Your all-in-one guide to choosing the best anti-acne cream

People touch their faces over 15 times an hour (1), which works out to more than 240 times a day. For those of us with pimples, that’s 240 daily reminders of our poor skin texture. If only there were a way to make acne magically disappear…

While there is no silver bullet for acne, a face cream for pimples can set you on the road to blemish-free skin. Curious about how to choose the right anti-acne cream for your complexion? We’ve got you covered. 




Know your opponent

Before you even think about shopping for an acne ointment, give your skin a thorough once over. When you know exactly what you are dealing with, finding a skin-clearing cream becomes a whole lot easier.

  • Whiteheads: These white or flesh-coloured dots are signs of clogged pores. When excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria collect in the pores, and the opening of the pore closes up, you are left with a whitehead.
  • Blackheads: These are not tiny grains of dirt, which is why scrubbing hard won’t send them packing. Like whiteheads, blackheads appear when oil, dead skin, and bacteria accumulate in the pores. Unlike whiteheads, the pore of a blackhead remains open.
  • Pimples: When the build-up of oil, dead skin, and bacteria pushes deep into the skin, papules and pustules begin to form. These small, red bumps can make your skin feel like sandpaper. The white or yellow tips on pustules indicate the presence of pus. 
  • Severe acne: If the build-up and infection spread deeper into the skin, the acne lesions spread and become larger. Nodules are hard, pus-free bumps and cysts are soft, pus-filled lesions. Both can be quite painful and may lead to permanent scars.
  • Post-acne blemishes: Sometimes, lesions that clear up leave behind unsightly signs of their former presence. People with severe acne are constantly dealing with stubborn scars. But even standard-issue pimples can saddle you with scars, dark spots, and redness.

(Explore the different grades of acne here.)


Over-the-counter (OTC) products like blackhead and whitehead removal creams can be very effective against these mild forms of acne. Pimples—a moderately severe form of acne—usually respond well to OTC and home treatments. If post-acne marks are your main problem, a cream for acne scars could lighten scars and dark spots.

However, OTC formulas have a limited impact on severe acne. If you notice any nodules and cysts, ask your dermatologist for treatment advice.


Know your acne fighters

Shopping for acne-control products can be bewildering as there are so many different options. Here are your three basic acne fighters:

  • Cleansers: Anti-acne cleansers work harder than regular cleansers. They wash away oil, debris, and acne bacteria.
  • Toners: Toners tackle acne bacteria, dislodge stubborn grime, and restore the skin’s pH level.
  • Creams: This category includes not only anti-acne creams but also acne ointments, lotions, and gels. Creams pack a hydrating punch for acne-prone skin. 

If you are looking for fighting power, anti-acne creams are your best option. These formulas are also called ‘leave-on’ treatments. Because you leave them on the skin for longer periods, they have more time to beat acne bacteria and minimise symptoms.


Know your active ingredients

Different types of acne call for different types of treatment. Before you can start browsing for a skin-clearing cream, get a clear picture of the active ingredients at work. 


  • Benzoyl peroxide: Super-effective at destroying the acne-causing P. acnes bacteria, benzoyl peroxide also eliminates excess oil. Creams containing benzoyl peroxide are effective against whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.
Have sensitive or dry skin? Run a patch test first. If your skin is sensitive to benzoyl peroxide or if the formulation is too strong, you could land up with dry, red, and scaly skin. Some people tend to experience a burning sensation. The ingredient may also have a slight bleaching effect on your hair and clothing.
  • Salicylic acid: This beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) sloughs off dead skin cells. Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, which enables it to penetrate the pores and dissolve the sticky build-up. This makes the BHA very effective against whiteheads and blackheads. It also combats inflammation and redness, helping minor pimples to shrink over time. 
Just remember that less is more when using salicylic acid. If this ingredient is applied too generously or over large areas, it gets absorbed into the blood. When large enough quantities are absorbed, salicylate poisoning may occur. 
Your safest option? A salicylic acid face wash or cleanser. If you prefer a cream, use salicylic acid only for spot treatment. Be wary if you have dry or sensitive skin, for the ingredient can cause mild irritation.
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs): Two AHAs turn up frequently in face creams for pimples. These are glycolic acid and lactic acid, both chemical exfoliants that eliminate dead skin debris and clear pore blockages. Of the two, lactic acid is gentler and more hydrating, which makes it more suitable for dry and sensitive skin.
AHAs promote cell turnover as well. They remove the compromised outer layer and reveal the healthy skin that lies beneath. An AHA-infused cream for acne scars can also help your blemishes fade. 
Sulphur: This natural mineral has antibacterial properties that restrict acne bacteria from multiplying. A strong exfoliant, sulphur peels away the upper layer of the skin and clears the pores. It also reduces inflammation and works well in short-contact spot treatment formulas for mild breakouts.
One big negative is its nasty smell. Many sulphur-containing acne creams add fragrances to mask the odour. And as people with sensitive skin know well, fragrance is a common skin irritant. 
  • Tea tree oil: If you want a cream for removing blackheads and whiteheads, products infused with tea tree oil can be a good fit. Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory powers and is very effective in spot treating acne lesions. It also reduces oil levels.
However, some people may be sensitive to tea tree oil. So, make sure to run a patch test before using a new product. Discontinue use if you experience a rash, irritation, or swelling.
(Check out our guide to using tea tree oil for acne.) 
  • Azelaic acid: This natural acid dissolves any sticky clogs in the pores and has antibacterial powers. So, it not only clears out the build-up where acne bacteria like to multiply but also neutralises the bacteria themselves. 
Azelaic acid also shows genuine impacts on dark spots caused by acne. Acne sufferers with darker skin tones could benefit by adding this active to their routine. However, the ingredient may dehydrate the skin in some cases.
  • Retinol: Retinol works on most types of acne. It exfoliates, supports the shedding of dead skin, and reduces oil production. This Vitamin A derivative is also helpful in reducing the swelling and redness of acne lesions.
This retinoid treats active acne, prevents the emergence of new zits, and lightens dark spots. However, it dries out the skin and increases sun sensitivity. So, you must remember to slather on some moisturiser with SPF every time you apply a product that has retinol in it.


