Best Acne Treatments of 2021

by Mim Padgham,

Over the past 12 months, we have asked our readers to rank their favorite products so we could compile them in our 2020 Editor’s Choice Awards. We have processed hundreds of submissions in every category from acne treatments to anti-aging lotions. Thanks to our voting process, we have to narrowed down the top ten contenders in each category. Our editors then went out, purchased these products and evaluated the best products for our Editor’s Choice Award.

We used each product for at least one month and considered every factor such as the product's ability to clear clogs, fade red scars, price and moneyback guarantee. What we found was surprising – some products were truly miracles in a bottle while others failed to live up to their claims. This year, we’ve broken down our Editor’s Choice into 12 parts.

Source: @acenisntugly

Part 6: Acne Treatments

Acne is the most prevalent skin disease in the world and affects over 600 million people globally. A vast majority of brands use benzyol peroxide or salicylic acid which are only effective on the occasional pimple. Fortunately, we have identified several brands who have been able to combine multiple active ingredients that work together in synergy to more effectively stop pimples from coming.

Virtually all major brands use BP or salicylic acid as their primary active ingredient. This is only effective for people with the occasional pimple.

If you've used either ingredient in the past with poor results, you will likely get disappointing results with the big brands who continue to repackage BP and salicylic acid.

Evaluation Criteria

  1. Does the system clear clogs* making future breakouts harder to form?
    • *There are many indirect factors that contribute to the formation of a pimple. However, at the ROOT of all breakouts is a clogged pore. Learn more.
  2. Do the products fade the red/brown marks that pimples leave behind?
    • Breakouts subside within two weeks but the post-acne red marks can linger a few months after treatment. It is important to fade red scars quickly before they turn into a stubborn brown scar which can last up to two years.
  3. Do the products cause irritation?
    • Products should not be overdrying, causing your skin to overproduce oil and agitating breakouts.
  4. Do I get my money back if it doesn't work? Do I have to go through the hassle of shipping in order to request a return?
    • In order to make a moneyback claim, most brands require you to pay ~$8 in shipping and to go through the hassle of shipping the products back. I am looking for brands that make it easier to process a refund without requiring products to be shipped back.

Here is the product comparison:

Clearly Basics
Power Duo
Proactiv+ 3-Step System
Rodan + Fields
Spotless Regimen
Get Over Zit Kit
Paula's Choice
Clear Regular Strength`Kit

lasts 3 months

lasts 3 months

lasts 2-3 months

lasts 1 month

lasts 2-3 months

Clearly Basics Power Duo

What It Is: Clearly Basics' Power Duo consists of two formulations: the Clear Out which is a 2% retinol lotion and the Lighten Up which is a spot treatment designed to reduce the appearance of post-acne marks.

Overall Score: The Clear Out is good at clearing clogs and the Lighten Up is the only product we've found that fades the appearance of post-acne red marks.

Finally, products that are effective and DO NOT use BP or salicylic acid!

Clears Clogs: The Clear Out will get rid of the dead skin trapped inside your pores, making it hard for future clogs to form. It also flushes out existing clogs (commonly called a purge). This is necessary if you want to get results that last.

Red/Brown Marks: Clearly Basics has products specifically designed to fade the appearance of red and brown acne marks. The Lighten Up is a spot treatment for red marks and shows noticeable results within 6 weeks of use. The Dark Mark Defense a spot treatment for brown marks and shows noticeable results within two months of use.

Gentle on Skin: The Clear Out contains retinol which can be itchy for some with sensitive skin. However, they use natural botanicals to balance the pH. It was nothing as harsh as other retinoids we have evaluated in the past.

Price: The Power Duo is priced at $69.90 per set and lasts 3 months ($23.30 per month). They provide free shipping for this set which brings the cost down and makes it one of the most affordable sets in the review. They are also very responsive when we asked questions over chat.

Money-Back Guarantee: Clearly Basics has a 90-day money-back guarantee and its one of the easiest in the market: Send in your before/after photos over chat and if you don't see noticeable results after the entire bottle, chat in to get your money back. You don't have to go through the hassle or cost to mail back products.

User Reviews: The Power Duo scored 4.8 stars based on 128 reviews on their site. Clearly Basics has 4.8 star ratings on both Google reviews and Facebook reviews.

Individual results may vary

“Out of everything I’ve tried over the 7 years I’ve battle acne on and off it’s by far stood out as being one of the most effective with no side effects (after the initial “purge”). I’ve used nothing but Clearly Basics for 12 months now and it still exceeds my expectations!” - Mim P.

