There’s nothing like a big angry zit to light a fire under your skin care regimen. A breakout always feels like a call to do something, whether it’s chronic picking, trolling Instagram for a cure-all spot treatment, or frantically googling “how to get rid of a pimple fast.” (And of course, the breakout always happens the day before a party where you know you’ll run into two exes and five frenemies.)
If you’re looking for a strategy to make an acne flare-up calm down this second, we’ve got you. We talked to top dermatologists to find out exactly what to do when acne strikes and you’re in a major hurry to get rid of it. Read on for the dos and don’ts of calming the inflammation and healing the irritated skin on the double.
- 1. Do ice the zit.
- 2. Do apply a paste made of crushed aspirin.
- 3. Don’t pick your face.
- 4. Don’t overdry the affected area.
- 5. Do tone down on toner.
- 6. Do use makeup with salicylic acid.
- 7. Don’t wear makeup with pore-clogging ingredients.
- 8. Do layer your beauty products properly.
- 9. Don’t lose track of your trigger foods.
- 10. Do resist the urge to squeeze.
- 11. Don’t believe every DIY hack you see.
- 12. Don’t opt for a stronger cleanser.
- Acne: Tips for managing
- 5 ways to reduce a pimple overnight
- How to prep skin to reduce acne
- Cleanse your skin
- Switch your pillowcases and sheets
- 1. Wear hydrocolloid bandages
- 2. Do a cold compress with green tea
- 3. Use an OTC spot treatment
- 4. Apply diluted tea tree oil
- 5. Consult a dermatologist for a cortisone injection
- Curology’s overnight pimple treatment
- Start by Identifying Your Blemishes
- The Different Types of Acne
- What Causes Acne and Pimples?
- How To Get Rid of Pimples
- What Type of Treatment Is Right for You?
- 5 Natural Acne Remedies to Try
- Essential Dos and Dont’s
- Best Acne Spot Treatments
- Best Salicylic Acid Cleansers
- Best Mineral Makeup
- Best Light Therapy Acne Treatments
1. Do ice the zit.
If you’ve got a swollen pimple on your face that’s causing pain, reach for an ice cube. Wrap it in a thin cloth and set it on the offending spot for three to four minutes. Repeat throughout the day to relieve pain and temporarily reduce swelling.
2. Do apply a paste made of crushed aspirin.
Aspirin contains salicylic acid, which is a top-shelf acne fighter by all accounts. Applying a paste made of aspirin immediately removes excess oil and dead skin. In other words, it helps to unclog and dry out your angry pores, while simultaneously reducing swelling and redness. It’s one of the home remedies that dermatologists recommend, and it even helps reduce pain at the application site. To make the paste, crush an aspirin with a spoon and swirl it with a few drops of water. Then apply it directly to the pimple.
3. Don’t pick your face.
We know you’ve heard this, and we also know you’re dying to do it. But according to Josh Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, picking tends to cause more harm than good. It can cause what Dr. Zeichner terms “trauma” (!) on your skin, which in turn leads to “inflammation, infection, and potentially a scar.” Translation: It’ll take that annoying spot twice as long to disappear. So hands off.
4. Don’t overdry the affected area.
It’s not the chemical you use; it’s the amount you use, says Neal Schultz, M.D., a Manhattan derm. “People think if a little salicylic or glycolic acid is good, more is better,” he says. “It gets to the point that the active ingredient irritates the skin, making it scaly and flaky and red.” To prevent irritation, try a lower concentration of active ingredient once you’ve already broken out. Dr. Zeichner recommends checking your label for a concentration of benzoyl peroxide around 2.5 percent. One that really works: Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment ($17).
5. Do tone down on toner.
When you have a, shall we say, disturbance in the force, any astringents can “disrupt the skin barrier and cause inflammation and irritation,” says Dr. Zeichner. Unless you have very oily skin, skip the zit itself when you’re doing this step in your skin care routine. (And in that case, a gentle toner like Avene’s Eau Thermale, $20, is your best bet.)
