The 15 Best Acne Treatments for Every Type of Spot

Paula’s Choice Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment is a tried-and-true for combatting breakouts

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Best Acne Treatments for Every Type of Spot

Amazon

Dealing with acne absolutely sucks. It affects your self-esteem and mental health, is hard to treat, and even more difficult to prevent. What’s worse, we’re no longer only dealing with acne in our teen years — it seems that acne continues to affect women well into their 30s, 40s, and even 50s, too.

I’m 30 and have been battling my hormonal acne for well over 15 years now. I’ve tried every acne product out there, and have a ton of experience in various treatments and medications. I’ve found that the Paula’s Choice Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment has been my go-to for many years, and its active ingredient (benzoyl peroxide) never fails to disappoint.

Believe me when I say that I know how overwhelming the acne product section in your local drugstore, Sephora, or Ulta can be. There are so many products to choose from, with many different acne-fighting ingredients to decide between. Plus, you don’t want to choose something that could potentially irritate your already fragile skin and make matters worse. Below, I’ve rounded up my tried-and-true, and dermatologist-approved acne products that stand out among the rest, which I know you will love, too.

Ahead the best acne treatments.

Best Overall

Paula's Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment

Paula's Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment

Amazon

What We Love: Its incredible efficacy.

What We Don’t Love: It might be too strong for daily use on sensitive skin.

I’ve been using the Paula’s Choice Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment for many years now and it never fails me. Formulated with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, this treatment will help fight current breakouts while preventing others from popping up, too.

I love this treatment because, although it does contain potentially-irritating benzoyl peroxide, it also features two key calming and soothing ingredients: allantoin and bisabolol. Both of these ingredients help offset the irritation that sometimes can occur when using an active ingredient like benzoyl peroxide.

Corey L. Hartman, M.D., founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL, is also a big fan of this product. “The Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Skin Clearing Treatment is a lightweight lotion that dries clear with a matte finish,” he explains. “It contains soothing plant extracts to combat any irritating dryness.”

I like to use this treatment only when I’m actively breaking out, but if you have a stronger skin barrier that can handle active ingredients, it’s probably safe for you to use this product daily for treatment and prevention. I like to apply this to any breakouts at night, wait 10-20 minutes for the product to penetrate into my skin, and then apply my nighttime moisturizer on top for hydration.

Price at time of publish: $22

Active Ingredient: 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide | Type of treatment: Spot treatment | Size: 2.25 fl oz.

Best Patch

Sweet Chef Carrot Ginger Blemish Rescue Patch

Sweet Chef Carrot Ginger Blemish Rescue Patch

Amazon

What We Love: The extra-small patches.

What We Don’t Love: The decorated patches.

The discovery of pimple patches has been a godsend for me in the last few years, and I’ve tried many on the market. This pick from Sweet Chef has a great assortment of different sizes and shapes, and does a wonderful job of absorbing excess fluid from pimples while accelerating the healing process, too.

I love these patches because they are on the thicker side and have an effective stickiness to them as well — I’ve tried other pimple patches that are thin and slide off after just an hour or so. These patches come in three different sizes and should be able to cover any type of pimple you’re looking to target — whether that be a baby bump or a cluster of monsters.

Another plus to these pimple patches is that they are loaded with ingredients to help treat acne lesions. Thanks to antioxidant-rich carrot and ginger, plus acne-fighting salicylic acid, these patches work overtime to calm inflammation.

The one aspect of these patches I don’t love is the decorated ones. First of all, they are decorated with little hearts and carrots, and I don’t think they are that cute (I’ve seen other patches that have cuter shapes and colors). Additionally, I don’t love that you can’t see how much gunk has been sucked out of your pimple with the decorated patches. It’s much harder to see if it made any difference, compared to the clear patches where you’re clearly able to tell its effectiveness. 

Price at time of publish: $16

Active Ingredient: Salicylic acid | Type of treatment: Pimple patch | Size: Variety-pack

Best Spot Treatment

La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Spot Treatment Cream

La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment with Benzoyl Peroxide

Dermstore

What We Love: It has a high concentration of acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide.

