Hopefully it goes without saying, but: We take our jobs really seriously over here in the Cosmo beauty department. There isn’t a single beauty product we haven’t tested or a skin problem we haven’t tried to solve. Our annual Holy Grail Beauty Awards—in which we feature all the dopest new products, tools, treatments you need to know about—is a testament to our commitment.
Because we’re downright skin-obsessed, we figured we ought to set our sights on a new target: Public, I mean, *complexion* enemy number one. Yeah, I’m talking about pimples. They’re annoying, relentless, highly inconvenient, and pretty much every single person on Earth has dealt with them at some point or another (if you’re one of the few who hasn’t, please play the lottery—your luck is on another level). Even when we’re doing everything “right” for our skin, breakouts refuse to leave us alone—hence, the Holy Grail Acne Awards was born.
The following products and treatments—from the best face wash to the most effective acne system—were selected as our winners after months and months (and months!!) of testing by the Cosmo beauty team (we happen to get more breakouts than we’d like to admit, tbh). Go ahead, call us the pimple pros.
Tap the categories below and see the products that earned our breakout-busting stamp of approval.
“This brand will forever and always be iconic when it comes to kicking acne’s butt! And this newly formulated cleanser is *chef’s kiss* perfect. The trinity of 2% salicylic acid, aloe and white tea is what clear-skin dreams are made of.” —Julee Wilson, beauty director
“It takes off your makeup with a few simple wipes and the lightweight formula is gentle enough to use on sensitive skin. With zero fragrances or harsh ingredients, it’s also a solid alternative to classic acne face washes.” —Ruby Buddemeyer, beauty editor
“By now you know that retinol is a must-have skin-perfecting ingredient. But it’s all about finding the right one that isn’t too harsh and won’t dry out your skin. Well, add this one to your must-have list. Crafted with 1.2% clean retinol, this nighttime treatment oil works wonders to clear up skin and hydrate at the same damn time. Genius!” —Julee Wilson, beauty director
“I’m obsessed with retinol, but it’s difficult to use without getting some irritation or dryness. It’s a little harsh (especially my prescription) to your skin’s normal state as it increases cell turnover. I like using this moisturizer to do two things: calm my complexion and rebuild my skin’s microbiome. The ceramides in this formula assist in rebuilding that skin barrier and locking in moisture, so I can continue to safely use my favorite Vitamin A.” —Valeriya Chupinina, freelance beauty assistant
“It’s rare you find a skincare product that works immediately, but after using this just one time my pores looked less clogged, the redness on my cheeks subsided, and my skin texture looked a bit smoother.” —Lauren Balsamo, deputy beauty director
“There’s truly no better SPF for acne-prone skin—it’s non-greasy, fast-absorbing, non-comedogenic (aka tested to not clog pores), and helps calm down inflammation with niacinamide too.” —Lauren Balsamo, deputy beauty director
“I used the system for four week straight and I noticed my skin looking smoother, brighter, and relatively zit-free (seriously). So if you, too, are struggling to find a simple, curated routine that’s actually effective, do your skin a favor and follow my lead.” —Ruby Buddemeyer, beauty editor
“Prepping your skin like a pro is easy with this toner. The witch hazel soaks up excess oil and the rose hip extract, vitamin B, chamomile and aloe are right there to to make sure your skin stays moisturized and calm.” —Julee Wilson, beauty director
“I wish I could bathe in this stuff. It’s truly the only moisturizer I’ll use on my hyper-reactive, pissed-off skin, especially when I’m in the middle of a breakout. No oils, no fragrance, no irritation—just —Chloe Metzger, deputy beauty director
“The salicylic acid helps dissolve excess oil and dead cells to unclog pores, and the silymarin provides additional antioxidant protection. In a clinical trial, the serum was shown to reduce skin oiliness by 76 percent, which is pretty major.” —Lauren Balsamo, deputy beauty director