6. Do use makeup with salicylic acid.
Slathering makeup over a breakout seems like a necessary evil: You want to hide the offender in question, obviously, but it can feel like you’re also suffocating it. However, certain formulas can actually address pimples while providing coverage. “Salicylic acid is a common acne ingredient that is useful in preventing or treating pimples and can be found in several makeup brands,” says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology. Clinique Acne Solutions Liquid Makeup ($29) is a classic for a reason, though E.l.f. Cosmetics Acne-Fighting Foundation ($6) makes for a great budget pick. For touch-ups, try a concealer with it too, like It Cosmetics Bye Bye Breakout Full-Coverage Concealer ($28).
7. Don’t wear makeup with pore-clogging ingredients.
For all the salicylic acid out there, there are certain ingredients to steer clear of. “People who suffer from acne should avoid makeup that contains mineral oil or lanolin,” Dr. Nazarian says. “These ingredients are comedogenic, meaning they have a high likelihood of clogging pores and triggering acne.” Check the labels to make sure your complexion products don’t contain either.
8. Do layer your beauty products properly.
No surprise if your instinct is to simply cover your pimple with as much concealer as you can get your hands on. But to zap a zit, it’s better if you follow a few steps first. “Starting with a clean face, apply a thin layer of oil-free moisturizer , and then a small amount of acne medication to your entire face,” says Dr. Nazarian. She’s a fan of gels with adapalene, since they regulate skin cells to prevent clogging of pores. Her favorite is ProactivMD Adapalene Gel 0.1% ($36), which, she notes, “can be applied very nicely under makeup.”
9. Don’t lose track of your trigger foods.
Is chocolate your enemy? Are late-night McDonald’s runs getting the better of your skin? These so-called trigger foods don’t affect everyone, but Dr. Schultz warns that you should keep tabs on whether certain foods tend to correspond with sudden onset breakouts. (For example, there’s been a recent connection between skim milk and acne.) The hard part, of course, is avoiding whatever it is that’s making your skin spaz.
10. Do resist the urge to squeeze.
“It’s never a good idea to squeeze a pimple,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., founder and director of Capital Laser and Skin Care and assistant clinical professor at George Washington University Medical Center. What is OK? Drawing out a big pimple once the whitehead is poking through your skin. Dr. Tanzi recommends using a washcloth with hot—“but not scalding”—water to excavate the pus before applying your spot treatment.
11. Don’t believe every DIY hack you see.
While it’s tempting to mix up a cure-all witch’s brew of whatever drying agents you have in the house, Dr. Tanzi says she sees a lot of irritation from DIY skin care products. Even toothpaste isn’t the remedy it was when we were teens. According to Dr. Zeichner, triclosan (the ingredient in toothpaste that has antimicrobial properties) is rarely used these days. But if you are in a pinch and need to DIY it, here are some tips that are actually legit—and derm-approved.
12. Don’t opt for a stronger cleanser.
Swapping your usual face wash for something harsher seems like an obvious fix. Not quite. Your cleanser needs to be gentle so topical products can penetrate your skin, says Dr. Schultz. It’s best to stick to your regular skin care routine with a hydrating cleanser, like CeraVe Hydrating Face Cleanser, until the breakout disappears, then see a dermatologist if you think you’re in need of a full-time acne cleanser.
For more advice on treating acne, don’t miss:
-The Best Face Serums for Acne, According to Derms
-The Totally and Completely Unfair Reason You’re Still Breaking Out in Your 20s and 30s
-The Best Ways to Treat Every Single Type of Acne Imaginable
-This Genius Concealer Hack Will Keep Pimples Hidden All Day Long
Pimples seem to pop up out of nowhere, so it’s super unfair that they take forever to go away – if you don’t know how to treat them, that is. But don’t worry, the next time you wake up with an angry red zit right on the tip of your nose, you can just reference this article, because we’ve got all the answers for you. We talked to dermatologists Dr. Robin Evans and Dr. Whitney Bowe to get their top tips on how to get rid of pimples overnight.
This list is packed full of all their genius, zit-reducing recommendations, but before you jump right into the pimple treatment, take caution. When it comes to your skin, more is definitely not more. In other words, trying all of these remedies at once won’t boost your chances of making the pimple disappear — more than likely, it’ll just wreak havoc on your skin and turn a tiny blemish into a red, blotchy mess.
Don’t forget to do a spot test before you use a new product.
1. Get a superstar cleanser
This might seem obvious, but seriously: It’s so much easier if you can prevent acne rather than trying to do damage control once you have a full-blown breakout. Granted, breakouts are mostly outside of your control, but getting a really good cleanser can keep your skin in shape so that you can live your best life.
