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The 15 Best Acne Serums to Effectively Zap Blemishes For Good


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Experiencing oily or acne-prone skin? There’s a face serum for that. Have sensitive skin and blemishes? There’s a serum for that, too. Wanting to soothe and heal old acne spots? Yep, that serum exists. No matter your skin type or focus, there is an acne-focused serum waiting for you. 

What Is a Face Serum and What Does it Do to Your Face? 

“In the most basic sense, a face serum is any product with a gel or lotion consistency that has a high concentration of active ingredients,” says beloved skin care expert and founder of her eponymous brand, Renée Rouleau.

“They contain the highest concentration of active ingredients and have smaller molecules for faster penetration,” adds renowned celebrity esthetician Joanna Czech

What makes a serum so effective is the potential for big results because of the high concentration of ingredients. “There are a plethora of serums for different skin concerns and types, formulated to clear blemishes, smooth wrinkles and calm sensitivity,” says Rouleau. “Because of the actives included in serums, they’re very high-performing and can deliver great results when added into your skincare routine.”

Interestingly enough, they’re a fairly recent invention, too. “When I first became an esthetician in 1989, there were no such things as “serums,” says Rouleau. “Instead, there were ampoules — glass vials that contained concentrated ingredients, similar to that of a serum, and were mostly used by estheticians for professional treatments. Serums started to come onto the scene in the mid-2000s, introducing that gel consistency we are now familiar with.”

Top Acne Serums for 2022

How Can a Serum Help Acne-Prone Skin? 

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, before getting started with a serum, you’ll want to first use a face wash for oily skin, then go ahead with applying a serum. Acne-prone skin can definitely benefit from serums and other skin care products for acne, as long as they’re the right formulation for their needs, according to Rouleau. “Because the texture of serums are mostly lightweight and non-greasy (and oftentimes, oil-free) they’re a great way to incorporate actives into the skin while not adding oil (which could potentially lead to problems for acne-prone skin),” she adds. 

It’s worth noting that moderate to severe acne may still require prescription-grade topicals, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elyse Love. “But these topicals can be used to increase tolerability of prescription-grade medications,” she says. 

There are a few different ingredients or serums that can benefit acne-prone skin in varying ways, like Salicylic acid, tea tree oil, or Manuka honey, which can target bacteria that causes acne, notes Rouleau. Using a serum with one of these ingredients can help minimize a current breakout, while soothing serums are just as important to acne-prone skin as treatment serums. Ingredients like aloe vera, red algae, and licorice root can calm redness and irritation, as well as soothe inflammation. Hyaluronic acid is also incredibly helpful to hydrate and plump dried-out skin. 

If post-blemish marks stick around much longer than the zit itself, a serum featuring vitamin C and/or niacinamide can help fade dark spots and acne scars. “Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B with anti-inflammatory properties to improve skin redness and irritation, which is always present with acne,” says Dr. Yannis Alexandrides, the triple-board certified surgical director of 111 Harley St. in London, and the co-founder of 111SKIN.

Another ingredient taking the skincare industry by storm is the natural retinol alternative, bakuchiol. “Bakuchiol is a newer natural ingredient that helps to improve the inflammation and dark spots associated with acne,” says Dr. Love. 

Yet, some of the most common additions to acne serums are acid-based exfoliants. Rouleau notes that they are incredibly helpful, especially ones with BHAs, which cut through the skin’s natural oils to penetrate the pore lining to help dissolve blockages. AHAs are also helpful, but are water-soluble and work more on the surface level to address dead skin cells. 

If your skin is on the sensitive side, Dr. Love says that azelaic acid may be a better option for you, as it is “helpful for the redness and texture of acne and more suitable than BHA for sensitive skin,” she says.

Below, you’ll find the 15 best acne serums, based on your focus and skin type. Blemishes, marks, and blackheads don’t stand a chance. 

