refers to a technique whereby you mix your retinol with your moisturizer and apply it as a single step. This helps you still get the benefits, but decreases the potential for irritation. To take it a step further, you can also apply retinol over your moisturizer. Experiment with this step, and see where it fits best in your routine.

7. Moisturizer

Do this step: Morning and night.

Moisturizers are there to simultaneously hydrate and seal in hydration, which is why these formulas tend to be heavier than the layers that go underneath. “You should use moisturizers with humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which pull in water,” says Rabach. “I also recommend looking for ceramides, which seal the outer layers of skin.”

Ciraldo says that many of her patients prefer to use separate formulas for their morning and nighttime routines. This has more to do with how moisturizers feel than anything else. You can use a lightweight formula in the morning that blends better with your makeup and reserve a heavier cream for evening. Ciraldo’s additional tip is to double up on your serum and moisturizer actives. For example, if you use a vitamin C serum in the morning, you can layer a vitamin C moisturizer right on top to boost the benefits.

8. Spot Treatment

Do this step: Morning and night.

You need to use spot treatments on active breakouts only, but if you’re experiencing acne, you can apply a leave-on spot treatment both morning and night to speed up its healing cycle. According to Ciraldo, you should spot-treat after you’ve applied your moisturizer, not before. This helps make sure the product stays on top of the pimple, and doesn’t go on the rest of your face. “If you’re using a strong acid and then smear moisturizer all over your face, you run the risk of the product getting on more sensitive areas,” she says. You’ll also dilute its effectiveness. Wait for your a.m./p.m. moisturizer to sink in, then carefully pat over the affected areas.

The two most common over-the-counter ingredients for spot treatments are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Rabach differentiates them like this: Benzoyl peroxide helps kill acne-causing bacteria, while salicylic acid gently exfoliates and dries out your oil glands.

9. Face Oil

Do this step: Morning and night.

If there’s one step in your daily skin-care routine that surprisingly divides experts, it’s face oil. The most common recommendation is to apply it last at night and second-to-last before sunscreen in the morning. That’s because oils are occlusive, says Mona Gohara, M.D., dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine. Meaning, they help trap moisture in your skin. This is why Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and founder of Renée Rouleau Skin Care, says you should think of face oils as a topcoat. “Oils provide a protective barrier to help prevent moisture from evaporating,” she says. “Anything applied over it may not be offering as much benefit to your skin because it can’t get through.”

However, some derms advise their patients to take this step earlier in their routines (usually before moisturizer), depending on the formulation of the oil they’re using. “Some oils are designed with ingredients that hydrate, others to brighten or even to strengthen your skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Ciraldo also says it’s okay to mix oils with your moisturizer if you prefer.

Whichever way you land, the important thing is that you don’t overdo it—with face oils, a little goes a long way. To apply, warm about two to three drops of oil in your palms and pat lightly over your face.

10. Sunscreen

Do this step: In the morning only.

What derms unanimously agree on is that you should wear sunscreen every single day to prevent UV damage—whether or not you go outside. Sunscreen needs to go over face oil in order to be most effective. “You do not want anything to stop the sunscreen from working, or making it less effective,” says Gohara. “Putting an oil on top of your sunscreen can decrease it’s efficacy.”

There are two types of sunscreens to choose from for your final step: physical and chemical. Physical blockers contain minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and work by reflecting light away from your skin. Chemical blockers, on the other hand, work by absorbing light and converting it into heat, preventing it from penetrating into your skin. Rouleau says that mineral formulas are often better for sensitive skin, while chemical formulations tend to be thinner and spread more easily.

Chemical formulas also come with the benefit of not leaving a white cast on darker skin tones. While mineral sunscreens traditionally cast an ashy tone, Zeichner points out that brands have begun formulating better physical sunscreens to counteract that. “The newest formulation technology has brought us micronized sunscreens that rub in to your skin much better than ever before,” he says. “So using a zinc-based sunscreen no longer necessarily means your face will have that white cast. No matter what your personal preference is, there are sunscreens for every need.”

GLAMOUR

The 15 Best Pimple Patches That Help Clear Acne Overnight

What’s better than a little sticker that helps heal your zit while you sleep? (Nothing, that’s what.)

Now that everyone and their grandmother is obsessed with sheet masks, another K-beauty innovation is popping up everywhere: acne patches. Instead of popping and picking your blemishes, slap a pimple patch on top of it.

Unlike some spot treatments, the sticker won’t leave your skin dry and flaky. Most are small, circular hydrocolloid bandages, meaning they absorb fluid from the pimple, explains Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. You’ll know it’s working because you can see the process happening: The clear patch turns white and expands, and the skin (where your zit once was) flattens out and becomes redness-free. After a couple of hours (or a good night’s sleep), peel it off to see your results.