Ocean Cleanser oseamalibu.com $48.00
Try OSEA’s mineral-rich Ocean Cleanser, which removes excess oil and surface impurities from your skin without dehydrating it. This cleanser contains vegan lactic acid (derived from beets) that gently exfoliates, and seaweed that hydrates and balances for a glowing AF complexion.
2. Cortisone Injections
If you wake up the day of prom with a big honking zit, your doc may be able to help. If you can swing it, your best bet is to head to the dermatologist. “There is an almost immediate fix, and that’s an injection with a dilute strength of cortisone done by your dermatologist,” says Dr. Robin Evans, a dermatologist at SoCo Dermatology in Connecticut.
“It’s quick and easy, with minimal discomfort, and it usually goes down within a day.” This isn’t an easy or cheap option, but when it’s an emergency — like, you have a huge whitehead on the tip of your nose the day before senior portraits — it might be worth it.
3. Hydrocortisone Cream
Since you can’t run to your doc every time you get a zit on your chin, this can be the next best thing.
“If it’s red and juicy, dabbing a bit of over-the-counter hydrocortisone can take out about 80 percent of the red and make it flatter overnight — not gone the way an injection can, but pretty darn close,” says Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist in New York City.
Aveeno 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream Aveeno amazon.com $22.11
Use a teensy bit right on the pimple at night and again the next morning. Just don’t use it on the reg, because using too much hydrocortisone can thin the skin and lead to more acne breakouts.
4. Spot Treatments
You’ve probably seen these emergency pimple treatments at the drugstore — usually an extra-strong solution of salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide. And yep, they can actually get rid of pimples overnight.
“Spot treatments can definitely be effective — they help to reduce inflammation and dry up the pimple,” says Dr. Evans.
Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch COSRX amazon.com $25.00
Just keep in mind they’re not meant to be used on your whole face, just the pimple itself. And if you’re on any prescription meds for acne, talk to your doctor before using a spot treatment.
5. Crushed Aspirin
Sounds weird, I know, but this can actually help. I won’t get too deep into the chemistry, but aspirin is a derivative of salicylic acid, and it can soothe an angry zit just like it soothes a headache. “Crushed aspirin is anti-inflammatory,” Dr. Evans says.
6. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil clears up all sorts of skin stuff — like insect bites, athlete’s foot, and minor burns — and it can help zap acne, too.
Tea Tree Oil the body shop thebodyshop.com $12.60
Just dab some on a cotton swab and apply it directly to the pimple. “Dilute it at first, because some people are too sensitive to use it straight up,” Dr. Bowe cautions.
7. Skip the Toothpaste
Okay, disclaimer: A lot of people swear by this remedy, and it’s hella easy, but it’s hard to predict how your skin will react to your toothpaste.
“Toothpastes may contain ingredients and fragrances that can irritate and damage the skin,” Dr. Bowe says. If you must try this, make sure you do a patch test somewhere first, especially if you have sensitive skin.
8. Keep Your Hands Off
If you need the acne gone, like, right now, you may be tempted to pop it — but you could end up with an oozy red mess now and scarring later.
“Picking will make any pimple take longer to heal,” Dr. Evans says. It can also lead to infection, so even if it seems like it’s just begging to be squeezed, leave it alone and cover it up with makeup instead.
CC+ Cream with SPF 50+ IT Cosmetics sephora.com $39.50
Spot treatments can help in a pinch, but you can prevent a breakout all together by avoiding bad habits that make you more likely to break out (read: sleeping in your makeup or using harsh scrubs). And if you just can’t get rid of your acne, talk to a dermatologist about finding a skin care regimen that works for you.
Kara Wahlgren Kara Wahlgren is a New Jersey-based freelance writer specializing in health, entertainment, and personal finance.
Acne: Tips for managing
How to treat a deep, painful pimple
Although acne comes in many forms, including blackheads and whiteheads, the most severe type of acne is a pimple that develops deep in the skin, causing a red, swollen, and painful bump.
To treat this type of pimple at home, follow these tips from dermatologists to alleviate pain and reduce the pimple’s size, swelling, and redness.