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Babor Skinovage Purifying Serum

Best Acne Serum to Control Oil Production 

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Peptides
  • Best for: Calming and balancing irritated, inflamed skin
  • Pro: Reduces skin’s excessive oil production
  • Con: Pricing 

Since 1956, the German brand, Babor, has been making clinical-grade skincare using local ingredients. Their Purifying Skinovage Serum contains a peptide mix which mimics the natural peptide found in royal jelly (the protein-rich honey produced by honeybees for the queen with naturally antibacterial and collagen-rich benefits) to reduce the production of oil, as well as calm and balance skin. After consistent usage, the skin’s sebum becomes more regulated and less reactive.  




Babor Purifying Serum


$79.95



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Avène RetrinAL Advanced Correcting Serum

Best Acne Serum for Anti-Aging

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Bakuchiol, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and Avene Thermal Spring Water
  • Best for: Minimizing wrinkles, brightening, and decreasing blemishes
  • Pro: Instantly hydrates and plumps, strengthens the skin barrier, and is gentle for even sensitive skin types
  • Con: Pricing

Retinol can work wonders on acne, yet it can also cause extreme peeling, sensitivity, and irritation. Bakuchiol is a natural alternative to retinol, derived from the Babchi plant, and can visibly lessen wrinkles, provide antioxidant protection, and firm skin. Avène’s new RetrinAL Advanced Correcting Serum harnesses bakuchiol’s benefits, along with niacinamide for brightening skin, while hyaluronic acid hydrates and the brand’s famous Thermal Spring Water softens skin. 

“This oil-free serum contains bakuchiol, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid to decrease inflammation associated with acne, decreased breakouts, and improved post-inflammatory redness and dark spots,” says Dr. Love. “It’s gentle enough to be tolerated by all skin types, lightweight enough to layer into an existing routine, and can be used two times a day.” 

I’ve been testing this serum out twice a day for over six weeks and can happily report that it significantly helps out my sensitive, acne-prone skin. I have zero irritation and can see a decrease in acne flare-ups, along with general brighter, more soothed skin.

Avène RetrinAL Advanced Correcting Serum




Avène RetrinAL Advanced Correcting Serum


$78



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ClearStem Skincare Clearity

Best Serum for Blackheads 

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Mandelic acid, turmeric, and Vitamin C
  • Best for: Addressing blackheads and melasma
  • Pro: Helps minimize current blemishes, but also heals and repairs skin
  • Con: Some users note they can go through a bottle quickly

Some acne serums believe more is more — composing a product that is packed full of the strongest and most effective acne-killing ingredients. And while some may have success with a harsh product like that, the majority of people will experience extreme reactions. Clearity is not that harsh of a serum, and ClearStem is not a more-is-more brand. Developed by two severe cystic acne sufferers, ClearStem takes a holistic, non-toxic approach to skincare that specifically targets acne, anti-aging, and acne scars. 

Their Clearity serum — nicknamed The Blackhead Dissolver — taps mandelic acid, which is not nearly as harsh as other common treatments, like glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide, to unclog pores. Plus, it helps address hyperpigmentation and fine lines. To reap the full benefits of this product, it must be applied on bare skin and left to set for at least 10 minutes to see the full benefits. 

“Seriously, this is the best product I have ever used,” wrote one user. “My pores are smaller and the blackheads I used to have on my nose and chin have cleared up almost completely. I have tried just about every popular product, and I will never use anything other than this again.”

ClearStem Skincare Clearity




ClearStem Skincare Clearity


$65



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Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum

Best Drugstore Serum For Acne

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, thyme extract, and glycerin
  • Best for: Oily and combination skin
  • Pro: Pricing
  • Con: Can be irritating for sensitive and dry skin 

The Mario Badescu brand has been formulating and perfecting acne products since 1967 — all of which are cost-conscious and effective. This Anti-Acne Serum is succinctly labeled, as it addresses congestion and dullness with a trio of power players, salicylic acid, thyme extract, and glycerin. It’s particularly effective to apply on skin only when needed, helping to lessen and minimize blemishes quickly. 

