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 keep pimples at bay.
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. The best acne serum will treat breakouts quickly and clear your skin with regular use. Up ahead are 5 of my fave expert-approved picks.
5 Top-Rated Acne Serums
A word before the reviews — it is important to note that all the products listed might not necessarily work for your skin type and condition. Those who have severe and persistent acne should consult a dermatologist for proper treatment and professional advice.
‘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 minimize scarring.
This serum has a thick liquidy consistency and has no added fragrance. It’s stored in a frosted pipette bottle which makes it easy to apply either directly on the face or the palm.
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 are sensitive 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.
- A bestselling serum 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
- Niacinamide brightens the complexion and fades hyperpigmentation
- Stored in a dropper bottle and has a liquidy consistency that’s easy to apply
- Doesn’t cut down on sebum production
- Not for people who are sensitive to zinc or niacinamide
- Should not be used with vitamin C products
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
- The bottle is a bit inconvenient because of its twist-off cap
- The serum doesn’t absorb quickly
- Not meant to be used on the entire face unlike other serums
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
- Comes at a more expensive price point
- Should not be used with a retinol
InstaNatural Niacinamide 5% Face Serum
This acne serum is made for normal to dry skin and contains niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, avocado oil, and rosemary extract. It’s one of the best serums to reach for if you have a raging pimple or two (or three, four and five) because it soothes inflammation and redness.
Niacinamide fortifies the skin’s moisture barrier, thus reducing flareups from irritation, dehydration and external factors. Thanks to hyaluronic acid, this feels hydrating and the skin will feel visibly plumper and smoother after application.
The anti-inflammatory face serum is formulated to reduce dark spots and post-acne hyperpigmentation, so it’s not just an acne treatment. It will help clear the skin even after your blemishes have diminished.
Those with sensitive skin or rosacea can use this serum safely as it’s mild and gentle. If it irritates your skin, you can add a few drops to your moisturiser.
The InstaNatural face serum has a milky colour and an easily spreadable consistency. The dropper bottle makes for a convenient, mess-free application. The serum does have added fragrance, so be careful if you have sensitivities. It comes at a higher price point but contains 60 mL of product. It’s one of the best serums for acne-prone skin that needs extra hydration.
- Contains hyaluronic acid and 5 per cent niacinamide which soothe and moisturise the face
- Strengthens the moisture barrier and protects the skin from irritants
- Fades dark spots and acne marks for a more even skin tone
- Has a lightweight and milky consistency and is stored ina dropper bottle
- Also contains vitamin E for free radical protection
- Has added fragrance
- The price is a bit expensive
SkinCeuticals – Blemish & Age Defence Serum
SkinCeuticals is a go-to for science-backed skincare at a luxurious price point. This serum kills two birds in 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 minimize 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 people who want to prevent fine lines. It’s oil-free and comes in a dark dropper bottle. The packaging minimizes 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 on affected areas. I 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
- The alcohol content is quite high
A Buying Guide to Acne Serums: Products to Clear Congestion and Zap Zits Fast
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.
Assess your skincare budget and how much you’re willing to spend on a good acne serum. Look at your existing routine and think of what gaps the serum can fill in your regimen. Is the serum a redundant step or does it bring something new to the table? If it’s the latter, then it may be worth the extra coin.
Some serums come in small containers but last a long time, so when considering price per ounce, you should also check reviews to back up a product’s longevity.
Whether you’re looking for a solution to clogged pores, constant breakouts or cystic acne, these products are best in class for treating breakouts. Some even help to erase fine lines and wrinkles, among other skin benefits.
However, the best serum for treating breakouts, in my opinion, is the SkinCeuticals Blemish & Age Defence Serum.
This is a clarifying serum filled with a variety of AHAs and BHAs, including dioic acid and LHA. Chemical exfoliants banish acne by going deep into the pore lining and stimulating the production of new skin.
I love that the SkinCeuticals serum also has anti-ageing benefits if you want help with fine lines and wrinkles.
Though it’s a bit pricey, the formula is topnotch and the bottle will protect your precious serum from UV exposure and contamination. It’s simply a joy to use and a great addition to any skincare routine.