Acne can faze even the most confident people. At the very least, the occasional zit is annoying, but for some people, it’s an everyday struggle to manage acne-prone skin.
Thankfully, there are serums for almost every skin concern, including acne. If you suffer from persistent acne and want to minimise the appearance of scars, here are some recommended products you can use. A good acne serum can help treat breakouts quickly and contribute to clearer skin as part of a routine.
In this article, we cover the ten best serums for acne-prone skin plus a helpful guide below on what to look for in serum for this skin concern.
11 Top-Rated Serums for Acne Prone Skin
A word before the reviews — it is important to note that all the products listed might not necessarily work for your skin concerns and type. Those who have persistent and severe acne should consult a dermatologist for proper treatment and professional advice.
Tribe Skincare Clearing Anti-Breakout Serum
The Clearing Anti–Breakout Serum from Australian skincare brand, Tribe is another option to consider for acne-prone skin types
It contains natural ingredients such as White Willow Bark and Licorice Extract to help dissolve oil and soothe inflammation. It also contains salicin, which the body converts to salicylic acid, an oil-soluble enzyme that can dissolve excess oil built up in pores.
Fruit Enzymes from pineapples help to dissolve dead skin on the surface of the pores to help clear breakouts and improve skin radiance.
This all-natural, vegan–friendly, Australian-made product is a great choice for those looking to reduce blackheads and breakouts while also resurfacing their skin to give it a healthy glow.
- Contains a unique formulation of natural ingredients
- Helps to reduce oil while not drying your skin out
- Improves skin tone, texture and radiance
La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Ultra Concentrated Serum
La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Ultra Concentrated Serum is a standout product from the French pharmacy skincare brand, La Roche Posay for treating acne-prone skin.
This serum is formulated with a powerful blend of LHA’s, AHA’s, and BHA’s designed to combat the appearance of breakouts, blemishes, and skin imperfections. It works its magic overnight, micro-exfoliating the skin and sloughing away dead skin cells. In addition to refining the skin, it stimulates collagen production providing anti-aging benefits.
While the brand notes it can be used daily, those new to the product, especially those with sensitive skin, should ease into use due to its strong actives.
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
When The Ordinary broke into the scene a few years back, it was game-changing. They made unbelievably effective products for almost every skin concern at a budget-friendly price. This serum is one of their bestsellers, and it’s highly recommended for acne-prone skin.
It has 10 per cent niacinamide and 1 per cent zinc. This duo decongests skin and calms down blemishes. It mops up excess oil and reduces bacteria on the skin, thereby nipping acne in the bud. Pores appear smaller and the skin barrier is boosted.
The anti-inflammatory serum works beneath the skin and on the surface to improve acne-ridden skin. The active ingredients help brighten the skin and promote healing, thanks to the antioxidant benefits of niacinamide. It can also fade blemishes and minimise scarring.
This is best for people who are struggling with hyperpigmentation and scarring from acne and want to eliminate a dull complexion. Some reviews point out that this serum doesn’t seem to decrease sebum production, however, it doesn’t make the skin oilier either.
If you are sensitive to niacinamide and zinc or have sensitive skin in general, tread carefully with this serum because it has broken out some people. You shouldn’t use this niacinamide serum with a vitamin C product to get the most of its effects.
- Made of 10 per cent niacinamide and 1 per cent zinc
- Effective but won’t break the bank
- Good for decongesting skin and reducing blemishes
- Quick drying formula
- Cruelty Free and Vegan
Dope Skin Co – AHA/BHA Resurfacing Serum
If you’re looking for a serum that will smooth your skin texture, unclog your pores and remove dull skin, revealing a more youthful and radiant complexion, then you will want to check out Dope Skin Co’s AHA/BHA Resurfacing Serum.