Individual results may vary

Never in my life did I imagine my skin would be this clear! Clearly Basics has completely transformed my skin!” - Toni L.

Proactiv+ 3-Step System

What It Is: Proactiv+ 3-step system consists of a 2.5% benzoyl-peroxide (BP) + glycolic acid exfoliator, a 2.5% BP leave in lotion and a hydrator. This product best suited for people with the occasional pimple and some may find BP irritating.

Overall Score: We like Proactiv's money back policy as we are able to reduce risk in case it doesn't work for our skin. We dislike Proactiv's physical exfoliator which can easily cause irritation and redness rather than helping to stop breakouts. If BP hasn't worked for you in the past, this set is not for you.

Proactiv's other system (ProactivMD) substitutes BP with a retinoid, but it was too strong, burning a layer of those with sensitive skin and causing more breakouts.

Clears Clogs: Proactiv's physical exfoliator contains glycolic acid which can break down sebum. However, it is only left on the skin for a short period of time before it is washed off.

Unless you have mild acne, you'll want glycolic acid to stay on your skin for hours so it has time to break down sebum and clogs trapped inside your pores. To maximize the benefits of glycolic acid, opt for a leave-in gel or lotion.

Red/Brown Marks: A pimple may last two weeks, but the red marks left behind can last up to six months. Proactiv's formulations did not help to reduce post-acne red marks and as these red marks get exposed to UV, they can turn into stubborn brown marks which last up to two years.

Gentle on Skin: The main ingredient for this line is BP which is a known irritant. We dislike the physical exfoliator in this set as it can easily cause more irritation/harm than good.

Price: Proactiv+ 3-Step set costs $107.3 for a three month supply ($35.70 per month). You will get a discount if you lock into a subscription plan.

Money-Back Guarantee: Proactiv has a 60-day money-back guarantee which isn’t sufficient to see through a cycle for acne (you need 90-days) and they require you go through the hassle of mailing the products back. They accept empty bottles.

User Reviews: On Proactiv's own site, the 3-Step System has a lackluster rating of 3.8 stars based on 2,905 reviews but a decent 4.2 stars based on 5,272 ratings on Amazon.

Rodan+Fields Spotless Regimen

What It Is: The Rodan+Fields Spotless Regimen consists of two products: a 5% benzoyl-peroxide (BP) wash and a 2.5% BP lotion.

Overall Score: Spotless Regimen uses BP in both items in their set. If you have used Oxy or Clearasil in the past and it worked for you, consider the Spotless regimen. However, if BP hasn't worked for you in the past, consider other options that use other ingredients aside from BP or blend multiple active ingredients that can attack acne from multiple pathways.

Clears Clogs: BP helps to kill the P. Acnes bacteria. However, it does nothing to get rid of the dead skin trapped inside your pores. In our opinion, any solution worth considering must get rid of the dead skin trapped inside the pore as the buildup of dead skin inside the pore is a major factor in the formation of clogs.

Red/Brown Scars: Rodan+Fields' Spotless Regime does not address the post-acne red or brown marks.

Gentle on Skin: The wash included in this set contains 5% BP which can be quite irritating. In our opinion, washes should only serve a basic function and should not contain harsh ingredients. If you wanted the enjoy the full benefits of BP, use it as a leave-in lotion so that it has more time to do its job.

Price: Spotless Regimen is priced at $89.00 and lasted 60 days ($44.50 per month). It is the most expensive system in this review.

Money-Back Guarantee: Rodan+Fields has a 60-day money-back guarantee which isn’t sufficient to see through a cycle for acne (you need 90-days). They accept empty bottles. You will need to go through the hassle of shipping back your products just to request your money back.

User Reviews: I can't seem to find any reviews on their site. However, RF's Facebook review score is 4.8 but there are only a few acne-related reviews interspersed between reviews on the other skincare lines that the offer.

Murad Get Over Zit Kit

What It Is: The Get Over Zit Kit consists of three products: a 1.5% salicylic acid cleanser, a 1% salicylic acid + glycolic acid acne gel and a chemical sunblock with SPF45.

Overall Score: We like the fact that Murad's acne gel contains both an AHA and a BHA. However, we wish they had higher concentrations of each so that the product was more effective. Shipping is very expensive for this set.

Clears Clogs: The salicylic acid + glycolic acid in Murad's acne gel serves to break down sebum and clogs. Our only request would be higher concentrations of each ingredient. However, we recognize that this will cause more irritation to the skin.