What We Don’t Love: It can be aggressive and drying.

One of La Roche-Posay’s best-sellers, this spot treatment is beloved by many for its effectiveness and non-drying formulation. Unlike other acne product treatments that contain around 2% benzoyl peroxide, this pick features 5.5% micronized benzoyl peroxide, making it a bit stronger.

What sets this spot treatment apart from the rest is that it contains lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA), glycerin, and silica. LHA is a derivative of salicylic acid (another popular acne-fighting ingredient) that works to exfoliate the skin’s surface to gently remove dead skin cells. On the other hand, glycerin is used as a humectant to hydrate the skin, preventing irritation from the benzoyl peroxide. Finally, silica is used as an oil-absorbing ingredient — a common issue among those with acne-prone skin.

While the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Spot Treatment Cream does a great job of working as a spot treatment to minimize current breakouts, many people love to add a bit of this into their moisturizer and apply to their skin daily as a sort of preventative treatment. If you do choose to use this every day, make sure you’re applying sunscreen during the day, as this product might make you more susceptible to sun damage.

Price at time of publish: $21

Active Ingredient: 5.5% Micronized benzoyl peroxide | Type of treatment: Spot treatment | Size: 0.7 fl oz.

Best Mask

JORI Daily Leave-On Acne Treatment Mask

JORI Daily Leave-On Acne Treatment Mask

JORI

What We Love: The hormonal-acne fighting ingredients.

What We Don’t Love: It might be too harsh for super sensitive skin.

If you’ve got stubborn, hormonal acne that needs extra TLC, consider trying the JORI Daily Leave-On Acne Treatment Mask. Formulated with a proprietary active botanical blend to address the impacts of diet, stress, and hormones on the skin, this mask can be used daily as a spot treatment or on your entire face.

I love that this product contains ingredients you don’t normally find in a hormonal acne product. Saw palmetto, one of the mask’s transformative ingredients, is a botanical extract that’s been used orally to help balance DHT hormone levels in women (and men). Another ingredient I love to see is zinc, which has been known to diminish the appearance of blemishes (as well as other skin irritations, such as eczema). Finally, niacinamide is included to help calm irritation, which can sometimes happen with acne products.

The main active ingredient in this formulation is the 2.5% micronized benzoyl peroxide, which allows the product to really get deep into the pores to treat and prevent breakouts at the source. Unfortunately, I have the most sensitive, acne-prone skin, and this product is too strong for me to use every day. I prefer to use it as a spot treatment when I can feel a breakout forming — you can also apply your moisturizer right before applying this to your skin, so it can act as a barrier in case you are sensitive, too. If using a retinol product, make sure to use it on alternating days. 

Price at time of publish: $52

Active Ingredient: 2.5% Micronized Benzoyl Peroxide | Type of treatment: Mask | Size: 1.5 oz

Best Retinoid

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

4.8
differin-adapalene-gel-01-at-amazon

Amazon

What We Love: It’s a very gentle retinoid for acne-prone skin.

What We Don’t Love: The dreaded purging phase.

What was once only available via prescription, Differin is now available over-the-counter at your local pharmacy. This popular acne treatment contains 0.1% adapalene, a type of retinoid known to help treat and prevent acne from forming.

If used consistently, this gel can be an extremely effective defense against acne. That being said, it’s important to understand that it’s not just a spot treatment — this product should be used consistently, even when your acne has cleared up after 12 weeks. Adapalene is a vitamin A derivative that helps to regulate cell turnover, keeping your pores from clogging up with oil and targeting acne before it begins to form.

While millions of folks have found this retinoid to be effective in treating their acne, many complain about the dreaded purging phase that can occur anywhere from week two to week 12. Most dermatologists will tell you that it gets worse before it gets better when it comes to regular retinoid use. If you do choose to try Differin, make sure you’re prepared to stick it out until the 12-week mark.

Price at time of publish: $14

Active Ingredient: 0.1% Adapalene | Type of treatment: Retinoid | Size: 1.6 oz.