Formulated with five fruit AHAs (glycolic acid, citric acid, lactic acid, malic acid and tartaric acid), BHA (salicylic acid) and other hero ingredients such as hemp, hyaluronic acid, blue tansy and niacinamide (vitamin B3), this gentle serum exfoliates to slough away dull skin and improve skin texture, revealing a smoother, brighter complexion with reduced appearance of fine lines.
Specifically formulated to combat blackheads and uneven skin texture, the AHA/BHA Resurfacing Serum is great for acne-prone skin.
- Contains unique formulation of AHA’s & BHA’s to exfoliate and improve skins texture
- Contains Hemp Seed Extract to hydrate and soothe the skin
- Non-toxic, Vegan, Cruelty-Free and Made in Australia
Paula’s Choice Niacinamide 20% Treatment
While it’s hard to look past the efficacy and affordability of The Ordinary, Paula’s Choice has some of the best skincare products on the market with many consumers swearing by them for healthy, radiant-looking skin. Their Niacinamide 20% Treatment has a greater percentage of Niacinamide than The Ordinary product and is a great option for anyone looking to reduce the appearance of acne scars. Used in conjunction with their BHA Liquid Exfoliator, you can achieve visible results.
The concentrated serum helps reduce the look of stretched pores, hard clogged bumps and overall textured-looking skin. It also helps to improve blotchy tone, fade post-blemish marks while also targeting signs of ageing.
In addition to Niacinamide, the serum contains Licorice Extract for antioxidant benefits and brightening Vitamin C to target uneven skin tone.
- Highly concentrated niacinamide (vitamin B3) serum
- Targets textured skin and visibly improves skin tone
- Complemented with Vitamin C and Licorice Extract
SkinCeuticals – Blemish & Age Defence Serum
SkinCeuticals is a go-to for science-backed skincare at a luxurious price point. This serum kills two birds with one stone: it fights acne and reduces signs of aging.
Adult acne is a different breed compared to adolescent zits. If you’re dealing with stubborn acne, ingredients like BHAs and AHAs can pave the way to a clear complexion. This acne serum contains salicylic acid that refines pores and is capable of dissolving oils, fats and lipids for a deeper clean. It also has glycolic and citric acids, a duo of alpha-hydroxy acids or AHAs that even skin tone and minimise the formation of fine lines and dark spots.
As if that wasn’t enough, this also contains vegetable-derived dioic acid that kills acne-causing bacteria and mops up excess sebum. Rounding out this stellar list is a lipo-hydroxy acid or LHA. This is a new kid on the block but is a chemical exfoliant derived from salicylic acid. It’s a far gentler acid that works in the same way to decongest pores and slough off dead skin cells.
This is amazing for oily, acne-prone skin, as well as for people who want to prevent fine lines. It’s oil-free and comes in a dark dropper bottle. The packaging minimises oxidation and sunlight exposure, meaning this will stay fresh after multiple uses. And that’s a major plus because this product is quite pricey. Thankfully, a little does go a long way and you only need to apply it to affected areas.
We do wish they toned down the alcohol content in this serum because it can be drying but it’s one of the best spot treatment serums on the market and is worth every penny.
- Contains AHAs and BHAs to exfoliate acne-prone skin and clear out blemishes
- Brightens the complexion and fades dark spots
- Dioic acid and LHA absorbs excess sebum and offers gentle exfoliation
- Great for reducing blemishes and preventing wrinkles
- Has an oil-free formula stored in a dark, easy-to-use dropper bottle
tbh Skincare Rebound Serum
Treating acne typically involves the use of powerful actives such as retinol and exfoliants, which can be harsh and dry for your skin. However, it is equally important to prioritise hydrating and repairing your skin barrier. Neglecting this aspect can inadvertently lead to a never-ending cycle of dryness and irritation that exacerbates breakouts.
Touted as a ‘holy grail’ skincare product, the Rebound serum by tbh (to be honest) is designed to address acne-prone skin while providing soothing, hydrating, and supportive benefits to your skin barrier. The serum is the result of a collaboration between tbh, a skincare brand with a tailored range to treat acne-prone skin types, and Hannah English, a pharmaceutical scientist and skincare influencer.