Acne: Tips to help you see clearer skin
You can reduce your acne by following these skin care tips from dermatologists.
You can reduce your acne by following these skin care tips from dermatologists.
Wash twice a day and after sweating. Perspiration, especially when wearing a hat or helmet, can make acne worse, so wash your skin as soon as possible after sweating.
Use your fingertips to apply a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser. Using a washcloth, mesh sponge, or anything else can irritate the skin.
Be gentle with your skin. Use gentle products, such as those that are alcohol-free. Do not use products that irritate your skin, which may include astringents, toners and exfoliants. Dry, red skin makes acne appear worse.
Scrubbing your skin can make acne worse. Avoid the temptation to scrub your skin.
Rinse with lukewarm water
Shampoo regularly. If you have oily hair, shampoo daily.
Let your skin heal naturally. If you pick, pop or squeeze your acne, your skin will take longer to clear and you increase the risk of getting acne scars.
Keep your hands off your face. Touching your skin throughout the day can cause flare-ups.
Stay out of the sun and tanning beds. Tanning damages you skin. In addition, some acne medications make the skin very sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light, which you get from both the sun and indoor tanning devices.
Using tanning beds increases your risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75%.
Consult a dermatologist if:
Your acne makes you shy or embarrassed.
The products you’ve tried have not worked.
Your acne is leaving scars or darkening your skin.
Today, virtually every case of acne can be successfully treated. Dermatologists can help treat existing acne, prevent new breakouts and reduce your chance of developing scars. If you have questions or concerns about caring for your skin, you should make an appointment to see a dermatologist.
Related AAD resources
Acne products: How to avoid an allergic reaction
Emotional effects of acne: Acne can affect more than your skin
Quiz: Are any acne myths preventing you from seeing clearer skin?
Quiz: Do you know how to clear your acne?
Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation
Salicylic acid helps unclog pores by dissolving dead skin cells, and in a spot treatment it extracts the gunk from within the pore, too. It’s the best remedy for adult acne as well as getting rid of blackheads, but it’s a quick solution for nixing whiteheads too, without having to pop them. Clean & Clear makes one of the best salicyclic acid spot treatments.
Sulfur is similar to benzoyl peroxide in that it soaks up the gunk and calms skin in the meantime. It’s less damaging to your towels and pillowcases, too, although it does tend to dry out the skin just as much as benzoyl. (Though that’s kind of the point, since you’re only targeting the patch of skin that needs drying out.) In my opinion, the best sulfur spot treatment is Kiehl’s 10% sulfur gel has the maximum grade allowed for OTC products, and should soak up the gunk overnight most effectively. Dr. Lortscher’s favorite is Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, which contains alcohol, calamine, camphor, sulfur, resorcinol, and salicylic acid. As with any other spot treatment, apply it to a freshly cleansed face before using any other products—using a Q-tip to do so would be best, so as to not transfer any oils or germs from your finger.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is one of the best ingredients you can get in any skincare product—especially for preventing or eliminating acne. It should be used in small doses (on its own or as an ingredient in other products), since high grades can cause redness and irritation. But even in moderation this antimicrobial ingredient is effective at neutralizing bacteria (like the ones that clog your pores and make you break out) fights irritation since it is anti-inflammatory. So, you can apply it to pimples that might have popped on their own (or that you just couldn’t resist), or even after shaving to prevent irritation.
It probably won’t be your best solution for an instant pimple-minimizing remedy, but it will prevent additional damage (like redness and scarring, in addition to preventing more pimples from forming.
You can buy tea tree oil on its own and apply it as a spot treatment to freshly washed skin (again, do not apply it to your face as you would any other facial oil). Or you can incorproate tea tree-infused products into your regimen for a more proactive approach to preventing and minimizing breakouts: I’d suggest the tea tree-infused facial wipes from The Body Shop, followed by a spot treatment with Create Cosmetic’s benzoyl peroxide and tea tree blend.
How does toothpaste get rid of pimples?
People have long used toothpaste as an acne spot treatment, but why? Dr. Lortscher points out that toothpaste typically contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). “, it appears to be safe in formulations designed for brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin,” he says. “The longer SLS is left in contact with your skin, the greater the likelihood of irritation. In products intended for prolonged contact with skin, concentrations should not exceed one percent. Individuals who tend to get clogged pores may want to avoid products containing SLS altogether.” If you can’t tell, it’s not something Lortscher readily endorses, especially since there are other proven methods out there, like actual spot treatments and hydrocolloid dressings.