Best Clean

Skinfix Acne+ 2% BHA and Azelaic Acid Acne Spot Treatment

Skinfix Acne+ 2% BHA and Azelaic Acid Acne Spot Treatment

Sephora

What We Love: It’s a clean acne treatment formulation.

What We Don’t Love: It tends to pill underneath makeup.

Skinfix is known for its clean formulations and effective products to treat eczema. The brand recently dove into the acne space, and has had great success — the new Skinfix Acne+ 2% BHA and Azelaic Acid Acne Spot Treatment is a gentle yet powerful pimple-fighting product.

What I love about this product is that not only does it contain 2% salicylic acid (a well-known acne-fighting ingredient), but it also features 10% azelaic acid. This ingredient is being used more and more to treat acne recently, and it works by killing acne-causing bacteria, minimizing inflammation, and clearing clogged pores. Plus, it helps to diminish the appearance of those stubborn post-acne marks (also known as hyperpigmentation) you sometimes get after a pimple has healed.

While the ingredients in this pick are a win, many folks complain about the texture — it’s not an ideal pick for applying underneath makeup, as it may start pilling under a layer of moisturizer and foundation. Because of this, it’s probably best to apply this one at night before bed.

Price at time of publish: $30

Active Ingredient: Salicylic acid 2% | Type of treatment: Spot treatment | Size: 0.5 fl oz.

Best SPF

Proactiv Clear Skin SPF 30

Proactiv Clear Skin SPF 30

Amazon

What We Love: It’s a sunscreen that won’t break you out.

What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t really feel like a moisturizer.

Finally, a sunscreen that won’t cause you to break out! This new Proactiv product was specifically formulated with acne-prone skin in mind, and works to protect the skin from harmful rays while leaving your skin shine-free.

Formulated with avobenzone, octisalate, and octocrylene, this pick is a very lightweight, chemical sunscreen that won’t leave your skin feeling greasy. The product is marketed as a 3-in-1 moisturizer, sunscreen, and mattifying lotion, but I think it’s too lightweight to count as a moisturizer. Personally, I like to apply a thick moisturizer first, let it dry for five minutes, and then apply this sunscreen on top.  

Price at time of publish: $24

Active Ingredient: Avobenzone 3%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 7% | Type of treatment: Sunscreen | Size: 1.5 fl oz.

Best Serum

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum

niacinamide-10-zinc-1-oil-control-serum

Ulta

What We Love: It’s calming for inflamed skin.

What We Don’t Love: It might cause irritation for those sensitive to niacinamide.

I was introduced to this product a few years ago and I find it very calming for my inflamed acne. While this pick is not specifically formulated as an acne treatment, many users claim that it’s helped clear up their breakouts, or at least made them appear less visible and inflamed.

The two hero ingredients in this serum are, you guessed it, niacinamide and zinc. Niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) is known to help reduce inflammation, while zinc works to improve the skin barrier function and smooth skin, too. Plus, The Ordinary makes extremely affordable products — a positive when you’re struggling to find acne products that work without breaking your bank.

The one downside to this product is that it might be irritating to some. If you have a sensitivity to niacinamide, stay away from this pick. Always do a patch test on your hand or neck to see how your skin reacts before applying this to your face.

Price at time of publish: $7

Active Ingredient: N/A | Type of treatment: Serum | Size: 1 oz.

Best Cleanser

Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser

Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser

Amazon

What We Love: The amazing smell.

What We Don’t Love: It might not be super effective in treating acne.

Leave it to Caudalie to create a beautiful, spa-like-smelling cleanser for acne-prone skin. This pick features natural salicylic acid, organic grape water, and multiple essential oils (think lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, and rosemary) for a blend that smells truly divine.

This non-drying gel cleanser does a great job of removing any dirt, oil, and makeup to prep skin for any acne treatments, serums, or moisturizers. Although it’s not a creamy cleanser, it doesn’t leave your dermis feeling really dry after use — it does a great job of removing oil without completely stripping your skin.