“For redness and oily skin, this moisturizer has your back. It’s formulated with aloe vera extract which is anti-inflammatory, as well as corn starch which leaves a nice matte finish on your skin (pretty perfect for my shiny forehead).” —Sami Roberts, beauty assistant
“So you need to cover a few/several pimples but the last thing you want is to piss off your skin even more? Grab this bb and thank us later. The lightweight formula is medium to full coverage, so bye-bye visible blemishes or hyperpigmentation. And it’s oil-free so it’ll keep breakouts at bay while you’re just trying to live your best zits-leave-me-alone life.” —Julee Wilson, beauty director
“Trust me: This lightweight, yet full-coverage (!? I know) concealer can cover the reddest of red zits without sliding off by lunch. I just dab it on, wait 60 seconds for it to set, then gently tap it in to blend.” —Chloe Metzger, deputy beauty director
“That tight, dryness my face usually gets from most makeup removers? Not a thing here, since this micellar water is alcohol-free. Plus, thanks to xylitol (a super moisture-retaining ingredient) and zinc gluconate (soothing and sebum-regulating—great for my oily and mildly sensitive skin) it gently removes makeup and oils and prevents acne without stripping your skin.” —Sami Roberts, beauty assistant
“This baby does all the things in one step: It hydrates with humectants, smooths and brightens with apple extract, protects skin with mineral-based SPF 50, and covers breakouts, redness, and hyperpigmentation with a lightweight, buildable tint that comes in 15 shades.” —Lauren Balsamo, deputy beauty director
“The year: 2018. The face: Covered with red acne scars. I’d just come out of a bout of painful acne, but the scars left behind didn’t leave my face much clearer. Enter: This post-breakout fading gel, which has a cool combo of glycolic acid and green tea extract. The former gently exfoliates and promotes cell-turnover, and the latter soothes redness and inflammation—aka exactly what my post-breakout face needed.” —Sami Roberts, beauty assistant
“Not only does it have 1.5 percent salicylic acid (the best stuff for fighting pesky bumps), but its vegan formulation (which is totally clear) also boasts apple and cucumber extracts—a cool combo that works to combat hyperpigmentation.” —Julee Wilson, beauty director
“A mix of rosacea and cystic acne (fun! We’re having fun!) means my face is perma-red, 24/7. But this serum helps tone down the redness with calming peptides and spring water, without leaving my skin oily or clogged.” —Chloe Metzger, deputy beauty director
“Whenever I get a facial, the aestheticians are absolutely floored by the amount of blackheads I give them to deal with. This acne medication works with my skin to deliver strong pore-clearing ingredients like 2% salicylic acid (which helps the skin shed dead skin cells from the top layer) and exfoliating crystals that polish my skin’s surface.” —Valeriya Chupinina, freelance beauty assistant
“True story: To try to shrink my zits, I used to go to cover my breakouts with honey and slap a bandaid over them before going to sleep. Instead, I just woke up with a sticky face. If only I’d had these pimple patches—formulated with salicylic acid—which would have worked a million times better, and would have prevented me from picking the heck out of my face, too.” —Sami Roberts, beauty assistant
“These bbs are filled with 24 dissolvable micro-darts that gently penetrate the top layer of your skin to push a blend of hydrating hyaluronic acid, soothing niacinamide, and salicylic acid right into your zit.” — Ruby Buddemeyer, beauty editor
“These chemical exfoliator pads have a cult following. Why? Because that really really work. The first step is packed with alpha and beta hydroxy acids and the second is a healthy dose of retinol. Basically everything you need for dope skin.” —Julee Wilson, beauty director
“The second my face betrays me with a pimple, I grab this nonirritating sulfur spot treatment for whiteheads and surface blemishes. I leave it on overnight, and wake up looking like a GD queen again.” —Julee Wilson, beauty director