Red/Brown Scars: Salicylic acid has a mild effect in reducing the redness of post-acne marks and the ingredient is left on the skin giving it enough time to work out the red scar.

Murad also has a product that targets post-acne brown marks but it is $70 for a single bottle. For brown acne marks, consider the Dark Mark Defense which is a more effective/more affordable option.

Gentle on Skin: This is a relatively gentle set and we experienced no issues with irritation. Their products contain numerous botanicals which help to soothe the skin. Murad's cleanser should not contain salicylic acid. If you wanted the benefits of salicylic acid, use it in a leave-in lotion or toner so that it has enough time to work on your skin.

Price: The Get Over Zit set is priced at $29.00 and lasts one month. Don't be fooled by the low initial price: If you factor in the duration of use as well as $8.95 for shipping, Murad's set is one of the most expensive sets in this review.

Money-Back Guarantee: Murad has a 60-day money-back guarantee and require you go through the hassle of mailing the products back.

User Reviews: The Get Over Zit kit has a strong 4.8 stars on their site and decent 4.4 stars on Amazon.

Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength

What It Is: The Clear Regular Strength Kit consists of three products: a gentle cleanser, a 2% salicylic acid chemical exfoliator and an acne gel that contains 2.5% BP.

Overall Score: Paula's Clear Regular Strength is a great set for those with mild acne. It is the most affordable set that we reviewed. We would like Paula's products to contain more botanicals to make their formulations more gentle.

Clears Clogs: 2% salicylic acid in the exfoliator is better at breaking down sebum as compared to Murad's acne gel. However, it is NOT as effective as Clear Out which contains 2% retinol + 8% AZA.

Red/Brown Marks: salicylic acid has a mild effect in reducing inflammation. However, nothing in Paula's line is specifically designed to address the post-acne red or brown marks. Personally, my marks lingered for AGES when using Paula's set.

Gentle on Skin: We are glad that Paula resisted the temptation to put acid in her cleanser. We agree that cleansers only serve a basic function and should not contain harsh ingredients that over-strip oils on your skin. We wish Paula included more botanicals in her set so that it is more gentle on the skin. This is especially true with the acne gel that contains 2.5% BP; since BP is a known irritant.

Price: The CLEAR Regular Strength set is priced at $48.40 and lasts 2 to 3 months (~ $24.20 per month). Shipping costs an additional $5.50. This is the most affordable set in the review.

Money-Back Guarantee: Paula's Choice does not accept empty bottles and has a short money-back guarantee window. You need to ship the products back which is a hassle.

User Reviews: The Clear Regular Strength set scored a decent 4.26 stars on their own website and 4.1 stars on Amazon.

Mim is a primary school teacher from Southampton, England. Her Instagram page @acneisntugly is dedicated to help those with acne. She has been documented her acne journey through this page.


This article is intended to provide insights on how to identify effective acne products and is a personal opinion. Nothing on this article should be interpreted as personal medical advice. For medical related matters, please consult with your dermatologist.

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See what others have to say about Clearly Basics.

Based on 495 reviews
So glad to have found these products!

Finding products that helped to control my acne without irritating my sensitive skin has always been a huge challenge. The clearly basics products have been my saviour, I can't recommend them enough ☺️

Extra Strength Duo
Briannon Argueta
Skin Type: Combination
Comments: It's worth it. Just try it and stick with it =)
Definitely seeing improvements

I've struggled with acne for the last few years. I've tried many different topical things to clear it but nothing was working. I decided to try Clearly Basics and have definitely seen improvements! I've been using this combo for about 2 months and am loving the results so far. Obviously, my face isn't perfect yet but it's a marathon, not a sprint, and I understand that. Here's to consistency and better results as I continue my journey! I've attached some before and after pictures, all with a makeup-free face so you can see my honest progress.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Excellent and actually works

I am so incredibly impressed with the TLC for pore minimising - it 💯 works and has transformed my skin.

I’m in my 50’s and always had hormonal flare ups with larger pores as I age - this is a game changer and have just reordered my 3rd bottle !


Power Duo*
Chuan Ling T.

Adult acne is a new thing for me- I’ve had clear skin growing up so the outbreaks were very stressful! I did everything and anything I could, from watching YouTube reviews, trying out cult products to professional advice, but nothing quite did the job. So how the power duo panned out for me was definitely a pleasant (-ly hugeeee) surprise. I do acknowledge that my acne challenges are not on the extremely severe end, but I must say, emotionally the positive outcome of using both the power duo encouraged me to wear my skin as it is again. It’s really worthwhile trying as it is also a no fuss duo; hence the currently gild of my staple skincare products.