That being said, this cleanser doesn’t contain any active ingredients to fight pimples. Because of this, it might not be as effective in treating your acne as other cleansers on the market. Personally, I prefer to use a gentle cleanser like this one, and then leave it up to my spot treatments or other acne serums and moisturizers to help treat my blemishes.

Price at time of publish: $28

Active Ingredient: None | Type of treatment: Cleanser | Size: 5 fl oz.

Best Moisturizer

PCA Skin Hydramatte Oil-Controlling Hydration

PCA Skin Hydramatte Oil-Controlling Hydration

Amazon

What We Love: It’s ideal for oily, acne-prone skin.

What We Don’t Love: It’s not the best option for dry skin.

Some folks have super dry, acne-prone skin (raises hand), while others are more oily. If you fall into the latter camp, consider trying this pick from PCA Skin. The Hydramatte Oil-Controlling Hydration does a fantastic job at hydrating your complexion just enough without going overboard on the moisture.

This pick uses pink pepper leaf extract to help reduce oil at the skin’s surface, further minimizing the appearance of pores and refining skin texture. Additionally, rosa centifolia flower extract and hydrolyzed rice extract work to add hydration to the skin without looking overly greasy.

While this moisturizer is great for oily skin types, those with dry skin types might want to look elsewhere. The product has a lightweight gel texture that absorbs quickly into the skin. It certainly adds a good amount of hydration, but might not be enough for those with a drier dermis.

Price at time of publish: $99

Active Ingredient: N/A | Type of treatment: Moisturizer | Size: 1.8 oz.

Best for Sensitive Skin

Avène Cleanance Concentrate Blemish Control Serum Cleanance Concentrate Blemish Control Serum

Avène Cleanance Concentrate Blemish Control Serum Cleanance Concentrate Blemish Control Serum

Amazon

What We Love: It’s ideal for those with sensitive, acne-prone skin.

What We Don’t Love: The smell.

Formulated with only 11 ingredients, this pick from Avène is ideal for those with sensitive, acne-prone skin. Avène is known for formulating skin care products specifically for sensitive skin, and their acne line is no different.

What I love about this product is that it doesn’t contain traditional acne-fighting ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which can be rather harsh on sensitive skin. Instead, the three hero ingredients in this formulation are comedoclastin™, silica, and the Avène thermal spring water. The comedoclastin™ is a stabilized extract derived from milk thistle that works to help reduce and limit the appearance of pimples, while the silica helps to absorb excess oil, creating a matte finish on the skin. Finally, the thermal spring water works to soothe, calm, and soften the skin for less visible irritation.

I love using this product when I’m breaking out but my skin is also being annoyingly sensitive. I apply this in the mornings on days when I’m at home and not wearing makeup, and I notice that it does a great job at reducing the appearance of my blemishes after about 30 minutes.

While I enjoy the efficacy and water-gel serum texture of this pick, I’m not a fan of the smell. It has a harsh, chemically, alcohol smell right when it’s pumped onto your finger, but it goes away once it’s rubbed onto the affected area.

Price at time of publish: $30

Active Ingredient: None | Type of treatment: Spot Treatment | Size: 1 fl oz.

Best LED Light Tool

Therabody TheraFace PRO

4.8
Therabody TheraFace PRO

Best Buy

What We Love: The various, effective attachments for this device.

What We Don’t Love: The high price tag.

Like the Dyson of skincare tools, this new launch from Therabody is a jack of all trades when it comes to skin health. I love the many attachments this pick comes with (including multiple percussive attachments, a cleansing ring, and a microcurrent ring), but the most useful choice for acne is the LED ring.

The innovative LED ring has three settings — a blue light, a red light, and a red+infrared light. Each setting can be paired with one of the percussive attachments (there’s the cone, the micro-point, and the flat), or you can use the LED ring by itself.

The blue light setting helps to reduce mild to moderate acne, and should not be used with any of the percussive tools (I guess because the brand doesn’t want you to disturb active acne lesions any further). The red light setting works to reduce wrinkles around the eyes and pairs well with the percussive attachments. Finally, the red+infrared setting will also help reduce wrinkles around the eyes and the warming effect of the infrared will help reduce pain, too.