The serum has been formulated to calm, soothe and hydrate the skin with a thoughtful combination of ingredients. Niacinamide and Panthenol act as an antidote to stressed skin, while oat extracts, green tea, and copper peptides provide soothing benefits. The inclusion of glycerin, electrolytes, and hyaluronic acid work to deliver much-needed hydration to the skin.
With its lightweight gel texture, fragrance-free formulation, and quick absorption, the Rebound Serum can seamlessly fit into your everyday skin routine.
- From a range specifically designed for acne-prone skin types
- Designed to support skin barrier health
- Can be used both in AM & PM
- Made in Australia
DERMA E Acne Blemish Control Treatment Serum
Acne Blemish Control Treatment Serum by Derma E is an eco-ethical option to target acne and blemish-prone skin.
It is formulated with 1.9% Salicylic Acid and a unique Anti–Blemish Complex, which helps to unclog pores and prevent future breakouts. It also contains Tea Tree Oil, Willow Bark Extract, Aloe Vera, Lavender and Chamomile to soothe and calm the skin. This unique natural blend of ingredients is ultra-effective in targeting acne, yet won’t dry your skin out.
This serum is 100% vegan, soy–free, eco–ethical, cruelty–free and free of parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, petrolatum, sulphates, mineral oils, artificial colours and artificial fragrances. It helps to reduce acne, blackheads and breakouts while leaving the skin feeling refreshed and clear.
- Contains a unique complex of effective natural ingredients
- Formulated with 1.9% Salicylic Acid
- Made without nasties (parabens, sulphates, artificial colours and fragrances)
TruSkin, Tea Tree Super Serum+
TruSkin Tea Tree Super Serum+ is an excellent choice for acne-prone skin. It contains a 6-way clarifying formula that is dermatologist tested and formulated without parabens, sulphates and phthalates.
The serum contains tea tree oil, salicylic acid, vitamins C, B3, hyaluronic acid, and retinol to help reduce inflammation and soothe irritated skin. Tea tree oil is known for its anti-inflammatory properties to help calm visible redness and soothe irritated skin. Salicylic acid helps unclog pores while Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) helps nourish skin for a brighter, healthier tone. The combination of ingredients is known to be more powerful in supporting the overall health of your skin.
The serum absorbs quickly with no sticky residue and is a great combination of hydration, vitamins, and anti-acne topicals.
- Contains powerful blend of Tea tree oil, salicylic acid, vitamins C, B3, Hyaluronic acid & retinol
- No sticky residue and absorbs quickly
- Soothes unhappy skin
- Made without any nasties
Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum
This Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum contains salicylic acid and thyme extract, actives that exfoliate and soothe problem skin. It uses a paraben-free gel formula to balance an acne-prone complexion.
Salicylic acid cuts through sebum and exfoliates the pore lining. It unclogs the skin by dissolving the bonds that hold skin cells together. When these cells clump up, it leads to cysts and blackheads. Salicylic acid works best on whiteheads and blackheads.
Supporting the BHA is thyme extract, which reduces pimples by targeting acne-causing bacteria. It soothes active breakouts because of its inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Plus, it also contains vitamin C which helps even out the complexion.
The anti-acne serum doesn’t dry out the skin or leave a residue. You only need to apply the product to affected areas so the tiny bottle goes a long way.
What I don’t love about this clearing serum is its packaging. It has a twist-off cap that can be slightly annoying to open and close, especially with serum-soaked fingers. A squeeze or dropper bottle would have been more convenient.
Some users have also noted that the serum absorbs slowly and takes a while to dry. It’s also more of a spot treatment than serum for the whole face.
