When I was in junior high and high school, I used to swab my face with Oxy pads at the first sign of a zit, going over the area multiple times until my poor face was raw and no concealer in the world could hide the damage.
What I didn’t know then that I know now is that the benzoyl peroxide in those Oxy pads, which so effectively preyed on my teenaged insecurities, was WAY too harsh for my skin. (At least those commercials made teen dudes feel just as bad. Yay!)
Benzoyl peroxide is great at killing acne-causing bacteria (killing bacteria is its job), but it dried out my face, made it tight and red, and, in the end, didn’t do a whole lot to help lessen or clear up the breakouts. And I didn’t need it ALL over my face; I needed a spot-treatment, which, believe it or not, didn’t really exist back in the mid-late '90s.
Enter salicylic acid, which I FINALLY discovered in college (RIP Neutrogena Clear Pore Treatment). An exfoliant, salicylic acid gets into the pores and breaks down all the junk clogging them. And unlike benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties--aspirin is actually made from a modified version of the ingredient.
Fast-forward to today: Prescription retinol has eliminated pretty much all of my facial acne (including most of the acne scars leftover from those glorious Oxy years). But I still get the occasional breakout on my chest, an area that I find that too sensitive for a retinoid. And I don't love a lot of what's available in drugstores; I'm extremely picky about textures when it comes to spot treatments, and I suspect that's because I've tried so many over the years.
But I really like this new Estée Lauder Clear Difference Targeted Blemish Treatment.
It contains 1% salicylic acid--strong enough to handle your average breakout--and it comes in a roller ball, which makes application tidier all around. The treatment goes exactly where it’s supposed to go, which means less irritation on the surrounding skin.
The other key ingredient is glucosamine, an amino sugar. When used topically, it can help lessen the discoloration that often comes after a breakout has healed. Lauder is marketing this product as being "suitable for all ethnicities," which tells me they are aware of the concerns women with darker skin tones have with post-acne pigmentation.
The formula is clear and fast-absorbing, and I noticed a significant reduction in redness and swelling after one use; it was completely cleared up in about four days. But no, I don’t have pics. We’re talking about chest acne here, and I’m not trying to serve up photos of that for you. Sorry, Internet.
If you have moderate to severe acne, this obviously isn’t the product for you. But for we olds who still get the occasional zit, can’t tolerate benzoyl peroxide, and find most drugstore salicylic acid spot treatments too harsh (many of them clock in at the max 2%), it’s a very good, very grown-up option.
What’s your favorite spot treatment?