Best Cheap Acne Treatments

Price Range

$3.50 - $7


$7 - $13


$13 and up

High End

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Ugh, acne -- that scourge we hope never to face again after the age of 16. But many adults continue to struggle with acne and others develop it at certain points in their lives, like during pregnancy or periods of high stress. Well aware of these facts of life, the skin care industry has developed heaps of cheap acne treatments aimed at stopping or lessening the severity of blemishes large and small. Severe or cystic acne may require something stronger and more expensive, like antibiotics, but blackheads and whiteheads and classic red pimples often can be cured with products costing less than $7.

Cheap Acne Treatments Buying Guide

The dominant companies in the acne remedies market -- Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, and Clinique -- are well-known producers of other skin care products. Major beauty companies, like Revlon and Maybelline, also make the occasional one-off acne remedy, but these garner very mixed reviews from users. You'll also find a number of "natural" acne treatments that spurn chemicals in favor of botanicals or blend the two types of ingredients. Of course, there are home acne remedies you can try for free, like the lemon juice treatment or using toothpaste to dry out an eruption. Lacking any evidence that such tonics do any good, however, a cheap acne treatment is your best line of attack.

The acne treatments lineup ranges from tubes to pads to lotions to multi-part systems. Some products are dedicated acne fighters and some are facial cleansers that assert their blemish-fighting bona fides. Some topical treatments dry out the acne and surrounding skin, an approach that works for many people but can be hard for those with dry or sensitive skin. The multi-part systems include components that each serve a specific purpose, like cleansing, revitalizing, and toning, or cleansing and cover-up. But most packages, such as Proactiv 3-Step System or Clean & Clear Advantage 2-in-1 Acne & Mark Eraser Kit, are well beyond our Cheapism price range.

The products that earned a spot on our list of best cheap acne treatments are Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10, Maximum Strength 1 (starting at $5), Noxzema Triple Clean Anti-Blemish Pads (starting at $4), Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Cream Cleanser (starting at $7), and Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment Vanishing Formula (starting at $6), all of which work for most users most of the time. One cheap acne remedy we'd pass on is Clean & Clear Cleansers Blackhead Eraser Scrub (starting at $5) because too many consumer reviews report less than satisfactory results.

All the products we researched can be applied to the face, and a few may be useful for breakouts on the back or chest. To give you the widest range of options, our picks for best cheap acne remedies include cleansers, pads, and spot treatments. They all contain one of two key ingredients for fighting acne: benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Several products on our list are billed as oil-free, so users with oily skin shouldn't be deterred. Cheap acne treatments can be applied one to three times a day and require just seconds of your time.

Acne Treatment Features

Acne Product Ingredients.

For the record, acne breaks out when oil glands in the skin get clogged, forcing dirt and debris to push through the skin's surface. The result: nasty bumps on your face, chest, or back. This is why people with oily skin seem to struggle with acne more than others. Hormonal fluctuations also take a toll on glands, which explains why acne also affects teens going through puberty and women about to menstruate.

The best cheap acne products available over-the-counter contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. As described by experts at the Mayo Clinic, benzoyl peroxide kills the acne bacterium while helping to remove the dead skin cells and excess oils that clog pores; benzoyl peroxide can be irritating and drying but seems to be well-tolerated by many people. Salicylic acid, the site continues, helps prevent clogged pores by slowing the rate at which cells are shed and can help break down whiteheads and blackheads; salicylic acid is less irritating than benzoyl peroxide and works well for dry skin. Other ingredients often found in acne products include alpha hydroxyl acids and sulphur.

It's always a good idea to start off with the lowest strength available -- that would be 2.5% for benzoyl peroxide and 0.5% for salicylic acid -- and at the minimal dosage -- that would be once a day. If this routine doesn't work, increase strength and/or dosage as needed, but make sure to read the directions for proper use. Maximum strength for benzoyl peroxide is 10% and for salicylic acid it's 2%. For some people, Mayo Clinic notes, a regimen involving two products with different active ingredients is most effective.

Of the cheap acne products that we researched, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Cream Cleanser (starting at $7), Noxzema Triple Clean Anti-Blemish Pads (starting at $4) and Clean & Clear Cleansers Blackhead Eraser Scrub (starting at $5) all contain 2% salicylic acid. Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10, Maximum Strength 1 (starting at $5) contains 10% benzoyl peroxide while Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment Vanishing Formula (starting at $6) contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide.

So-called "natural" ingredients, like ginkgo seed, powdered pearl lemon, eucalyptus, willow extract, and tea tree oil, are found in pricier anti-acne products made by companies such as Lalisse and Burt's Bees. (The Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash on our list contains aloe and chamomile.) Some natural acne treatments may also include acne-fighting chemicals, and user reviews for such products range from mixed to good.

Skin Type.

