How to Apply a Spot Treatment Correctly, According to a Dermatologist

October 12, 2022
Sarah Ferguson
By: Sarah Ferguson | by L'Oréal
Photo of a person’s face as they apply a spot treatment.

Mastering what order to apply your skincare products in 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 yet again. Should you apply the spot treatment as the last step in your routine or the first for maximum 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 expert. 

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 it 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 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 a spot treatment, like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment, and you’re good to go.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment.

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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