Dermatologist remedy for eliminating pimples: Intralesional injection
Dr. Lortscher says that, if you absolutely need to get rid of a pimple quickly, then you can see your dermatologist for an injection of a diluted cortisone medication called Kenalog, which they shoot directly into the cyst. This is just for the big, bad, throbbing kinds of pimples. It’s called an intralesional injection, though he advises that it might still take 36 hours for the sucker to fully reduce itself.
The worst part about a pimple is that it so prominently showcases itself to everyone you encounter, and you fixate on the fact that everyone is pitying you. It’s probably not the case, since everyone has been through this debacle, but it also might be time you invest in a concealer. I’m not suggesting you go full cover-up on your face, but if you match a good concealer to your skin tone, you can dab on a little amount over top the freshly clean, treated pimple, and pat it in to mask the fact that you’re wearing any concealer at all. (It’s in the product’s name—it hides the fact that you have a blemish, by blending everything in with your natural skin tone.) Evolution Man’s great concealer doubles as a salicylic spot treatment, so you can kill two birds—and one pimple—with the single product.
Zayn Malik’s High Fade Haircut Recreated by a Master Barber
5 ways to reduce a pimple overnight
It was not long ago, dear Reader, that I was Googling “how to shrink a cystic pimple fast” and “is toothpaste a zit treatment.” (Seriously — check my browser history for the last week of August.) I had to learn the hard way that there’s no at-home hack you can use to get rid of pimples overnight, and the harder you try, the more red and swollen your zit might get. Thankfully, though, we don’t have to rely on mysterious search results when we have the knowledge of dermatology to explain the causes (and cures) of our blemishes.
How to prep skin to reduce acne
Getting our skin properly prepped can make treatment more effective, so there are a few general things to do before you begin treatment:
Cleanse your skin
Cleanse the face and neck with a gentle cleanser, then pat the area dry.
A simple, hydrating, non-comedogenic cleanser, such as the Curology cleanser, will help remove any dirt and oil that have built up throughout the day. If you’re wearing makeup, try removing it with micellar water, followed by a gentle cleanser. Use a clean towel to gently pat the area dry — don’t rub or scrub your face, because this might aggravate the pimple. I’d also recommend waiting 10–20 minutes for your face to completely dry — this makes it easier to apply spot treatments. Be careful not to rub too hard while cleansing or drying skin, because the friction can cause redness and irritation. .
Switch your pillowcases and sheets
Not only does sleeping in fresh, clean sheets feel amazing, but it may help prevent further aggravation of a breakout. The friction of your skin against anything loaded with perspiration, oil, or product residue has the potential to cause or even worsen a breakout. It’s a good idea to change your sheets at least once a week, and even more often if your husband is prone to excessive night sweats.
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1. Wear hydrocolloid bandages
A hydrocolloid bandage, or pimple patch, works by absorbing all the white gunk inside the pimple, which really helps with reducing the appearance of big zits. It attracts pus and oil from the inflamed spot and promotes faster healing by maintaining moisture. They can be worn overnight, or up to 48 hours. You also want to avoid applying any topical acne treatments directly underneath the bandages as this can cause irritation. I’m currently using Avarelle’s Overnight Acne Spot Patch — they’re thicker and stickier than your average patch, so they stay on even if I’m having a nightmare about my husband’s sweat.
2. Do a cold compress with green tea
To reduce pimple redness overnight, a cool bag of green tea is a simple DIY treatment. When applied to the skin, the caffeine in green tea causes the blood vessels to constrict, which helps reduce swelling and even skin tone. First, place your tea bag in a cup of water, then put the cup in your freezer for 5–10 minutes. Gently press the chilled tea bag against your pimple for 20 seconds or until the skin starts to feel numb. Rest, then repeat application for up to 5 minutes total, alternating on and off.
3. Use an OTC spot treatment
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are two over-the-counter ingredients that can often be effective at helping to reduce pimples fast. These work by drying out the pimple (as opposed to hydrocolloid bandages, which pull gunk out of the pimple while retaining moisture). While I think acne patches work better for me, Neutrogena’s On the Spot Acne Treatment is often the first thing I try when attempting to shrink a pimple fast. For best results, apply your spot treatment with a clean cotton swab.