- Contains salicylic acid, an effective exfoliant
- Reduces congestion, particularly whiteheads and blackheads
- Contains thyme extract to calm down active breakouts
- Is a gel-type acne treatment serum meant to be applied on blemishes only
- Contains antioxidant, skin-brightening benefits because of vitamin C
asap Radiance Serum
The asap radiance serum is a chemical exfoliant and anti-ageing serum in a bottle. It comes in a sealed pump container which makes it easy to control the amount of product that comes out. The serum uses a combination of salicylic acid and glycolic acid to target acne and treat scars and dark spots.
The glycolic acid and salicylic acid resurface the skin while peptides reduce the appearance of fine lines. The potent combo evens out the complexion and refines skin texture, which is amazing for acne-prone skin that’s seen smoother days. Hyperpigmentation becomes less apparent while sun damage is reduced.
Because it has biomimetic tripeptide, the serum stimulates collagen production while preserving the skin’s current collagen levels. People with acne may appreciate this added benefit because it plumps up the skin, resulting in a healthier complexion.
White tea, bilberry and mulberry round out the impressive ingredient list. These antioxidants shield the skin from free radicals that cause premature ageing. Skin becomes smoother and more refined as blemishes gradually diminish.
The serum has a clear liquid consistency, and you’ll get 30 mL of product. While this seems small, you only need a pea-sized amount.
The quick-absorbing serum should be used before moisturisers and toners because it contains chemical exfoliants. You should also not use it on the same night as your retinol or retinoid.
The price is higher than average, but if you want a two-in-one product that tackles acne and anti-ageing, this is one of the best serums to get.
- Contains BHAs and AHAs to reduce blemishes
- Peptides boost collagen production and reduce signs of ageing
- Contains antioxidants that fight free radicals
- Comes in an easy-to-use pump bottle
- The serum is light and fast-absorbing, a little goes a long way
A Guide to Buying a Serum for Acne Prone Skin
What Ingredients To Look For
While there are serums specifically designed for acne and oily skin types, the below ingredients are most commonly formulated in serums and are beneficial for managing acne along with other skin concerns like hydration, ageing and improving skin health overall.
Salicylic Acid: This is a beta hydroxy acid that helps to exfoliate the skin, reduces inflammation and sebum secretion and reduces clogged pores.
Niacinamide: This is a form of vitamin B3 that helps to reduce redness and inflammation, as well as regulate oil production.
Hyaluronic Acid: Those with oily skin may be averse to applying anything that draws moisture to the skin, however, HA can also help to control sebum production and aid in a healthy skin barrier. Dry, damaged and cracked skin can exacerbate breakouts which is why it’s important to maintain hydration while targeting acne symptoms.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals (e.g UV rays, pollution, alcohol and smoking). Vitamin C is an ideal ingredient for acne-prone skin as it’s anti-inflammatory – working to reduce redness and swelling. Additionally, Vitamin C helps with collagen production to help rebuild skin health and structure from acne wounds.
Retinol: This is a form of vitamin A that helps to reduce acne and improve skin texture. While it is more commonly known today as an anti-ageing treatment, retinoid acid was initially studied and then later used to treat acne sufferers in the 1940s-1950s. It works to remove the skin’s outermost layer, exfoliate, unclog pores and increases collagen production. The result is a more radiant-looking skin complexion.
Tea Tree Oil: This is an essential oil that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to reduce acne breakouts.
Zinc: This mineral helps to reduce inflammation and regulate oil production, which can help to prevent acne breakouts.
What causes acne?
Acne can come in the form of whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. When follicles are plugged up with oil and dead skin, the blockage leads to inflammation. There are four major causes of acne: excess oil production, clogging due to oil and dead skin cells, acne-causing bacteria, and inflammation. Chocolate, improper hygiene, and oil-free makeup do not cause acne, contrary to some myths.
Do serums help acne? Can a serum cause pimples?
Serums can treat acne either by targeting the cause of the acne lesion or by reducing the marks and hyperpigmentation left by pimples. Serums can help with oil overproduction and pore-clogging, as well as signs of inflammation. Some acne serums mattify the skin and increase cell turnover.