Through my own testing with this device, I’ve found that the blue light works well to reduce future breakouts, while the red light actually works wonders in reducing any redness or irritation from my inflamed acne. I like to use all the settings on different days, depending on my needs.

While I love this device for many reasons, the high price tag is certainly something worth considering. Because the TheraFace PRO acts as four devices in one, I believe it is worth the investment.

Price at time of publish: $399

Active Ingredient: N/A | Type of treatment: Facial Tool | Size: N/A

Best High-Frequency Tool

Stacked Skincare Portable High-Frequency Device

Stacked Skincare Portable High-Frequency Device

Stacked Skincare

What We Love: It’s portable and easy to travel with.

What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t have a concentrated tip.

Bring the spa experience to your home with the help of this portable high-frequency device from Stacked Skincare. This handy little tool uses a small electrical current to kill acne-causing bacteria, minimize the appearance of inflammation and redness, reduce existing acne pustules, and prevent future zits from popping up, too.

I love that it’s cordless and small. It’s easy to pop into your bag when traveling and doesn’t take up much room on your bathroom counter. The downside is that, unlike other high-frequency devices that have various wands you can attach to the device to suit your specific acne-fighting needs, this pick only has the one ceramic head flush.

Additionally, this pick only offers two electrical current settings — high or low. Other high-frequency devices usually feature an electrical current dial you can increase or decrease, allowing you a wider range of electricity to target your breakouts.  

Price at time of publish: $129

Active Ingredient: N/A | Type of treatment: High-frequency device | Size: N/A

Best Toner

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

4.8
paulas-choice-skin-perfecting-2-bha-liquid-exfoliant

Amazon

What We Love: It’s a best-seller and one of those holy grail acne products.

What We Don’t Love: It might be too irritating if used daily on sensitive skin.

Okay, so technically this product is considered an exfoliant, but most folks with acne like to use this pick as their toner instead. The Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a best-seller among acne-fighting products because it works wonders on inflamed skin.

Featuring 2% salicylic acid, this pick exfoliates dead skin while clearing clogged pores for a more radiant, healthy-looking glow. The salicylic acid will not only work to treat current breakouts, but if used regularly, it can also prevent pimples from popping up in the future, too.

It’s advised to start slow with the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, as it might be too harsh if used daily on sensitive skin. I like to use this product on areas where I normally break out (my chin and nose) a few times per week. If you notice that your skin tolerates the product well, you can work up to using it twice daily.

Price at time of publish: $26

Active Ingredient: 2% Salicylic acid | Type of treatment: Exfoliant | Size: 4 fl oz.

Best Bar Soap

The Grandpa Soap Co. Thylox Bar Soap

The Grandpa Soap Co. Thylox Bar Soap

Amazon

What We Love: Works for multiple skin irritations, including acne.

What We Don’t Love: The smell.

A dermatologist recommended this product to me after I came to her with a face full of acne and perioral dermatitis. This bar soap contains sulfur, which can help dry out acne while also killing bacteria in and around any pimples.

I love that this bar soap can help with multiple skin irritations at once — if you’re dealing with acne and dermatitis, this pick can help treat both at the same time. I don’t use it every day, nor do I use it to remove any makeup. The formula can be a bit drying, so if you have dry skin, I recommend using it every other night. Make sure to remove your makeup prior to using this product, as you definitely don’t want to get this in your eyes.

While I love how well the Grandpa Soap Co. Thylox Bar Soap works on acne, it does have an undesirable sulfur smell — it kinda smells like rotten eggs once it’s wet. That being said, it doesn’t really bother me too much, and I’ll basically do anything to treat and get rid of my acne — smelly soap and all.

Price at time of publish: $8

Active Ingredient: Sulfur 3% | Type of treatment: Bar Soap | Size: 3.25 oz.