“The first night I tried it out, it completely [flattened] and diminished the redness of every single pimple I had and smoothed out the texture of my skin,” wrote one reviewer. “By the third night, everything was completely cleared up and my skin feels so amazing!” 

Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum




Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum


$20



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Paula’s Choice BHA 9 Targeted Solution

Best Serum for Cystic Acne

  • Size: 0.3 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: 9 percent salicylic acid, oat extract, and glycerin
  • Best for: Stubborn concerns, like blackheads, acne, and leftover acne marks
  • Pro: Highly concentrated and potent treatment that can address the most difficult areas
  • Con: Some users find it irritating and drying 

Sometimes there is that one zit that just won’t leave you alone. This is where Paula’s Choice BHA 9 Targeted Solution steps in — it can be used on your most stubborn and difficult acne and blackheads. 

Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, meaning it works deep within pores to reduce the size and appearance of blemishes and blackheads. And the nine percent is a strong amount to get the job done quickly. In addition, the solution includes glycerin and soothing plant extracts to clear congestion without causing excess dryness. The BHA 9 can even regulate patches of rough skin or milia. 

“I use this to decrease bumps, rough patches, enlarged pores, etc. often with visible results overnight,” wrote a reviewer. “With regular use, this will completely remove problems and dramatically change the texture and clarity of my skin. It’s strong, though, so it’s not something to use all over your face if you don’t need to. If you are sensitive to salicylate or salicylic acid, use sparingly and gently.” 

Paula’s Choice BHA 9 Targeted Solution




Paula’s Choice BH 9 Targeted Solution


$44



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Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum

Best Korean Acne Serum

  • Size: 1.35 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, peach extract, and peptides
  • Best for: Hydration, calming, brightening, and firming skin
  • Pro: Universally healing for all skin
  • Con: No clarifying or acne-fighting ingredients

Peach & Lily’s serum is the Swiss Army knife of serums: Niacinamide calms inflammation and brightens dark spots, while centella asiatica soothes and reduces inflammation and hyaluronic acid hydrates and plumps. It empowers your skin to act its best — making it great on its own or paired with a clarifying serum. 

“It really does reduce the looks of your pores and makes your skin look brighter,” wrote one reviewer. “Worth every single penny.” Another reviewer noted that acne and hyperpigmentation was a consistent issue for her since her early twenties, and after three weeks of use, she saw noticeable brightness and calmness of her inflammation. 




Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum


$39



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The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum

Best Serum for Oily Skin

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide and zinc PCA
  • Best for: Reducing congestion and sebum
  • Pro: Addresses enlarged pores and uneven texture; incredible price
  • Con: 10 percent niacinamide can be irritating for those with sensitive or dry skin

Niacinamide is known for its ability to reduce the look of enlarged pores and uneven skin tone. This beloved serum from the affordable brand, The Ordinary, has 10 percent niacinamide, which is highly concentrated, allowing you to visibly address skin tone irregularities as well as signs of aging (aka fine lines and wrinkles). 

“This product helped my skin look better in a week,” wrote one reviewer. “My skin looks more clear and bright! I had a lot of texture on my [forehead] and this has cleared it up…The only con is it’s piling. Don’t rub the product in. Tap it on your skin.” 

Other users note that the serum could be irritating for sensitive skin, so do a patch test for at least two days if you’re worried it could be too harsh for your skin. 

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum




The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum


$6.50



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Tower 28 SOS Intensive Rescue Serum

Best Acne Serum for Redness  

  • Size: 2 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Hypochlorous acid
  • Best for: Visibly reducing redness and irritation
  • Pro: Calming and antibacterial, for even rosacea and eczema
  • Con: Some users note they can go through a bottle quickly

Tower 28’s epically popular SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray is a game-changer for calming and soothing skin woes. And their newly-launched SOS Intensive Rescue Serum is essentially the amped-up version of the Facial Spray with a higher concentration of hypochlorous acid. This ingredient is an impressive anti-inflammatory and antibacterial ingredient that can help soothe and purify acne and sensitive skin. It’s so effective for sensitive skin that it has a Seal of Acceptance from the National Eczema Association. Bonus: The packaging is a 100 percent PCR bottle. 