4. Apply diluted tea tree oil
Don’t apply 100% pure tea tree oil to your skin — it’s very irritating! Instead, dilute 1 part tea tree oil with 3 parts oil of your choice — sunflower, castor, or jojoba oil are good, non-pore clogging options. When it comes to diluting with cooking oils, tread carefully, as some of them (like coconut oil) clog pores and can make breakouts worse. You can check the acne rating of ingredients on CosDNA; at Curology, we avoid anything with an acne rating of 3 or higher.
5. Consult a dermatologist for a cortisone injection
This is a last resort for when a truly horrendous pimple is threatening to ruin a momentous event, like the day you married the man who sweats a lot. Anyway, for a zit that needs to go away ASAP, you can see a dermatologist for an injection of a dilute cortisone medication called Kenalog (a.k.a. an intralesional injection). You don’t want to do this for every zit, but the procedure can be repeated in 4–6 weeks if needed.
Curology’s overnight pimple treatment
If drugstore or high-end acne solutions aren’t working for you, a custom formula with prescription-strength ingredients from Curology may help. A recent study found that over-the-counter acne treatments worked 30–40% of the time, but prescription treatments can often be twice as effective. As a Curology member, you’ll gain access to a medical provider trained in dermatology and licensed to practice in your state. Your dermatology provider will stick with you through your #SkincareJourney, prescribing you a customized cream with prescription-strength ingredients to help protect your skin against acne and signs of aging. Just apply your Curology custom cream before bed and let it work its magic while you sleep. Sign up for a free trial and pay just $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling on your first bottle of customized cream or the complete set, which includes a hydrating cleanser and your choice of a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
If your skin is prone to problematic pimples, we can help. Blemishes in any shape or form are never fun to deal with, and a nasty breakout can negatively affect both your complexion and confidence so we’re sure you want to know how to get rid of pimples fast.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything, don’t give up hope. While there’s no secret recipe to clear skin, with the right acne treatment and a commitment to healthy skincare practices (including some nifty home remedies), you can take back control of your skin and ultimately, improve your complexion.
- Identifying Your Blemishes
- The Different Types of Acne
- What Causes Acne and Pimples?
- How To Get Rid of Pimples
- What Type of Treatment Is Right for You?
- 5 Natural Acne Remedies to Try
- Dos and Don’ts
To give you the best chance at banishing breakouts, we’re here to break down the ins and outs of acne, including what they are, how they form, and the best ways to get rid of pimples. New or old, mild or severe, with our help, you can figure out how to get rid of acne once and for all. Let’s get started!
(Read through the full article to understand your acne and best arm yourself for combating stubborn blemishes, or jump ahead to the How to Get Rid of Acne section to learn exactly how to get rid of pimples.)
Start by Identifying Your Blemishes
The first step to creating an effective skincare routine is identifying which type of blemishes are troubling you.
What are blackheads? Blackheads are acne lesions caused by clogged pores. Blackheads are open comedones, leaving the top of the clogged pores exposed to air on the skin’s surface. When the melanin makes contact with the air, it becomes oxidized and turns them a darker color. They’re usually black but can also appear gray, yellow or brown.
While they’re usually found on the face, especially on the nose and T-Zone, you might also find them on your back, neck, chest, shoulders, and arms. Blackheads are a mild form of acne and cause less inflammation which means they’re usually painless.
As opposed to blackheads, whiteheads are closed comedones that appear as small, white, round bumps on the skin’s surface. Whiteheads form when a clogged pore is trapped by a thin layer of skin leading to a buildup of pus. They range in size and can appear on the face or all over the body. Like blackheads, they are considered a mild form acne.
If pimples get trapped beneath the skin’s surface, they can form papules: red, sore spots that might feel hard to the touch. Papules are small (less than 1 centimeter in diameter) with distinct borders; when clusters of papules occur near each other, they can appear as a rash and make your skin feel rough like sandpaper.
Because they’re inaccessible, they’re a bit more difficult to treat and are therefore considered moderately severe acne. Even though they can be very frustrating to deal with, they should not be popped because it can result in long-term scars that may be unresponsive to acne treatments.
