Breakout stars: We tested the best face-saving spot treatments

A carefully constructed skincare routine can tackle your skin’s occasional mutinous flare-ups

‘Hormonal mounds on my chin and jawline gather like limpets on the hull of a ship, and throb at me.’ Photograph: iStock
Cerave SA Smoothing Cleanser (€12.50)

In the deep, dead hours of an unnamed night last week, my skin held a secret meeting, to which I wasn’t invited, and voted unanimously to screw me over. Through an unnamed connection, I managed to obtain the minutes of the meeting. “She’s pretty stressed at the moment,” my skin said, to universal agreement. “There’s a lot going on. I suggest we help express that tension by generating a series of furious breakouts at the summit.” My skin has made good on its promise, and here I am again, trying to take a fire extinguisher (not literally) to the weltering clutch of sore, hormonal mounds on my chin and jawline. They gather there like limpets on the hull of a ship, and throb at me.

We’ve all been there. If your breakouts are recurring and cause scarring, then a GP visit is in order, but if they’re just occasional mutinous uprisings, with the right tools you can confiscate their pitchforks and beat them back to their hamlets. Breakout-prone skin needs a carefully constructed and simple skincare routine, but for emergencies, a decent spot treatment can be a comfort as well as a lifesaver.

Dr Jart+ CTRL-A Teatreement Soothing Spot (€20 at Boots)

Salicylic acid is the best decongesting ingredient we have. Before applying any spot treatment, skin needs to be clean. Cerave SA Smoothing Cleanser (€12.50 at pharmacies nationwide) is affordable and really effective for blemish-prone skin. I’ll often leave it to work on a broken-out area for an extra minute as a little treatment before rinsing it off.

Dr Jart+ CTRL-A Teatreement Soothing Spot (€20 at Boots) is very satisfying to use. It comes in a biphase formula, with the good stuff sitting at the bottom of the jar, so resist the temptation to shake it. Dip a clean cotton bud into the chalky pink deposit at the bottom, and apply to particularly frustrating blemishes at bedtime. It soothes and treats the area, helping to calm things by morning. It may take a couple of nights, but it does significantly help to settle hot, sore breakouts. Just don’t use it if the skin is broken or raw.

Verso Blemish Fix with Retinol 8 (€79 at

If pigmentation marks left behind by angry blemishes are a concern, as they generally are for people with semi-regular skin flare-ups, try Avene Cleanance Localised Drying Emulsion (€13.50 at pharmacies nationwide). It also soothes current breakouts but helps to minimise and tackle pigmentation marks without drying out your skin (despite the name). Rather than applying all over the face, keep it to localised areas of congestion, pigmentation, or active breakouts.

For an all-over product rather than a dedicated spot treatment, try Verso Blemish Fix with Retinol 8 (€79 at It alleviates spots, controls breakouts and prevents more from turning up to join them. Apply it to clean skin in the morning and be sure to pair it with an SPF.