If your acne isn’t going away despite your best efforts to treat it, it’s because you’re doing this one thing, says Sandra Lee, MD.

By Chelsea Traber Burns
Updated March 23, 2018
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The only thing more annoying than getting a pimple is not being able to get rid of it. Even when it feels like you're doing everything right—applying a pimple cream, keeping your skin clean, drinking more water—it still doesn't die down. We asked dermatologist Sandra Lee, also known as Dr. Pimple Popper on Instagram, the biggest mistake people are making when it comes to pimples and it turns out that all pimples should not be treated equally.

Dr. Lee says the biggest mistake people make is "not using skincare ingredients that are known to fight pimples." It turns out that maybe the pimple cream does work, you just have to use it on the right pimples. "I concentrate on educating my patients to make sure they understand why salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, or sulfur works on acne and which type of acne each of them are best suited for."

Luckily, Dr. Lee broke it down for us so you'll never be left in the dark again.

Salicylic acid: This ingredient is a peel that helps exfoliate skin. It crystalizes into a small enough size that settles into pores to help clear them of debris, dirt, and oil. Not only will it help clear up existing blackheads and whiteheads, it also prevents new ones from forming.

Benzoyl peroxide and sulfur: These ingredients are antibacterial so they will help minimize the growth of the bacteria that caused the pimple. Use these ingredients on blackheads or whiteheads that are inflamed—the painful red, angry pimples that most people recognize as acne.

Here are some of our favorite products with each ingredient:

  • Salicylic Acid: Murad Acne Control Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment ($22; ulta.com)
  • Sulfur: Dermadoctor Ain't Misbehavin' Intensive 10% Sulfure Acne Mask & Emergency Spot Treatment ($48; ulta.com)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide: Clearasil Ultra-Rapid Action Vanishing Treatment Cream ($7; target.com)