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Using Lotion to Cure Acne For Good

Whether you treat your skin with an acne gel, acne cream, acne foam, or acne lotion is not as important as the ingredients the product contains. For some skin care problems, however, lotions are best.

acne treatment cream
The most important thing about choosing an acne product is the ingredients used to make the product.


  • There is nothing special about a product for acne just because it is a lotion, a gel, a foam, or a wash. What counts is what’s used to make the product, the right ingredients in the right amount1 at the right pH.
  • Never put anything that feels thick or heavy on your face if you have acne. If it feels heavy, it is probably blocking pores.
  • Many lotions for acne contain additional ingredients that can harm your skin.
  • Alcohol and plant essences can increase oil production instead of reducing it.
  • Probably the best way to find the right acne lotion is to start with a skin care system, such as Exposed Skin Care.

What Is a Lotion?

A lotion is nothing more than a liquid product that is thin enough to be spread over the skin easily and thick enough to stay on the skin for minutes or hours until it is washed off or dissolves in perspiration. Usually lotions have very small bubbles or no bubbles at all, and they are used to provide substances for the skin rather to remove dirt, grime, or oil off the skin.

Most lotions contain both water and at least one ingredient that is not readily soluble in water. To make sure the active ingredients stay dispersed, and don’t precipitate down the bottom of the container, most lotions contain one or more surfactants or slipping agents to keep the ingredients mixed. These additives can cause problems in some products.

Lotions: Good, Bad, and Ugly

A good acne lotion2 is one that delivers:

  • A skin healing ingredient,
  • In the right concentration,
  • At the right pH,
  • In a liquid that stays on the skin long enough for the ingredient to do its job.

Many lotions have the wrong ingredient for a particular skin type. Or they might have the right ingredient in a concentration that is not strong enough to make a difference. Or they might be high-pH, alkaline formulas that don’t interact well with the skin. (Alkalizing is good inside the body, but mild acidifying is best for the skin.) Or the instructions with the product might say to wash it off after just a few minutes, soon enough to make absolutely sure no one writes in to complain about side effects, but not long enough to make a real difference for the skin.

There are a few lotions that are just plain harmful for blemished skin3. The main problem areas are:

  • Addition of alcohol and/or menthol to make the skin feel tingly. That “action” on the skin is the process of inflammation, not the process of healing.
  • Use of sodium lauryl sulfate4 (the European spelling is “sulphate”) as a slipping agent. Women tend to be especially sensitive to this ingredient that can dry out the skin4.
  • Addition of fragrances, perfumes, and “natural` ingredients” of dubious value to acne care but of considerable certainty of causing allergies.

If you have acne, it’s also important to avoid any lotion, cream, gel, or balm that feels thick on your skin. Any product you use should feel light. Thick lotions clog pores and, whatever potential benefit they may have for other skin problems, they make acne worse.

Now let’s take a look at some of the top selling brands among acne lotions.

Alpha Hydroxy Spot Light Targeted Skin Lightener

Here is a product retailing for US $9.99 that can be good, bad, or ugly, depending on the skin type of the person using it. Many times pimples heal and leave brown spots behind. Many people use lotions that contain hydroquinone to lighten the lingering discoloration5.

Alpha Hydroxy Spot Light Targeted Skin Lightener contains not just one but two different ingredients that will get rid of brown (although not red or pink) discoloration on the skin, hydroquinone, which is a skin lightener, and glycolic acid, which is an alpha hydroxy acid used as a skin peel6. Both of these ingredients are just fine if you have fair, dry skin. Either of these ingredients can be disastrous, causing even worse permanent spotting7, if you have Asian, Hispanic, or African skin tones. At just US $9.99 a jar, it is tempting to try it—but don’t, unless you have dry skin and fair skin tones with little gold or brown in your skin.