“I have the skin of a sensitive, weathered infant, and even I can tolerate this toner on my T-zone. This low-dose BHA (beta hydroxy acid, aka salicylic acid) works to deeply, yet gently, dissolve the gunk from your pores without using any irritating fragrances or alcohols or oils. It just…works. Very, very well.” —Chloe Metzger, deputy beauty director
“This miracle multitasker, which is oil-free and fragrance-free, can be used from head to toe to coddle your skin in a cocoon of lightweight, long-lasting moisture. Trust me—I use it on my body after I hop out of the shower and on my face after my serums, and my skin is absolutely thriving.” —Lauren Balsamo, deputy beauty director
“Living in New York City is a constant battle between sweating and feeling like you’re frozen. This results in blemishes on my back that I like to treat with a body wash made to target bacne, like this one from The Body Shop. This bb contains tea tree oil, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties to help soothe any irritation I get from a day out running errands.” —Valeriya Chupinina, freelance beauty assistant
“Breakouts have this very cute habit of showing up when you have zero chance of fighting them—on a flight, in the middle of your vacation, the night before a first date, etc. So I literally don’t go anywhere without these acne pads, spiked with salicylic acid to exfoliate and lift oils and dirt from your pores and prevent the rudest of zits.” —Sami Roberts, beauty assistant
“This weekly body treatment helps exfoliate your skin with ingredients like glycolic and salicylic acid, creating a double-cleansing effect by first eliminating dead skin cells and then breaking the bond between the first and second layer of your skin to help it appear smoother and more even. I love getting this exfoliator in the sandalwood scent—it’s so earthy, creamy, and rich.” —Valeriya Chupinina, freelance beauty assistant
“If you’re dealing with acne scarring or just want to improve your skin texture and pore size, I’d definitely recommend trying SkinPen. It uses microneedling technology to prompt your skin to produce new collagen and replace damaged skin tissue with newer, fresher tissue.” —Lauren Balsamo, deputy beauty director
PCA Sensi Peel book now
“A lot of chemical peels are too harsh for acne-prone skin that’s also sensitive, but not this option from PCA Skin. It uses a gentle, yet effective, blend of TCA and lactic acid to brighten, smooth, and purify skin. Plus, it’s safe all skin tones.” —Lauren Balsamo, deputy beauty director
“This laser penetrates your skin to kill acne-causing bacteria and temporarily shrink oil glands. Expect a chin free of cystic acne after just a few sessions.” —Chloe Metzger, deputy beauty director
Hydrafacial book now
“Everytime I leave a Hydrafacial appointment, I’m shocked at how clear my skin looks, how small my pores appear, and how my blackheads basically go MIA. It’s truly the most results-oriented facial I’ve tried.” —Lauren Balsamo, deputy beauty director
Models: Haniya, Andreanna, Molly Brodowski, Kaguya. Stylist: Andrea Zendejas. Fashion assistant: Rose Lauture. Hair: Takuya Yamaguchi. Makeup: Deanna Melluso. Makeup assistants: Michele Wilderman, Lindsay Mcook. Nails: Nori Yamanaka, Kayo. Video: Abbey Adkison, Liesl Lar, Janet Upadhye, Deanna Govea, Sebastian Trevino. Production: Abby Silverman, Ruben Chamorro, Casey Franklin, Christopher Smith.
Face Wash: Soma headband. Ileana Makri earrings. Miansai necklace. Joanna Laura Constantine ring. Face Mask: Swarovski earrings. Tom Wood ring. Hill House Home robe.Moisturizer: Dauphinette top. ATM tank top. Bleecker and Prince earrings. Corvo rings. Foundation: Awe Inspired earrings. Mateo ring. Dark Spot Corrector: Musier Paris top. Tom Wood earrings. White Space ring. Chunks barrettes. Redness reducer: Swarovski earrings Pimple Patch: BP+Wildfang top. Stephanie Gottlieb earrings. Tom Wood ring. Chunks Barrettes. Kanel Barrette. Exfoliator: Swarovski earrings. 51 E John ring. Body Scrub: Demarson earrings. Demarson ear cuffs. Syna rings. Kanel barrettes.