Acne stickers also have the added benefit of blocking you from aggravating skin by picking at pimples, says Elizabeth Tanzi, the founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and associate clinical professor in the department of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center. This is key as “picking a pimple increases the inflammation and can slow the healing process down,” Tanzi adds. The chances of scarring and getting an infection rise, too. With all this in mind, I rounded up some of my favorite tried-and-true acne patches.

ZitSticka Killa Pimple Patch

New to the states, Australian-based skin-care brand ZitSticka’s first product is a pimple patch covered with dissolving microneedles filled with blemish-busting ingredients, like salicylic acid, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid.

To use, first wipe the inflamed area with the accompanying cleansing cloth to clean it, then gently place the patch on your skin. Leave it on for at least two hours (or overnight) to bring down blemish swelling, redness, and size. Need proof? One commerce editor Lauren Swanson swears by them: “The cleansing swabs helped get rid of whiteheads for me almost immediately,” she says. “With the one-two punch of the patch, my enormous zits were gone in just one day.”

$29 (Shop Now)

Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch

This K-beauty favorite has become one of the most popular acne patch picks, and its acclaim is rightly deserved. The hydrocolloid circles cling to skin no matter where you end up wearing them. Despite their staying power, they’re still easy and pain-free to peel off. They also come in three different sizes depending on what kind of coverage you need.

$5 (Shop Now)

Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots

Although most acne patches themselves provide the mechanism that helps draw out the icky stuff in zits, some — like Peter Thomas Roth’s Acne-Clear Invisible Dots — are also infused with additional blemish-busting ingredients. In these, you’ll find salicylic acid and tea tree oil, both of which are known to help clear acne, so you’re getting multiple layers of benefits.

$32 (Shop Now)

Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots

Because the Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots aren’t made with hydrocolloid technology, they won’t puff up or change colors. Instead, the paper-thin, transparent stickers adhere to skin with gel that’s infused with blemish-banishing tea tree oil and salicylic acid. They’re like a spot treatment that won’t rub away onto your pillow as you toss and turn at night.

$20 (Shop Now)

Squish Flower Power Acne Patches

Some of us want pimple patches that are indetectable; some of us want pimple patches that are adorably obvious. These are the latter. And not only are they super-cute, they’re also ideal for sensitive skin because, under their flowery facade, they provide a non-irritating way to help clear up the zits that you may not find quite as cute.

$14 (Shop Now)

C&C by Clean & Clear Over Zit Spot Patches

It’s a little tongue-in-cheek to camouflage your zit with a literal camouflage pattern. Should you want to save the colorful patches for private time, the package includes invisible patches as well. That way, you can wear these gunk-sucking hydrocolloid wonders any time you’d like.

$16 (Shop Now)

Truly CBD Acne Patches

Salicylic acid isn’t the only ingredient you might find in acne patches. It’s in these Truly patches, yes, but so is hemp seed oil. So while the patch helps draw out fluid and the salicylic acid helps exfoliate away the blemish, the cannabis helps fight the inflammation that’s making your zit redder and angrier.

$13 (Shop Now)

Dr. Jart+ Focuspot Blemish Micro Tip Patch

These are truly some of the most advanced, ambitious acne patches on the market. More than just a little zit cover, the Focuspot Blemish Micro Tip Patch is made with 65-percent hyaluronic acid “micro tips” that are infused with vitamin B3 and peptides to not only speed up the acne cycle but also help prevent scarring.

$18 (Shop Now)

Nexcare Acne Absorbing Covers

My intro into acne patches came in the form of the Nexcare Acne Absorbing Covers. Because they are made by a bandage brand, they’re as heavy duty and clinical as they come. If you want to cover a lot of surface area, this pack comes with the biggest circular stickers I’ve ever used.

$4 (Shop Now)

Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots

Popular K-beauty retailer Peach & Lily has its very own acne patch product, called Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots. I believe they provide the fastest results by helping to flatten even the most bulbous of spots. The dots are also on thinner side for a hydrocolloid bandage, so you can wear them all day undetected. You can choose from a trio of sizes, including one of the smallest selections on this list.

$4 (Shop Now)

Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch

If size doesn’t matter to you — for acne stickers, that is — the Mighty Patch effectively keeps you from picking at your face and helps absorb oils and pus with 36 stickers that are all the same circumference. They have a matte finish, too, so they look less obvious if you wear them with matte foundation.

$12 (Shop Now)

Peace Out Acne Healing Dots

Unlike the rest of the hydrocolloid bandages on this list, the Peace Out Acne Healing Dots are flecked with salicylic acid, for a one-two punch. While they treat skin with the classic acne-fighting ingredient, they also protect the blemish from bacteria and irritation.