Alpha Hydroxy Enhanced Lotion 10% Glycolic Acid AHA

For US $2 more per container (and a lot less per application, since this buys you 6 times as much product) another product by the same company lightens acne-affected skin without risk of leaving permanent marks on skin with Asian, Hispanic, or African skin tones. Containing 10% glycolic acid, this acne lotion will both remove brown spots and help prevent the formation of new blackheads and whiteheads by keeping skin looser, giving it a healthy glow that isn’t due to chemical irritation! This product is still just for normal to dry skin (oily skin requires BHAs, not AHAs), but it is a good way to treat brown spots without risk of creating black or blue spots.

American Beauty All Is Forgiven Skin Repair Concentrate

Here is a lotion that really doesn’t do anything to repair damage from acne or any other skin problem, but that does leave skin looking nice. The mica and titanium dioxide give skin a healthy glow. It may be a little too “white” for dark skin tones.

Aveeno Continuous Radiance Moisturizing Lotion, For All Skin Tones

Here is a moisturizer8 that will indeed work with all skin tones. What the manufacturer does not tell you is that the sun tanning agent in the lotion will change any skin tone to a shade of orange.

Avon Mark Skin Care Need a Shrink? Pore Minimizer

This cleverly named product does not actually shrink9 enlarged pores left behind after blackheads are removed. What it does is to give an even finish to the skin so pores are not as noticeable.

Darphin Paris Skin Bronze Self-Tanning Face & Body Tinted Cream Lotion

Even if you have acne, you may want a nice summer (or even winter) tan. Darkening the skin, after all, helps conceal blemishes. Here is a lotion that is a great example of how paying more does not necessarily get you more. This product retails for US $50 for 4.2 ounces/135 g. It contains the exact same ingredients as products that cost $10, plus eugenol, linalool, and mint, which dry out and irritate the skin—especially fair skin, the skin type to which the product is most frequently applied.

In choosing any tanning lotion10, it is important to remember that the darker the tan, the more likely the product is to create streaks or blotches on your skin.

Shiseido Pureness Anti-Shine Refreshing Lotion

Here is a product advertised for people who have blemish-prone, acne-prone oily skin. It contains the beta-hydroxy acid that people with oily skin need to help keep pores open. Unfortunately, it contains only a small amount of beta-hydroxy acids at a pH that is so high they will not have any effect on the skin. And because the product contains alcohol to give the skin a tingly feeling, it actually increases sebum production while not doing very much to reduce excess sebum that may already be present.

Trish McEvoy Gentle Cleansing Lotion

At US $58 for 6.2 ounces/187 ml, this product delivers the gentle cleansing it promises for blemished, dry, and fair skin. It contains no ingredients that harm the skin. Neither does Neutrogena, for about $50 less.


  1. Over-the-counter acne products: What works and why [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2019.
  2. Acne Lotion. Drugs & Medications. 2019
  3. Gerber PA, Kukova G, Bölke E, Homey B, Diedrichson E. Severe hyperpigmentation and scarring following glycolic acid peel treatment in combination with low-dose isotretinoin. Eur J Med Res. 2014 Nov 7;19(1):60.
  4. Bondi CA, Marks JL, Wroblewski LB, Raatikainen HS, Lenox SR, Gebhardt KE. Human and Environmental Toxicity of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): Evidence for Safe Use in Household Cleaning Products. Environ Health Insights. 2015 Nov 17;9:27-32.
  5. Tse TW. Hydroquinone for skin lightening: safety profile, duration of use and when should we stop? J Dermatolog Treat. 2010 Sep;21(5):272-5.
  6. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. 2018 Apr 10;23(4):863.
  7. Perić S, Bubanj M, Bubanj S, Jančić S. Side effects assessment in glicolyc acid peelings in patients with acne type I. Bosn J Basic Med Sci. 2011 Feb;11(1):52-7.
  8. J Dermatolog Treat. 2011 Aug;22(4):221-5. doi: 10.3109/09546631003762647. Epub 2010 Aug 5.
  9. Nogueira A1, Sidou F, Brocard S. Effect of a new moisturizing lotion on immediate and cumulative skin hydration: Two randomized, intra-individual, vehicle- and comparator-controlled studies. J Dermatolog Treat. 2011 Aug;22(4):221-5.
  10. . Confused about sunscreen? Get the facts [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2019.
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