What are Acne Spot Treatments?

Updated January 01, 2014.

Question: What are Acne Spot Treatments?

What are acne spot treatments, and how do they work?


We’ve all had that particularly annoying pimple that we wish we could quickly zap away. Spot treatments are over-the-counter acne products that help you do just that.

Spot treatments differ from other acne treatments because they are meant to be used only on existing blemishes. The active ingredients in spot treatments most often include
benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and/or sulfur. Some spot treatments may include other ingredients like
tea tree oil or alpha hydroxy acids.

Since spot treatments aren’t meant to be applied over the entire face, they won’t help clear a case of acne. For that, you’d need a different acne treatment, either topical or oral. These medications, like BenzaClin, Differin, or Accutane help stop breakouts before they start. But spot treatments can help heal individual pimples quickler.

Spot treatments can be used alone, and are especially helpful for people who only succumb to the occasional pimple. You can also use spot treatments along with your regular acne medications, so long as your doctor gives you the go ahead. One notable exception: Don’t apply a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment over (or under) Retin-A (tretinoin). Tretinoin breaks down chemically when applied with benzoyl peroxide, so it won’t be as effective.

Some spot treatments are meant to be left on overnight; others dry clear so you can wear them out during the day. You can also find tinted spot treatments that help camouflage breakouts. Whichever you choose, remember to read and follow all usage directions.


Martin B, Meunier C, Montels D, Watts O. “Chemical stability of adapalene and tretinoin when combined with benzoyl peroxide in presence and in absence of visible light and ultraviolet radiation.” Br J Dermatol 1998; 139 Suppl 52:8-11.