“I have sensitive, acne-prone skin that can get red and angry,” wrote a Sephora reviewer. “It’s been about three weeks and my skin has never looked or felt better. The SOS serum goes on smooth and my skin literally soaks it up immediately. It doesn’t leave behind a residue and my skin instantly looks less red and feels calm. Over the past few weeks my skin has cleared up so much. My skin hasn’t been reactive, sensitive, red or angry since I’ve been using the serum. It looks and feels amazing. I credit the SOS Spray and the SOS Serum for my skin’s drastic recovery. I would 100% recommend both (or at least the serum if you can’t get both) to anyone with sensitive, acne-prone, angry, red skin. You won’t regret it!” 

tower 28




Tower 28 SOS Intensive Rescue Serum


$34



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Renée Rouleau BHA Clarifying Serum

Best Serum for Hormonal Acne

  • Size: .5 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid 
  • Best for: Clogged pores, blemish scars, and lessening oil production
  • Pro: Fewer blemishes, even for sensitive skin
  • Con: Some users note the serum can feel sticky 

Renée Rouleau has been helping her clients heal their acne for over 30 years and her BHA Clarifying Serum is one of the most effective and powerful acne-fighting serums around. It has a powerful blend of time-released lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acids to clear clogged pores, lift blemish scarring and red marks, lessen oil production, and reduce acne-causing bacteria — all without sparking irritating. You can expect smoother, clear, and more toned skin in as little as two weeks. 

“I love this product because it’s so gentle yet effective,” wrote a reviewer. “I have sensitive skin, so sometimes when I see a list of acids in [a] product, I cringe, because I don’t want to irritate my skin. But there’s no irritation with this product…I love waking up to clear, glowing skin.” 

Renee Rouleau BHA Clarifying Serum




Renee Rouleau BHA Clarifying Serum


$49.50



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Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum

Best Serum For Oily Skin and Acne Scars

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, mandelic acid, azelaic acid, and succinic acid
  • Best for: Clearing breakouts and smoothing texture
  • Pro: Effective acid-based serum
  • Con: Can be irritating for sensitive skin 

Dr. Love is a fan of this powerful, multi-acid serum from Glow Recipe. “It contains a complex of two percent salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and mandelic acid with calming ingredients to improve skin texture, decrease breakouts, and reduce redness,” she says. 

This clarifying BHA and AHA-filled serum is designed to be incredibly effective at targeting acne and rough texture. All the while, it won’t trigger inflammation, thanks to hyaluronic acid and allantoin. Users consistently love the results, noting that it can help with a decrease in breakouts in as little as a few days, while others flag that the two percent encapsulated salicylic acid and mandelic acid can cause burning and stinging. Test out slowly if you have sensitive or dry skin. 

Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum




Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum


$40



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Skinceuticals Silymarin CF

Best Vitamin C Acne Serum

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Silymarin (milk thistle extract), Vitamin C, ferulic acid, and salicylic acid
  • Best for: Oily skin
  • Pro: Significantly reduces oil production and improves skin clarity
  • Con: Strong scent, too irritating for dry skin, and pricing

Silymarin: Silly name, big results. This serum has been clinically shown to reduce oil production by up to 76 percent. This is beneficial for oil-streaked skin because excess sebum can lead to breakouts. On top of reducing oiliness, the Silymarin CF improves the appearance of pores and skin texture. It also imparts a more radiant skin tone, and decreases the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. As it was formulated to clarify oily and blemish-prone users, it’s likely too harsh for sensitive and dry skin types. 

Dr. Love recommends the serum, too. “It’s an oil-free lightweight serum that combines vitamin C with salicylic acid to improve skin texture and decrease oiliness and post-inflammatory pigmentation,” she says. 