I saw a huge reduction in new pimples and any new pimples scars healed and disappeared a lot quicker

Power Duo*
Anne F.

I have struggled with acne since I was 12 years old. All through my teenage and adult life my skin has been unpredictable and the breakouts have been constant and so frustrating. I’ve tried everything you could imagine but nothing worked reliably. Clear Out and lighten up have been a total game changer for me and I couldn’t be happier with the results

Power Duo*
Mamtha J.

Tried every product out there from proactiv to slurp! None worked, they infact aggravated the condition! Tried clearlybasics as last resort and oh boy it works! Worth every penny! First time in 20 years, stepped out without wearing base makeup! Never thought this day would come!

Power Duo*
Laura S.

This stuff changed my life!!!!
After reading the reviews I never thought it would work for me in the same way as it had for other people, as my skin was so bad and cystic. But after just a few months of using this and cutting down on dairy, my skin was 10 times better!
I’m still religiously using the Power Duo and don’t think I’ll ever stop 😊

I am 32 years old and still suffering from acne. I tried many things, but acne will dissappear and come back. Now I am using this product and my skin is getting better. Still I get some acne, but hopefully it clear all. But I am not sure how long I should use this product ?

Ive been using clear out for about 3 months and I have noticed a big change. Breakouts are minimal and my skin is looking and feeling much clearer. Im just about to start the clear out extra strength to try and clean out the remaining stubborn cystic bumps. Id like the pigmentation and scars to fade quicker, but Im sure they will in time. Overall Im happy with the product and can notice the change when comparing photos.

Power Duo
Emma Taylor

I love clearly basics so much!! My skin has cleared up amazingly, check out @myacnepage on insta or clearly basics website to see how far my skin has come while using their products. I love the power duo especially and recommend to anyone who has been struggling with acne or redness/hyperpigmentation and scarring

Power Duo
Amy Nuramira

"""I have been struggling with acne for 10 years. This is by far the best product. I started out with brown pigmentation (acne marks) and a lot of tiny bumps of acne on my forehead, cheek and nose (kind of like sand paper). As soon as I started the Clear Out and Lighten Up, my acne bumps got smaller and smaller. My brown pigmentation began turning lighter (reddish pinkish).
Initially, when I started using it, I didn't really get a 'purge' it was just a small amount of break outs which went away in a few weeks. Now my hormonal break outs are not as terrible as before, they still appear but barely noticeable.
My skin is acne free, pigmentation are still there but they've improved tremendously. The Clear Out does not dry out your skin at all, even when I apply makeup on, it's not patchy."""

Started using the Power Duo approximately 2-3 months ago, the creams have really helped to improve my skin quality, it feels so much smoother. I still have pigmentation which I will be starting to use the Dark Mark Defense for. But overall VERY happy with the Power Duo

Power Duo
Megan Downes


Never have I found a brand that is so gentle on my skin but works wonders.

The lighten up is the best thing for redness, the difference in just one day on my pictures below.

Can't recommend enough, especially for hormonal acne.

Thank you Clearly"

Power Duo
Louisa Bohm

Before I started using Clearly Basics, I was using normal pharmacy products and this obviously wasn’t enough. I was having a lot of breakouts and cysts underneath the skin. I found Clearly through a giveaway which I participated and won, and I’m so glad it gave me the opportunity to try their products. 2 months in, I was amazed how powerful the products are, especially the Power Duo, and I absolutely love them. My skin has changed so much, it heals much faster now. I definitely recommend trying.

Power Duo
Celeste Robinson

This company is honestly incredible! I have been struggling with really painful hormonal cystic acne for years. I was prescribed oral medication, but decided against taking it because of all the side effects. So I did some research and found Clearly Basics! I have been using the Power Duo for 3 months and the progress my skin has made has been amazing! It has cleared my skin without causing any irritation or sensitivity. I am finally at the stage where I can leave the house without makeup! My skin is clear!! The customer service is also very personal and efficient. I don’t have enough wonderful things to say about these products, they literally saved my skin.

Really lovely product range! The power duo is the first thing, after 6 years of searching, that has helped my hormonal acne. I've tried antibiotics, differin, epiduo and everything range going but my skin got burnt, the acne came back or just didn't work. Clealry have the balance just right of clearing out your pores to prevent acne and calm pigmentation without irritating the skin. Absolutely amazing stuff that has transformed my skin!