Pustules are another form of moderate acne that appear when white blood cells attempt to fight off an infection. They are very similar to papules except they are filled with liquid pus, giving them a white or yellowish appearance. They’re accompanied by surrounding inflammation and are usually tender and hard to the touch.
Nodules are abnormal tissue growths that create hard, raised lumps that are more than 1 to 2 centimeters in diameter, with the potential to reach up to the size of a hazelnut.
They commonly form in regions such as the face, neck, armpits, and groin, although they can also develop on internal organs such as the lungs, thyroid, and lymph nodes. This type of severe acne should be consulted by a doctor, as it might be indicative of a more serious condition.
If you’re ready to learn how to remove pimples, skip ahead to find out what treatment options you have. However, we recommend reading a bit more about the different types of acne to make sure you select the most effective methods for your needs.
The Different Types of Acne
In addition to the specific blemishes that typically affect your complexion, it’s important to pinpoint which type of acne you’re suffering from to understand how to get rid of acne.
Acne vulgaris is the medical terminology for common acne. This type of acne is most common and can either be inflammatory or non-inflammatory. It’s characterized by open or closed comedones, inflamed papules, pustules, and nodules. It usually affects areas of skin with the most sebaceous (oil) glands, including the face, upper part of the chest, and back.
Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne vulgaris and can be caused by a variety of factors. This type of acne sees painful lesions develop deep within the skin, which could result in permanent scarring or hyperpigmentation. Cystic acne is easily diagnosed due it its pronounced, inflamed lesions. However, you should consult a dermatologist to rule out other skin conditions that often mimic acne such as rosacea, psoriasis, or perioral dermatitis.
Hormonal acne is exactly what it sounds like: breakouts that are tied to fluctuations in hormones. When hormones fluctuate, which happens during puberty and menstruation, it causes an influx of androgens which women are particularly sensitive to. In large amounts, it can cause excess sebum production, making breakouts worse.
If your skin flares up around the same time each month, and blemishes tend to occur in the same spot (chin, cheeks, jawline), and is characterized by pimples that are deep and cystic, your acne might be hormonal.
Acne inversa is not actually acne in the traditional sense, but can closely resemble the blemishes associated with a breakout. The condition is medically known as hidradenitis suppurativa and is a skin disease that is characterized by pimple-like bumps usually observed where two skin areas may touch or rub together such as the underarms, folds under the breasts, and between buttocks cheeks.
It is critical to seek treatment for acne inversa as soon as possible as these lesions can become painful and lodge deep into the skin or even become cancerous.
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A transformative pore purifying masque for a refreshed, tighter, toned appearance.
What Causes Acne and Pimples?
Before you can determine how to get rid of pimples, you need to understand the cause of your acne and what factors are likely making it worse. That way, you’ll be better equipped to proactively prevent its formation, rather than just treating it after the fact.
In the simplest sense, acne is caused when pores containing hair follicles and sebaceous (oil) glands become clogged. The sebaceous gland is responsible for producing sebum, an oily substance necessary for skin to stay hydrated and soft. However, too much sebum can plug the opening at the top of the pore, trapping a buildup of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria leading to acne lesions.
Hormonal fluctuations and an imbalance of estrogen and testosterone levels have proven to be a direct cause of acne because they increase the likelihood of clogged pores. For this reason, many experience an onslaught of breakouts during puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy.
This is because these hormonal fluctuations increase the level of androgens, triggering more oil production and in the end, causing more clogged pores.
Acne is at least in part due to hereditary factors. Those whose parents have a history of acne are likely to struggle with the same condition. Your genetic makeup can determine:
- How sensitive your skin is
- How reactive you are to hormonal fluctuations
- How quickly you shed skin cells
- How you respond to inflammation
- How strong your immune system is to fight off bacteria
- How much oil your sebaceous glands produce
The list goes on and on, but the key takeaway is that your genetics heavily influence the condition of your skin. Most importantly, it will be a significant factor in how to get rid of pimples.
There has been a long-observed , and studies have shown that stress can worsen acne’s frequency and severity. Sebaceous glands contain receptors for stress hormones. When you’re more stressed, this kicks sebum production into overdrive.