However, a serum cannot treat hormonal acne. For this, you’ll need to consult a doctor to find something that will best fit your needs.
There is a risk of blocking the pores by using a serum but this is can be prevented by using the right serum for your skin type. Do not choose a serum with a very oily consistency if your skin tends to produce excess sebum. This will be counterintuitive as it can cause oil buildup that blocks the follicles. If you have sensitive skin, avoid serums with a high percentage of acids or actives. These ingredients can trigger irritation that leads to acne.
What are the benefits of skin serums for acne?
- Concentrated treatment for acne
Serums have an edge over moisturisers and creams because of their concentrated formulations. Those tiny dropper bottles contain potent actives which are easily absorbed by the skin due to their no-frills consistency.
- Lower oil production
Some acne-fighting serums contain oil-absorbing ingredients like tea tree oil and salicylic acid. By toning down excess sebum production, these serums help prevent acne from forming.
- Calms active breakouts and redness
A good acne serum treats pimples and calms inflammation. It treats a raging pimple and can even reduce the size of blemishes. With the right formulation, a serum will not trigger more irritation.
- Brightens the complexion and fades marks and hyperpigmentation
An acne serum can speed up cell turnover. When your skin sloughs off dead skin cells, it unveils new skin, thereby helping fade scars and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Antioxidant and skin-brightening ingredients like vitamin C revitalizes the complexion so skin looks more glowy.
- Prevents acne
Serums can clear your pores of dirt and oil that lead to congested skin. These liquids can sink in deep into the skin, giving you maximum benefits from actives and healing ingredients. Plus, lightweight serums won’t feel heavy on the skin or plug up your follicles, making them suitable for oily skin.
How do I choose the best serum for acne-prone skin?
All skin types, not just oily skin, can have acne. You should therefore consider what kind of skin you have and what products it favours. If you have dry skin, try to choose a serum with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid. Oily skin types may prefer a product with a mattifying ingredient or even dry oil serums that won’t make their face greasy. Gentle and soothing serums are best for sensitive skin.
Whatever skin type you have, though, go for a non-comedogenic serum, meaning one that’s free of pore-clogging ingredients. Coconut oil is known to be too emollient for some people, so beware of these and other heavy oils.
Know your skin before buying a serum for acne. Assess your skincare history and try to pinpoint what ingredient makes your skin flare up or become irritated. You should check if you are sensitive to ingredients like silicone, glycerin, essential oils, and other common serum ingredients.
Serums have a simpler composition compared to moisturisers and toners. They usually target one skin concern and use fewer actives. Because of this, it’s beneficial to pick a serum with actives that work for acne.
Just as important is the concentration of active ingredients in the serum and whether it’s enough to be effective for reducing pimples and whiteheads. Key ingredients in acne serums include salicylic acid (BHA), willow bark extract, Centella Asiatica, zinc, and niacinamide.
An acne serum should be pleasant to use with a quick-absorbing formulation that doesn’t take ages to dry. After all, an acne serum won’t be effective if you don’t like using it often, whether it’s because it’s too finicky to use or has a tendency to pill under makeup.
A serum should be stored in an appropriate bottle that protects it from sun and environmental degradation. This is especially true for serums with ingredients that shouldn’t be exposed to air.
Serums can be an important part of your acne-fighting routine, but it’s important to choose the right one for you. We’ve highlighted ten of our favourite serums for acne-prone skin, but there are many others on the market that might work just as well for you. Be sure to do your research and read reviews before making a purchase. Always consult with a dermatologist if you’re not sure what type of serum is best for your specific needs. With the right product and some diligent application, you should start seeing results in no time!
11 of the Best Serums for Treating Acne-Prone Skin
Beauty Space reviews 11 effective and top-rated serums for those with acne-prone skin. Plus, a detailed guide to buying a serum that's right for your skin type.