And users love the results from this lightweight serum, too. “Although I am usually quite skeptical, I swear this has changed my skin,” wrote one reviewer. “I used to be an oily mess and now I barely have to touch up my makeup! Pores look smaller, [my] face [is] not greasy, and [my] skin is smoother. I’ve definitely seen less breakouts since using this. The price is quite high, but I will do my best to save up to keep this product around as long as I can. 5 stars.” 

Skinceuticals Silymarin CF




Skinceuticals Silymarin CF


$169



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111Skin 3 Phase Anti Blemish Booster

Best Serum for Acne Scars

  • Size: .68 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, colloidal silver, sulfur, and kojic acid
  • Best for: The prevention of acne, as well as minimizing current breakouts, and reducing post-blemish marks
  • Pro: Repairs and heals acne at any stage
  • Con: Pricing 

This clever serum has a handful of acne-fighting ingredients designed to address every stage of a breakout, from prevention to treating current acne to healing and repairing post-blemish skin, by combining a potent blend of ingredients. The formula has salicylic acid to exfoliate and unclog pores, microscopic colloidal silver to provide a hefty dose of anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits, colloidal sulfur particles to combat excess oil and kojic acid to reduce hyperpigmentation and scarring. 

“I use it anytime I have a breakout and everything shrinks or disappears overnight,” wrote one reviewer. “This has become my holy grail acne product and I will be repurchasing.” 

111Skin 3 Phase Anti Blemish Booster




111Skin 3 Phase Anti Blemish Booster


$135



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Environ Youth Essentia C-Quence Serum 1

Best Acne Retinol Serum

  • Size: 1.18 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Vitamin A, C, and E
  • Best for: Smoother and healthier-looking skin
  • Pro: Environ is the most effective retinol formulation available
  • Con: Pricing and retinol can be famously irritating

Czech is a fan of this retinol for acne-prone skin because Environ literally created modern-day retinol. The brand’s founder Dr. Des Fernandes was the first to use vitamin A in cosmetic skincare and it’s been one of the most important ingredients in skincare ever since. And what makes Environ particularly ingenious is their Vitamin Step-Up System, a systematic and progressive retinol program to ensure skin slowly becomes accustomed to increasing levels of vitamin A.

This potent serum filled with vitamins A, C, and E helps improve the overall tone and texture of skin, as well as reducing acne scars and acne production. As with all retinol usage, be diligent with sunscreen application, because vitamin A makes skin sensitive. 

Environ Youth Essentia C-Quence Serum 1




Environ Youth Essentia C-Quence Serum 1


$124



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Joanna Czech The Soothing Serum

Best Acne Serum for Sensitive Skin

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, polysaccharides, pepper berry and licorice root extracts, bio-ceramide complex, and niacinamide
  • Best for: Soothing skin
  • Pro: Formulated with the highest-quality ingredients to repair and heal skin
  • Con: Pricing 

With over 35 years of experience, Czech has had a lot of hands-on time dealing with blemishes. She believes acne-prone skin needs hydrating, calming, and restorative formulas, so she created The Soothing Serum. This cocktail of hyaluronic acid, polysaccharides, pepper berry and licorice root extracts, bio-ceramide complex, and niacinamide is designed to heal and repair.

“For sensitive skin that is also prone to acne, the first step is to calm the sensitivity,” says Czech. “Sensitive skin is typically easily inflamed skin that becomes red and hot to the touch.” Once sensitivity is managed, you can incorporate more active treatments to control acne, she adds. This serum is also incredible when applied before harsher, acid-based serums, helping to ‘cushion’ the more intense treatment.. 

Joanna Czech The Soothing Serum




Joanna Czech The Soothing Serum


$275



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MMSkincare Balance Serum

Best Acne Serum For Even Skin Tone

  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide, Canadian willow herb, and pre- and probiotics 
  • Best for: Heal inflammation and redness
  • Pro: Significantly reduces and prevents breakouts without irritation or dryness
  • Con: Pricing 

Dr. Rachel Maiman swears by this serum for many reasons. “This serum does exactly what the name suggests: It balances out the skin, and that is exactly what I use it for,” she says. 

