How to Apply a Spot Treatment Correctly, According to a DermatologistJune 01, 2023
Mastering what order to apply your skincare products can be tricky. And even after you’ve solidified a routine of everyday products like cleanser, toner, serum and moisturizer, adding an acne spot treatment into the mix can cause confusion all over again. Should you apply the spot treatment as the last step in your routine or the first for the best results? Should you apply moisturizer on top of a spot treatment or around it? To answer all of these questions and more, we consulted with Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com consultant.
When in Your Skincare Routine Should You Apply Spot Treatments?
The general rule of thumb is to apply spot treatments at night after cleansing and toning, but before applying serums and creams. “The active ingredients in the spot treatment will generally be most effective when applied to clean skin,” says Dr. King. If you apply a spot treatment on top of a thicker serum, cream or face oil, “it may get diluted or may not penetrate as well,” she adds.
The exception is if the spot treatment you’re using is irritating or drying. In this case, she says you can apply a thin layer of moisturizer before your spot treatment to help minimize adverse effects.
It’s also important to note that applying a product with chemical exfoliants before or after a spot treatment can cause irritation, so it’s best to either skip the product when using a spot treatment, or to avoid the affected area.
After applying your spot treatment, Dr. King recommends waiting one to two minutes for it to dry before moving on to the next product in your routine. If possible, avoid applying any other product directly on top of it to prevent it from getting diluted or moving around your face.
When in doubt, here’s one trick Skincare.com editors swear by: Apply your full routine, moisturizer and all. Then, gently wipe a clean, damp cotton swab over any area you’d like to apply a spot treatment to. Once the affected area is dry, apply your spot treatment and you’re good to go.
Our Favorite Favorite Spot Treatments for Breakouts
Formulated with acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, this exfoliating spot treatment helps reduce the number and severity of blemishes including pimples, blackheads and whiteheads. The fast-absorbing, non-drying formula can be applied as a spot treatment or in a thin layer all over your face.
For a skincare product that can be used at every stage of the acne lifecycle, opt for the IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Breakout Salicylic Acid Acne Serum. Not only does it clear up existing breakouts, but it also works to fade post-acne marks at the same time. Unlike a traditional spot treatment, this product is designed to be applied over the entire face.
Clear up active breakouts and prevent new ones from forming with the CeraVe Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Control Gel. Mild exfoliating BHAs and AHAs are balanced by ceramides and niacinamide to soothe and hydrate the skin.
This sulfur- and glycolic-acid-infused spot treatment dries up acne blemishes to make them appear smaller and less severe. It also contains calming niacinamide and is suitable for sensitive skin.
We’re obsessed with these adorable, selfie-ready pimple patches. They’re salicylic-acid-infused star-shaped stickers that you pop on your blemishes to shrink them overnight. We’re also totally in favor of rocking these cuties out of the house during the day if you’re into that.