Which cheap acne cure you choose depends largely on your skin type. People with dry skin may want to avoid products with benzoyl peroxide because they're likely to dry it even more. If treatments like Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 and Neutrogena On-The-Spot Vanishing Cream are somewhat irritating but helping to reduce breakouts, cut back on the frequency of application. Products with salicylic acid, like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Cream Cleanser and Noxzema Triple Clean Anti-Blemish Pads, tend to be gentler on the skin but can still be irritating.

We read many reviews written by consumers who immediately stopped using an acne treatment after a strong negative reaction or because of no noticeable effect. Although some very satisfied users report quick and positive results with these cheap acne products, experts note that it often takes up to two months for a product to do its thing. Even so, if an acne therapy causes you distress, go cold turkey and try something else.

When choosing the best cheap acne treatments, we looked for products that shouldn't further aggravate acne in people with oily skin or a mix of oily and dry patches. Three of our top picks -- Neutrogena On-the-Spot Vanishing Cream, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Cleanser, and Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 -- are oil-free. Noxzema Anti-Blemish Pads are alcohol-free.

Race is a factor that can affect the course of treatment. Everyday Health notes that some acne therapies can cause temporary skin discoloration in people of color, in addition to the dryness and irritation that sometimes accompanies use of cheap acne products. Should you notice some discoloration, the site suggests using the product less often, applying moisturizer, getting chemical peels, or switching to a topical prescription obtained from your medical provider.

Acne Cream, Acne Wash

Cheap Acne Creams, Washes, and Spot Treatments.

There's no shortage of options when it comes to applying acne therapies. There are spot treatments, cleansers, and multi-part kits: You can rub ointment, gel, or acne cream on your skin with your fingers or a pad, squeeze it out of tube and dab where necessary, wash/lather your entire face, or use a combination approach that may also involve a moisturizer. Neutrogena Complete Acne Therapy System (starting at $20) is an example of the latter: it's a kit containing Skin Polishing Acne Cleanser with salicylic acid, Acne Control Lotion with benzoyl peroxide, and Oil-Free SPF 15 Lotion, a total package that suits people who get results by using products with both active ingredients.

The cheap acne therapies we researched declare themselves by their names: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Cream Cleanser and Clean & Clear Cleansers Blackhead Eraser Scrub are acne face washes that also exfoliate (remove dead skin); Noxzema Triple Clean Anti-Blemish Pads are wiped over your skin; and Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment and Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 are cheap acne creams (in a tube) that are dabbed onto outbreaks.

Acne Treatment Plans.

When considering the price of an acne cure, factors like unit size and treatment duration are critical. Most cheap spot treatments for acne come in packages with up to two ounces of product; cleansers usually come in bottles or plastic tubes of five to eight ounces; the Noxzema Triple Clean container holds 90 pads. Although the product amount might seem meager, you don't have to slather it on -- target the application to the breakout areas.

Sometimes acne breaks out on other parts of your body, like the back or chest. Although most acne cures are formulated for the face, some users apply them elsewhere and get good results. Alba Botanica Natural ACNEdote Face & Body Scrub (starting at $5.60) is an exfoliant specifically intended for more than just your face.

Many over-the-counter therapies are meant to be used several times a day. Recommendations for the cheap acne cures on our list suggest starting off with once a day and gradually increasing up to two or three times daily. Some products may leave an odor on your skin. Users report that Burt's Bees Natural Target Spot Treatment (starting at $10) is one of the offenders, perhaps due to the eucalyptus in the formula; some users find it pleasant, others call it stinky. The scent of Noxzema Triple Clean pads puts off some users, as does the smell of Clean & Clear Cleansers Scrub despite specs that say it's unscented.

Remember that treatment may take a month or two to kick in. You won't necessarily "feel" anything when it starts working and the current outbreak might not noticeably diminish -- some products also reduce future eruptions. How fast an acne therapy works depends on how bad the acne is, your skin type, and whether you're using it properly. If you ignore the instructions, you're unlikely to get the results you expect.

Acne Treatment Performance

Reviews for the preferred products on our list are consistently positive from site to site. That said, all are accompanied by a fair share of critical reports attesting to the product's failure to produce results or, in some cases, to a worsening of the underlying skin condition. This is no surprise, really, because skin types differ, as do the severity of acne, individual tolerance to the active ingredients, and personal hygiene routines. What works for most people just doesn't work for others, and even the best acne treatments garner some negative reviews. Another thing the acne treatment reviews reveal: Positive change of some kind is what users demand first and foremost, although some expect results almost instantly. Acne treatment reviews also indicate that consumers care a lot about the product's effect on their skin -- soft and smooth, yes; dry and irritated, no.

Acne Treatment Results.