Acne-fighting ingredients can be incredibly irritating, so Dr. Maiman incorporates this serum into her patient’s regimens to help calm redness, ensuring they can use other targeted products consistently. 

MM Balance serum contains an effective blend of adaptogenic botanicals — herbs that support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress and which adapt their function according to the skin’s specific needs,” says Dr. Maiman. “In addition to calming the skin, this unique proprietary blend of botanicals actually targets acne through independent mechanisms than more conventional acne-fighting ingredients. It contains Canadian willowherb, which reduces inflammation and redness, as well as inhibits the growth of P. acnes. Niacinamide offers even further anti-inflammatory benefits and also minimizes pore size by increasing skin elasticity.” 

MMSkincare Balance Serum




MMSkincare Balance Serum


$85 



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What To Look For In The Best Serums For Acne-Prone Skin

If you’re searching for a serum that addresses acne-related woes, look for products that are labeled “pore-clearing”, “antibacterial” or “soothing”. Beyond words though, here are the most important factors to consider when finding a serum for acne-prone skin. 

  • Concentration of actives: If your skin is sensitive and acne-prone, you still might want an acid-based serum, just at a lower concentration, says Rouleau. The most common, FDA-recommended active level of salicylic acid is two percent. Rouleau advises that this percentage could be too harsh for sensitive skin, so instead seek out a one percent concentration, which is more suitable and gentler on skin. Or skip the BHAs and AHAs altogether, says Dr. Love. “Niacinamide, bakuchiol, and azelaic acid are better alternatives than BHAs and AHAs for those with sensitive skin,” she says.
  • Read the labels: Not all actives play nicely together, so knowing exactly what you’re applying is key. For example, retinol does not mix with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, or AHA/BHAs. Also, check that you don’t already have a percentage of an active in a different part of your routine. You might be unnecessarily overloading with one ingredient. “If you use two to three products with the same ingredients, it is more likely to increase irritation,” notes Dr. Alexandrides. Ingredients likely to increase irritation if overused are retinoids and AHAs or BHAs.
  • Non-Comedogenic is helpful: These formulas will not clog the pores or potentially worsen acne. It’s helpful to glance at each product’s label to ensure that is oil-free and/or non-comedogenic, advises Dr. Love.

How to Apply Face Serum for Acne-Prone Skin

You’ve targeted the ingredients best for your skin and found a product that’s ideal for you — but it’s moot if you’re not applying it correctly. 

“The proper sequence for a robust skincare routine has a few more than three steps,” says acne specialist and co-founder of ClearStem Skincare, Danielle Gronich. “An effective skincare routine should also contain exfoliants and serums,” she adds. Here is the order to apply your products for both morning and evening. But keep in mind to let each product absorb for a minute or two before moving on to the next step. 

Morning

  1. Cleanse: If skin is oily, a face wash geared towards oily skin is beneficial. Dry and combination skin can usually do well with just splashing the face with water.
  2. Tone: A toner isn’t necessary, but Czech recommends utilizing one. “Controlling the pH of the skin is very important to prevent acne, so look for a balancing toner,” she says. She recommends her hydrating and repairing The Toner.
  3. Apply serum: Morning serums are reserved for hydrating, calming or brightening options. A hyaluronic acid or bakuchiol serum is a great base, then follow up with a vitamin C, if you’re using it. Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum is a gorgeous product to layer on in the morning for brighter, more hydrated skin.
  4. Moisturize: Massage in an eye cream and moisturizer.
  5. SPF: Finish with sunscreen. “SPF is always the last thing you put on, it’s your shield,” says Gronich. 

Evening

An evening skincare routine is where you’ll utilize your more effective serums, as many of them are light-sensitive, thus reserved for nighttime. 