Know how to choose an anti-acne cream 

Now with the backstory out of the way, we can finally get to the big question: how to choose the best acne cream in India. Here is all you need to know!

  • Identify your requirements: Not all acne is created equal. So, take careful note of your skin type and the severity of your acne problem. 
A cream for removing blackheads and whiteheads is sufficient for people with mild breakouts. If you suffer from a steady stream of pimples, shop for a soothing acne ointment that fights acne-causing bacteria. However, those with severe acne should meet with their dermatologist right away.

(Is it time to see the doctor for your acne problem?)

  • Start with gentler formulas: Are you new to face creams for pimples and other forms of acne? Do yourself a favour and start with lower-strength products. Take this very seriously if your skin is dry or easily irritated. 

For example, OTC formulas have benzoyl peroxide content of between 2.5% and 10%. Start with formulas on the lower end of this scale. You can work your way up if needed. Always read the packaging for the ingredient list and composition. High concentrations of some actives could even end up worsening your flares.

  • Mix ingredients (with care!): Some anti-acne creams target one set of acne symptoms, while other creams tackle a different group of issues. One approach is to mix and match products with different actives. You might use one ingredient every morning and another one at night. 
Just be careful about which ingredients you put together. There is usually no harm in combining a salicylic acid product with another that has benzoyl peroxide, for example. But neither of these actives is a good mix with sulphur. When in doubt, resist the urge to experiment and check with your dermatologist instead.

Is all this too confusing? Lose the hassle of zeroing in on the perfect product. Clearica Anti-Acne Cream is gentle enough for all skin types, and it targets all the major symptoms of acne. So, you don’t have to worry about it being too harsh on your skin. And there is no need to worry about which actives go well together.

What’s in it? The active ingredients are upcycled and sourced from plants in their purest form. Green tea soothes acne-related discomfort, phragmites kharka controls inflation, eucalyptus leaves fight P. acnes bacteria, and guava leaves stimulate collagen production. Add the cream to your twice-daily routine to beat the breakouts and reveal acne-free skin. 


Know how to use an anti-acne cream

No matter what cream you finally choose, you have to use it correctly. Follow this short guide to nail the application process.

  • Begin by cleansing: Use a gentle formula like Clearica Anti-Acne Cleanser to deep-clean the pores and wash away the grease. Then pat dry with a soft, clean towel. While the skin is still damp, swipe toner all over the face and neck. Your skin is now ready to soak up the actives in the acne cream.
    (Master the right way to cleanse your face.)
  • Go pea-sized: A pea-sized amount of cream is all you need for acne-prone skin. Too much product can be overkill if your complexion is already compromised. Going overboard with the active ingredients could do more harm than good.
  • Apply on lesions: Start by dabbing the cream directly on your active acne and other blemishes. Distribute the product evenly over the zits. Even if a large area needs to be covered, don’t apply too much.
  • Massage through: Now spread the cream evenly all over your face and neck in a very thin layer. Thorough massaging ensures that the cream works all over the skin and not just on the blemishes.
  • Use moisturiser:
    Your acne ointment may be hydrating but only to a point. Keep acne at bay by hydrating properly. Follow up the acne cream with a lightweight moisturiser. No skipping this step!
  • Most importantly, remember to be patient. So, don’t jump from one new product to another and then another because you do not see quick results. Many people notice positive results only after using a particular product for two to three months. 


    Carry on caring for your skin

    The skin-clearing cream that you choose is just one element of your skincare regimen. Do not expect it to be a one-stop solution to your acne woes. Want to get the most out of your new favourite product? Here are some quick tips:

    • Practice your skincare routine every day, twice a day. 
    • Do not pick at zits. Touching the skin could spread acne bacteria.
    • Shampoo your hair regularly to avoid forehead pimples. 
    • Wipe your cell phone clean to avoid dirt and germ transfer during calls.


    (Read our 10 tips for spotless skin!)


    If your acne shows no improvement after three months, visit your dermatologist. They could suggest a prescription-strength acne cream that takes you closer to your dream complexion.




    Disclaimer: This page is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation or for diagnostic purposes. Please consult your dermatologist or doctor before acting on any of the information provided here.