Of the many grateful acne treatment reviews we read, only some specify how quickly any given product helped to clear the acne. Prescription-strength Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10, for example, is at its best as a spot treatment for large pimples and major breakouts, say users, some of whom note on and Walgreens that pimples and under-skin bumps disappeared within days, sometimes overnight, and sometimes after a few weeks. Users also report that Persa-Gel 10 soothes skin, reduces acne scars, and helps to keep their faces smooth and clear. Fans of Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment, another good spot treatment for acne, say on that the condition clears if the product is used consistently, and caution that you might not see significant results for a while.

Noxzema Triple-Clean Anti-Blemish Pads deliver results -- within hours or days for some users -- according to acne treatment reviews on Viewpoints. Some users assert the importance of sticking with this product as a preventive measure, and many report on a variety of review sites that these anti-blemish pads remove dirt that soap and cleansers leave behind; one comments on Total Beauty that the pads don't help her blemishes but they do a great job cleansing her face.

For a more all-over effect, acne face washes may be your best line of attack. Several purchasers of Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Cream Cleanser write on the company's website that their skin is clearer after just one day of use and acne is diminished after a couple of weeks; one consumer reports that up-and-coming whiteheads simply disappeared. We read similar comments in acne treatment reviews on other sites, as well. Another acne wash we researched, Clean & Clear Blackhead Eraser Scrub, doesn't live up to its name, according to users who comment on sites like, where they say it fails to vanquish blackheads. Others consider it one of the best acne treatments, and one acne treatment review on Walmart reports a 40% reduction after just three days. Although we read many negative acne treatment reviews even for the best and good products on our list (remarks range from no effect at all to inflames or dries out skin to causes other mildly allergic-type reactions), average consumer ratings for Clean & Clear Blackhead Eraser Scrub were lower all around.

Acne Treatment Reviews

Skin Reactions to Acne Products.

An acne remedy may excel at reducing redness, drying out pimples, and preventing future outbreaks, but at what cost to your skin? Some users pay a low price and reap high returns in the form of softer, clearer, healthier-looking skin. Others have the opposite experience and report irritation, dryness, flaking, and worse breakouts after using a product. (Important note: If you develop an adverse reaction to any acne treatment, either limit its use or stop altogether and try something else.) Such divergent experiences are not surprising, and as veteran users of acne treatments report, you may have to experiment a while until you find the right product and perhaps the right regimen (that is, a combination of cleansing, treatment, and moisturizing products). Indeed, many users posting acne treatment reviews say it's critical to use a good moisturizer in conjunction with whichever acne therapy you choose.

That said, acne treatment reviews suggest that products we researched may be hard on some people's skin. Users with sensitive, dry skin report on Makeup Alley that Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing leaves skin feeling soothed and cooled while others claim it stings and irritates. Ditto for Neutrogena Anti-Blemish Pads, which some reviews on Total Beauty describe as astringent and harsh but others insist is refreshing and toning. Users appreciate Neutrogena On-the-Spot's drying effect on their blemishes and some long-term users report no ill effects, but other acne treatment reviews on sites like warn that it can be drying and may cause peeling or flaking. Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 garners a few reports about redness or flaking. One particularly descriptive acne treatment review on Amazon says the user's skin looked as though it had been stung by a hive's worth of bees after two days. The effect of Clean & Clear Cleansers Blackhead Eraser Scrub similarly depends on the user. Some acne treatment reviews say it leaves skin feeling clean and soothed but others say it leaves a film, feels drying, and causes more breakouts.

One final heads-up: Acne treatment reviews note that Neutrogena On-the-Spot Vanishing Formula and Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 can bleach any fabrics (e.g., towels, linens, a blouse) they come in contact with.

Acne Treatment Application.

The products on our list are no-mess, no-fuss. Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment gets dabbed on and dries clear, say reviews on Makeup Alley. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash lathers well and rinses off easily, according to user posts on Amazon. Some users writing acne treatment reviews on Total Beauty find Noxzema Anti-Blemish Pads a bit rough. Others posting on Walgreens like seeing, and thus knowing, how much dirt comes off their face and note that it takes all of 30 seconds to swab down. Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 is another dab-on product, but users report on Amazon that it leaves behind traces that may be particularly obvious on darker skin. The Clean & Clear Cleansers Blackhead Eraser Scrub gets massaged onto your face and then rinsed, but users posting on Makeup Alley say the exfoliating beads are irritating and a nuisance; one consumer writes on that they get stuck around her hairline despite vigorous rinsing.

Maralyn Edid

Maralyn is a veteran reporter, writer, researcher, and editor. From her early years at Crain's Chicago Business and the Detroit bureau of Business Week, then on to a long-term stint at Cornell University's ILR School and now at, Maralyn has been -- and remains -- committed to getting the story straight. That means a devotion to balance, to thorough investigation, and to making sense of diverse ideas and facts. Maralyn earned a Master's in Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell, a Master's in Journalism at University of California-Berkeley, and a B.A. at Tufts. Maralyn resides in New York City.

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