  1. Cleanse: Wash your hands first and foremost — you don’t want to add bacteria from your hands to your face. Then cleanse the face. Thoroughly washing your face is extremely important, especially for acne-prone skin. A double cleanse, first with an oil-based cleanser on dry skin, rinsing the skin with water, and then using a second water-based cleanser and washing for at least 30 seconds is great for the evening to ensure you remove every last trace of dirt, makeup, and sunscreen. If you’re exfoliating with a chemical or physical exfoliant, do that after cleansing. Dermalogica’s brand new Daily Milkfoliant, a powder, calming exfoliant works with all skin types.
  2. Tone: If you opt for this step, pat or spritz on after cleansing to rebalance the skin.
  3. Apply serum: Dr. Love suggests applying serums to a clean, dry face. Or don’t, on purpose. “After cleansing, leave your face a bit damp and apply a dime-size amount of serum,” says Rouleau. “Applying to damp skin allows the product to penetrate even deeper and work harder.”  You can use a single serum or cocktail serums together to address more than one need, says Czech. Cocktailing (aka mixing a few serums together in the palm of your hand) is best for hydrating and soothing serums only. When using an exfoliating serum, only use one acid-based serum per evening, says Dr. Love. If using an exfoliating serum (any serum with acids in it), apply dry (or wet for more oily or acne-prone skin), let it set for 10 minutes, then apply either a hydrating serum or just jump right to your moisturizer. Letting your acid-based serum set for 10 minutes is non-negotiable though. “Always make sure you leave an AHA serum on your skin for at least 10 minutes, otherwise you’ll neutralize it and won’t see results,” says Gronich.
  4. Retinol: If using a retinol, apply it after a hydrating or calming serum — but not on the same night as an acid-based serum. Retinols and acids don’t mix, so alternate nights, if using both in your routine.
  5. Moisturize: Massage in your preferred evening face cream in upward motions. Usually a nighttime moisturizer is a thicker, more concentrated cream for deeper hydration, like Macrene Actives High Performance Face Cream. Follow with an eye cream — we love True Botanicals Resurrection Radiance Eye Cream — and a face oil, if you’d like. 

Meet the Experts

  • Dr. Rachel Maiman is a board-certified general and cosmetic dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York City. She’s especially passionate about acne (and acne scarring), melasma, rosacea, and hair loss. 
  • Dr. Yannis Alexandrides is the founder and surgical director of 111 Harley St. in London. He’s board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, and the European Board of Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery. Dr. Alexandrides is the co-founder (with his wife Eva) of 111SKIN, the famed and beloved science-focused skincare brand. 
  • Renee Rouleau has dedicated 30+ years to perfecting skin. The celebrity aesthetician and formulator has created one of the most effective brands — Renee Rouleau Skincare. She’s considered to be the queen of acne, able to perfect a game-changing ritual with just a few targeted questions.
  • Joanna Czech has built a cult-like following in her 35+ years of experience. Beginning in Poland and then in New York City, Czech believes that the key to beautiful skin is a long-term approach that incorporates a seasonal regimen and a healthy lifestyle rather than short-term quick fixes. She launched her eponymous skincare line in fall 2021 and it’s designed to support skin, no matter where in the world you’re located. 
  • Dr. Elyse Love is a board-certified dermatologist practicing medical and cosmetic dermatology at Gramercy Laser and Medical Dermatology in New York City. Her signature approach is designing routines that fit each individual by combining lifestyle modifications, over-the-counter and prescription products, and minimally invasive procedures into an approachable, enjoyable, and effective routine.
  • Danielle Gronich is a clinical esthetician, acne specialist, and co-founder and CEO of ClearStem Skincare. She’s known as “The Acne Guru” and is the formulator at ClearStem. After consistently struggling with acne and no solution in sight, Gronich left her corporate job and dove into clinical research and schooling to find a holistic and effective way to manage skin, and ClearStem Skincare was born. 

Meet the Author

Kristin Limoges is a New York-based beauty and wellness freelance editor. Previously, she created the beauty and wellness vertical for Domino Magazine where she served as the lifestyle editor for both print and digital content. In addition to all things beauty, she also covers travel and wellness. She can usually be found hair masking, face masking, and body masking simultaneously in her Chinatown apartment. 



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