$19 (Shop Now)

Alba Botanica Acnedote Pimple Patches

These little patches powerfully draw out fluids and oils from stubborn zits, not only helping to expedite the healing process by keeping skin moist but by also keeping out bacteria — including the kind on your fingers from when you’re tempted to pick. 

$8 (Shop Now)

Cosrx Clear Fit Master Patch

Fans of the classic Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patches will love the Cosrx Clear Fit Master Patch as an alternative. The South Korean brand created a slimmer, clearer option for wear during daylight hours. They are also easy to cover up with makeup, if needed.

$6 (Shop Now)

Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Surface

Sometimes, a patch just doesn’t quite cut it. That’s why Hero Cosmetics crafted a larger version of its hydrocolloid-based Mighty Patch. Dubbed the Surface strip, this new treatment covers entire sections of your face (i.e. cheek, forehead, chin, etc.) to speed up the lifespan of your breakout(s).

$18 (Shop Now)

ALLURE article

The Exact Order You Should Apply Your Skincare Products — Morning and Night

Morning Skincare Routine

The main focus of your morning routine should be hydration, plus setting the stage for the day with protection against whatever elements your skin is going to come into contact with.

Although most of the world is still abiding by shelter-in-place or social distance mandates, our day-to-day routines right now still impact our skin, from wearing a face mask regularly to the endless Zoom work calls you’re doing all day long. And if you’re anything like me, not adhering to proper posture and resting your chin on your hands instead.

“You may believe that most of the skin damage you get is caused by sun exposure and outdoor pollution, but the World Health Organization has now determined that indoor pollution is worse than outdoor pollution,” says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare. “Consider what you’re doing during the day and what elements you may be facing when you’re applying your skincare products in the morning.”

Step 1: Cleanser

Using a gentle cleanser in the morning is important for any skin type, concern, etc.

“Cleansers for sensitive skin in particular should have a creamy or milky formulation,” says Dr. Jennifer MacGregor, dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, who also notes that any topical treatments can have a bit of a drying effect at first. “I love Cetaphil milky cleanser because it gently cleanses without drying or stripping your skin’s moisture barrier.”

Step 2: Any topical treatment

“Differin is the only topical that can be applied day or night,” says MacGregor, but it should always be applied to skin directly after cleansing and patting — never rubbing — skin dry.

“Use only a pea-sized amount of Differin gel around your entire face,” recommends MacGregor. Then gently massage until the gel is absorbed.

Step 3: Serum

A hydrating serum is a great option for morning to ensure the skin is moisturized. MacGregor’s favorite, Alto Defense Serum by Skin Better, offers a generous mix of antioxidants, fatty acids, and ceramides. These powerhouse ingredients build a saran wrap-like cover over the skin, which protect from dryness and free radicals, plus it soothes inflammation and the appearance of skin redness. Remember: Hydrated skin is happy skin.

Step 4: Eye Gel

An eye gel can de-puff smooth out the under-eye area, which will make makeup application easier. Tap Biossance Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel around the upper and lower eye area with your fingertip to calm and hydrate skin.

Step 5: Moisturizer

Once your serum and eye gel are fully absorbed, follow up with a lightweight, but seriously hydrating moisturizer to further prime and prep your skin for the day ahead.

When it comes to the best ingredients in a moisturizer to satisfy thirsty skin, “look for barrier repair ingredients, like fatty acids and squalane,” recommends Alexiades, as a healthy skin barrier is essential to smooth, hydrated skin. Omega-3 and omega-6 are the most popular fatty acids. Although common plant, nut and seed oils, like sunflower, safflower, flaxseed, and rose-hip seed, also have high concentrations of omega acids, so keep an eye out for those ingredients, too.

But before you settle on a morning moisturizer, evaluate whether stress is also affecting your skin’s oil production, causing your face to look extra shiny by lunchtime.

“If moisturizers with those ingredients are too creamy and your skin is oily, consider Theraplex HydroLotion or CeraVe moisturizing cream,” says MacGregor, adding that these formulations were specifically designed for sensitive skin.

Step 6: SPF

“You should finish off with SPF,” says Dr. Ellen Marmur, dermatologist and founder of Marmur Metamorphosis Skincare. “No matter the time of the year, this ingredient should always be a factor in your routine in order to fully protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays.”

Active topicals (like Differin) that work to increase cell turnover tend to also increase photosensitivity, says Alexiades, making daily sunscreen applications an absolute must.

Marmur suggests using a mineral sunscreen with zinc or titanium dioxide, which sits on top of skin instead of getting absorbed. EltaMD’s UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is a sunscreen beloved by beauty editors and dermatologists alike.

Nighttime Skincare Routine

At night, Dr. Marmur says that your primary concern should be repairing and rejuvenating your skin.

“Your skin needs to be nourished morning and night,” adds Dr. Ciraldo. “But nighttime is when you should address your personal skin issues.”