Power Duo
Ghina Arbid

I've had acne since I was in high school. It was coming and going, but I never got rid of it completely. Last year, I had a few months without acne at all and I thought "Okay, great. This is it." But then it started coming back. So I went to see a doctor and they gave me some prescriptions. They didn't work. I saw an ad for Clearly Basics on social media once, and I was like, "This is great! But do I trust online products like this?" And guess what? I'm back here and I trust them completely because I've seen results. I started using Clearly almost 3 months ago, had a purging period where everything was just coming out. Now I'm in my third month, and I really like the results so far. My skin has cleared up, and there aren't any large bumps underneath my skin anymore. And it's just great, honestly. I didn't expect a product I bought online to be this helpful and useful. I wouldn't go anywhere else anymore after this.

Extra Strength Duo
Melissa Aldana

I love what the Sensitive Skin Trio (Clear Out + Lighten Up + Protective Moisturizer) has done for my skin! I had tried so many things before trying these products out and my skin was at its worst and peeling horribly, but I noticed a difference within the first week of using these products. The So Fresh cleanser is so refreshing and it has worked so well without stripping my skin. And with the Dark Mark Defense, my dark marks have faded greatly in comparison to when I first started using it. Since starting Clearly, I have upgraded to the Clear Out Extra Strength and even with the stronger formulation, I don’t experience any sensitivity and my skin has never looked or felt better! My skin is not dull or dry, and even has a glow, and the texture of my skin has also improved significantly

Power Duo
Chelsey Hendriksen

"I have been using Clearly for about 5 weeks and I am blown away by results. I have no large lumps, which is awesome because they were super painful. My skin is smooth and soft and everyday I see my red scars fading. I had tried so many things from drug store brands to high end products for my cystic acne and nothing worked.
After months of struggling and literally hating my skin I can not believe how amazon it looks"

Extra Strength Duo
Nicole Long

I have always struggled with acne ever since I was a teenager. Constant breakouts, constant red marks, fading into acne scars that I still probably have today. I found Clearly through social media and I was really taken in by their testimonials, so I took the leap. I started with the Clear Out + Lighten Up (Power Duo), and I really was able to see that any breakouts I was having would go away faster than I've ever seen and the Lighten Up would get rid of those red marks very quickly. Eventually I moved into the Clear Out Extra Strength and I was able to really feel like I was clearing out my clogged pores and really resetting my skin. I also added the Dark Mark Defense to really target those dark marks, acne scars that I've had since I was a teenager, and I was able to see the difference within the first month, which was really exciting for me to really target those spots that have been bothering me for years!

Power Duo
Brittany Shanae

"I swear the Power Duo (Clear Out and Lighten Up) are a GOD-send! I've been using both consistently for 3 months now and my skin has NEVER looked or felt better! I haven't experienced a breakout since March and more than 80% of my hyperpigmentation is GONE!

I'm so grateful to have finally found a product that actually works for my skin!

If you're dealing with acne breakouts and hyperpigmentation, you should def research Clearly Basics."

Skin Type: Normal
Comments: The only thing I now need to use to keep my skin clear.
The holy grail for clearing hormonal acne.

This is the only product that I have needed to keep my skin clear since discovering it about 2 years ago, after suddenly developing cystic hormonal acne at the age of 25. I now only need to use it every second night, so it's incredibly affordable. It has also never irritated my sensitive skin and it has faded previous acne marks to truly clear my skin. After years of trying expensive supplements/products/harsh prescription creams, Clear Out was the only thing that gave me long-lasting results.

Skin Type: Oily
Clearly Basics is the only product that has helped my Adult Acne

I have always struggled with dehydrated acne prone skin. Every month like clockwork I would get a new breakout on my chin or cheek area. These included large cystic acne that by the time they came to a head would take me months to clear. With new breakouts each month this created more & more spots before the first could heal leaving more hyper pigmentation spots that never have time to clear. Clearly basics changed all that for me. It gave my skin a chance to heal and reduced the number of breakouts each month. When I do get a new breakout it resolves itself quickly with less scarring and redness. Now that the acne is under control the products are helping to eliminate the remaining hyper pigmentation spots left from years of acne. I have not been using the product for long but I will continuing relying on this product and look forward to the day I can happily look in the mirror at a smooth clear & even complexion some day soon.

Skin Type: Combination
Comments: Product consistency in terms of smoothness/coarseness/stickiness/ is sometimes a miss, don't believe it affects the result provided.
Great Combo

Have seen great improvements by using these 2 items concurrently, hard to fault and wil continue purchasing.

Individual results may vary

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