What to Keep in Mind

Active ingredients

According to Elyse Love, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, benzoyl peroxide is the most effective ingredient for inflammatory acne (red acne that may look like cysts or deep nodules), but it is not included in most acne prescription topicals. “The more popular ingredient is salicylic acid (BHA) is effective for comedonal acne, but does not make a major difference in inflammatory acne,” she says. “Retinol/retinoids can be helpful for both, but it tends to be more effective for the comedonal acne, which is often described as blackheads and textured skin.” An effective routine may require a mix of both ingredients or just one depending on what your acne looks like.

Your skin type

Your skin type plays a major factor in which kind of acne product you should reach for in the skincare aisle. “Those with sensitive skin should be particularly selective when choosing between over-the-counter acne topicals,” suggests Dr. Love. “Acne topicals are traditionally irritating to the skin, but there are newer, gentler options available for those with sensitive skin — the days of over stripping the skin are luckily behind us.” 

How it pairs with other products

“I am a fan of expertly formulated products that contain more than one active ingredient versus mixing multiple single ingredient topicals,” explains Dr. Love. “One of the biggest mistakes that I see in combining products is using multiple products with the same active ingredient (this occurs often with salicylic acid) or using products that don't work well together.” 

Your commitment to your acne-fighting plan

“Something you’ll want to consider when choosing an acne product is to decide how dedicated you can be to an acne treatment,” explains Dr. Hartman. “Are you looking for something you can do once a day and forget about it, or would you be willing to commit to a more complex regimen to treat acne and balance out your face?” You want to consider what you’re willing to do, because acne treatments require consistency — you should pick the treatments that you are most likely to stick with.

Your Questions, Answered

What is the best acne treatment?

The best acne routine will depend on the type of acne and the skin type of the person. “In general, benzoyl peroxide and retinol are effective for inflammatory acne, while salicylic acid and retinols are effective for comedonal acne and texture,” Dr. Love says. “Sulfur is a great ingredient for soothing red, inflamed skin, while bakuchiol is a plant derived retinol alternative for sensitive skin.”

Dr. Hartman is also a fan of using retinols for acne-prone skin. “My opinion is that with the exception of people with rosacea or overly sensitive skin, everyone should be using a retinol.” “These vitamin A derivatives are among the most studied and published ingredients in skin care—their benefits are numerous and unparalleled and are arguably the most important step that you can take for overall skin health and anti-aging after sun protection factor,” he says. Retinols work to increase cell turnover and make your cells transform more efficiently, which means that you may see increased exfoliation when you begin a retinol regimen, but it is a temporary means to a fantastic end. The smooth skin reward is worth the inconvenience, according to Dr. Hartman.

Salicylic acid is a good option to treat blackheads and red, raised acne. “Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce redness and inflammation, plus it cuts through dirt, oil and debris that get stuck in pores to remove blackheads and prevent them from coming back,” explains Dr. Hartman.

Benzoyl peroxide is most used topically to treat and prevent acne. “It is quite effective at killing the p.acnes bacteria that is found on the skin,” explains Dr. Hartman. “There are numerous over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide topical creams, as well as benzoyl peroxide face and body washes.”

Finally, if you deal with hormonal or severe acne, there are also prescription acne treatments that you can get from your dermatologist. “One is called Winlevi, which is a topical anti-androgen option that gives patients a choice to use a cream to treat hormonal acne,” says Dr. Hartman. “It is ideal for someone who doesn’t want to be on a pill, or patients who have had side effects from taking spironolactone.”

How often should you use an acne treatment?

This will really depend on how often the product is formulated to be used and how often your skin can tolerate it. “In general, those with sensitive skin should start a product two to three times per week and increase use to the recommended frequency as tolerated,” says Dr. Love.

Retinols can be used daily, but if you’ve never used a retinol before, start by using one two to three times per week. “Make sure to apply a moisturizer after applying a retinol product and always wear at least SPF 30 on your face during the day, as retinol makes the skin more sensitive to UV rays,” says Dr. Hartman.

Salicylic acid spot treatments can be used daily, as can spot treatments with benzoyl peroxide. “Benzoyl peroxide can be drying to the skin, so only use one product with benzoyl peroxide in your skincare regimen,” suggests Dr. Hartman.

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