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On-the-Spot Acne Treatments

By Amalah

Dear Amalah, knower-of-all-things-wonderful,
First, I want to thank you for helping my complexion! I finally have a skincare routine that really works, and it’s all thanks to your incredible advice. Yay!
BUT – Philosophy has hurt me. To the core. They have apparently discontinued the “on a clear day blemish serum for adult acne.” That was the one thing I could count on to stop zits cold in their tracks. Now, they have “on a clear day oil-free acne spot treatment,” but the active ingredient is sulfur, and it just doesn’t do the trick like the salicylic acid did.
Thanks to your previous recommendations, I only get occasional blemishes, mostly on my chin. But when I do, I just want them GONE. FAST. The new stuff from Philosophy just isn’t cutting it. Please tell me you have a (some) recommendation(s).
Thank you!

I KNOW, RIGHT? Why, Philosophy, did you have to discontinue that magical serum of zit-stopping power? Whhhhhyyyyy?
Frankly, I blame the label instructions, which suggested it be used all over the face as a kind of prevention mask instead of an on-the-spot treatment. This kind of use probably led to a lot of people experiencing (and complaining about) dryness and irritation. So seriously, Anyone Out There Reading Who May Have Any Sort Of Pull Or Connection With Philosophy, please bring back the formulation as an on-the-spot, as-needed blemish zapper.
(I’m also guessing the bottle size had something to do with it — I only purchased one bottle in…oh, three years? Since I wasn’t using it all over, it lasted FOREVER. I finally went to replace it once the rubber dropper started to literally disintegrate, only to find that it was no longer available. Perhaps it was just a basic sales graph that suggested people weren’t repeat-buying it, when really, we were just still using our original purchase.)
(Look at me, struggling so hard to find MEANING behind a simple product discontinuation. Take away my pimple treatment and KNOCK MY WORLD OFF ITS AXIS.)
Anyway, a couple months ago I started experiencing some super hellacious skin. I will blame hormones, since it coincided with the Return Of The Period, and also a trip to the beach where I made Poor Decisions About Sunblock, and used something not specifically formulated for faces. Also, I think a new shampoo my hairstylist recommended was causing me to break out along my hairline. Basically, a TRIFECTA of terrible, crap, awful skin.
And NONE of my Philosophy products were cutting it. It wasn’t enlarged pores or blackheads or any of my usual annoyances — it was pimples. Red, raised, icky zits and blind pimples. I hadn’t seen skin like this since high school and in an act of desperation I went to Sephora with a bag over my head and grabbed the first thing I blindly bumped into. It was the Murad Get Clear, Stay Clear starter set. What a coincidence, as this was the very brand several readers have recommended as an alternative when Philosophy failed to work for them.
It thankfully contains a spot treatment, one that contains both sulphur AND our good friend salicylic acid. Does it work? Yes. Does it work as well as the Philosophy serum? No. I found it took a couple days — up to a week, for some — for the spots to disappear completely. BUT! These were existing blemishes, that I’d already had for some time when I started using the kit. For new zits, it works much, much faster. The Philosophy serum could kick ass overnight on any spot, while the Murad treatment definitely works better if you start using it the minute you suspect you’re getting a zit. It’s also very gentle and doesn’t leave a film on your skin, which was my occasional complaint about the Philosophy serum.
I was worried my search for a new blemish spot treatment would be long and arduous, given my lousy track record with useless products. (I’ve tried and been disappointed by Neutrogena, Clean & Clear Persagel, Clinique, Burt’s Bees, Dr. Hauschka, just to NAME A FEW.) Shockingly, while I’m lukewarm on the rest of the Murad kit (more on that below), I will definitely be buying the spot treatment again. You know, when I run out of my current tube in 2012 or so.
(I know the OP is only really interested in spot treatments, so I’ll just do a mini-review of the Murad system: if you have PIMPLES, as in COMEDONIC ACNE, it’s a very good one, although I would go with the Acne Complex starter kit instead of the one I purchased, because that contains a very-much-necessary moisturizer. The only moisturizer I had on hand was my Hope in a Bottle, which uses salicylic acid [the same active ingredient in the Murad products] and that’s just entirely too much of it. Now that I have the zits under control, I am less enamored with it, because it really doesn’t do much for any complexion problems that aren’t true comedonic acne, like blackheads or blind pimples or enlarged pores. My pores definitely seem more noticeable while using Murad than with Philosophy, for whatever reason. Would guess maybe the Murad is simply too strong and my skin is overcompensating, like it tends to do whenever I start treating my combination skin as truly “oily.” Then again, NO ZITS, THANK GOD.)


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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