Plus, let’s be realistic: Who has time to do a face mask when they’re getting ready in the morning?

Step 1: Cleanser

You’ve probably heard how important it is not to sleep with your makeup on, so unsurprisingly, cleansing your face should be the first step in your nighttime routine, but which cleanser you reach for depends on your skin type.

“People with normal to dry skin should choose a hydrating cleanser,” says Alexiades. “If you strip the skin with an alpha hydroxy acid cleanser, it may be too dry and the Differin gel will further peel the skin and result in itchiness and flaking.”

If you have oily skin, “a sulfur or acid cleanser may be okay to prep the skin before your topicals,” she explains, while noting that with serious breakouts, a medicated cleanser may be prescribed and should only be used at night.

Step 2: Any topical treatment

Just like in the morning, “a pea-sized amount of (in this case) Differin should be first on cleansed skin and then layer creamier formulations on top,” says MacGregor. Be sure to apply Differin all over your face rather than as a spot-treatment to defend against future breakouts.

Step 3: Serum

When treating acne with a topical product, there is truth to the “too much of a good thing” saying. Dr. Alexiades says to definitely avoid using retinol, Retin A, or other retinoids, and think twice before adding chemical exfoliants or peel pads to the mix. “If you use a benzoyl peroxide or acid, beware that your skin may get too raw, dry and inflamed,” she warns.

An ultra-nourishing and replenishing serum is your best — and safest — move for a bedtime serum after a topical. Go with a formula that has soothing, hydrating ingredients to bind moisture to skin without clogging pores, like SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel.

Step 4: Eye Serum

“Always use an eye repair serum, since this is one of the more sensitive parts of the face and ages faster than other areas,” says Dr. Marmur. “People may habitually itch and rub their eyes during the day due to dryness or just pure stress.” Elemis’ Absolute Eye Serum is designed to reduce dark circles and puffiness while keeping the entire area soft and smooth.

Step 5: Moisturizer

Nighttime is when you can use a moisturizer that’s richer than what you would typically use in the morning. “This will keep your skin hydrated throughout the nighttime and ready for the morning,” explains Dr. Marmur. “Look for a moisturizer that’s oil-free in order to not add to the amount of natural oil your body produces when you’re sleeping.”

INSTYLE article

The Best Acne Spot Treatments, According to Dermatologists

Bad breakout? Dermatologists swear by these powerful spot treatments to shrink a blemish, fast.

Sudden breakouts are incredibly frustrating. And even if you eat a healthy diet, wear makeup that won’t clog your pores, change your pillowcase regularly, and use acne-fighting skincare products (such as cleansers that contain ingredients like salicylic acid), you can still wake up to the unpleasant discovery that a pimple has pushed its way to the surface of your skin.

The good news: Topical spot treatments can quickly and effectively aid in the skin’s healing process, shrinking existing pimples and preventing acne scars from forming. But with so many products on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which zit-zapping formulas are the most effective, so here, 6 powerful acne spot treatments that dermatologists swear by.

Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne Eliminating Spot Gel

New York City-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules ($15; amazon.com) Debra Jaliman, MD, recommends this drugstore find to help unclog pores and prevent future breakouts. Because it contains glycerin, it also helps with dryness.

Buy at Walgreens $10

Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel

San Francisco-based dermatologist William Kwan, MD, swears by this treatment—and its powerful ingredients. “It has a combination of glycolic acid (AHA) and salicylic acid (BHA),” he explains. “These are helpful to exfoliate the comedone and heal the acne.” Dr. Kwan also likes that this gel contains licorice extract, which helps lighten dark spots left behind by past blemishes.

Buy at Sephora $70

Differin .1% Acne Gel

Differin has become a fan favorite since it was approved by the FDA for over-the-counter purchase last year.One such fan: Bruce Katz, MD, a New York-area dermatologist. “It is prescription strength without a prescription, and works to unblock pores and treat acne better than any other OTC product,” he says.

Buy on iHerb $23

ProactivMD Adapalene Gel 0.1%

S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, founder of the Miami Skin Institute, recommends this gel for fast-acting results. “It’s ideal for comedonal acne, which manifests as stubborn blackheads and whiteheads,” Dr. Jegasothy explains.

Buy on their website $18

Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment

“It provides the right balance of benzoyl peroxide, a favorite acne treatment ingredient among dermatologists, in a base that won’t irritate the skin—or the wallet,” saysMary Gail Mercurio, MD, professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Buy at Walgreens $9

Oxy Vanishing Spot Treatment Acne Medication

Jeanine Downie, MD, a dermatologist from Montclair, New Jersey, describes this spot treatment as being consistently effective and readily available. “It has 10% benzoyl peroxide, and most people can tolerate it well,” she says. To shrink a breakout, she recommends applying it up to twice a day for three to four days.

Buy at Walmart $7

HEALTH article