Not only do those who tend to feel stressed often fall victim to this vicious acne cycle but more anxious types have a tendency to also pick their skin and pop pimples under stress. This bad habit can exacerbate blemishes by pushing the buildup deeper into the pore, inducing cellular damage, rupturing cellular walls, and spreading bacteria.
Depression and acne often go hand-in-hand. Those who suffer from depression frequently succumb to poor hygiene habits, struggle with sleeping issues, and take certain medications, all of which can lead to acne over time. On the other hand, many people who have acne tend to experience depression because of the toll it takes on their self-esteem. Figuring out how to get rid of pimples may seem impossible, but there is hope for clear skin.
If you suffer from depression, you should speak with a mental health professional. To address your skin condition, visiting a dermatologist and using healthy skincare products can help you get your acne under control so you can look and feel your best.
There’s much to be said about the relationship between your diet and acne. Although it doesn’t directly cause acne, certain foods can contribute to the severity of breakouts. If you practice good skincare, but you still can’t figure out how to get rid of your acne, you may want to take a look at your diet.
Sugar: For starters, sugar can use up important nutrients including valuable acne-fighting minerals, particularly zinc because it’s used to process the sugar you consume. Sugar also causes a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to high insulin levels, which creates increased sebum production and blocked pores. Additionally, studies show that sugar also has an inflammatory effect which can worsen existing acne.
Processed Foods: Ingredients found in processed and junk food such as chips, breakfast cereals, and white bread are acne-inducing villains. Preservatives and additives can trigger hormonal fluctuations, and greasy fast food leads to inflammation all over your body – including your face. Refined grains are quickly broken down and turned into sugar, which creates a terrible effect on skin by aggravating acne.
Carbohydrates: Diets with a great deal of either refined or whole grains supply the body with an abundance of carbohydrates. Carbs are broken down into sugar, and too many might lead to insulin resistance, which can cause your body to produce even more insulin. Higher levels of insulin can result in excessively oily skin that is prone to acne.
Trans-fats: Trans-fats are a health nightmare and do no favors for your acne. They trigger huge inflammatory responses by activating a response in the immune system, causing blemishes to swell and redden. When consumed regularly, individuals often suffer from chronic inflammation.
Dairy: Dairy products – especially milk – contain androgen precursors which can easily be converted to testosterone if exposed to particular enzymes. Pores within the skin contain said enzymes, and can therefore lead to the formation of pimples. Milk also contains the hormone IGF-1, which in excess can result in additional sebum production. As we know, higher levels of sebum often lead to acne breakouts.
When trying to figure out how to get rid of acne, you should try to eat foods that have anti-inflammatory qualities and are rich in nutrients.
Low-Glycemic Diet: Since foods that fall into the low-glycemic index do not cause spikes in blood sugar, eating foods that fall into this category can improve your acne. Some foods that have a low-glycemic index include multi-grains, apples, and lentils.
Vegetables: Adding more leafy greens to your diet benefits all aspects of your health, including the quality of skin. They deliver essential minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. The benefits of antioxidants such as vitamin A for acne and overall skin health have been proven. Antioxidants lessen the time breakouts last and can make pimples smaller and less painful.
Seafood: Oily fish like salmon and sardines have highly saturated levels of omega 3 fatty acids, which have major benefits for skin, including inflammation reduction. Some types of fish also contain carotenoid antioxidants which also improve skin quality. Omega 3 can also be found in fruits and nuts.
Green Tea: Green tea delivers a multitude of benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol levels, improved bone density, improved memory and even the prevention of cancer. With regard to your skin, green tea can help reduce sebum production. It also has anti-inflammatory qualities.
While drinking green tea for acne can be helpful, its treatment is more effective when applied topically directly onto the skin. Our skincare products that are part of our 3-step system include green tea extract for gentle, soothing acne treatment.
Read on for traditional treatment solutions that can help get rid of pimples, but you can get a head start by addressing any of these factors that might be contributing to your breakouts.
How To Get Rid of Pimples
When it comes to figuring out how to remove pimples, there are generally three different treatment routes. The answer to “how to get rid of acne” is typically unique to each individual. Before deciding on a treatment plan, you should speak with your dermatologist and consider the benefits and drawbacks of each of these options.
1. Topical Treatment
This refers to acne medications that are applied directly onto the skin, such as creams, gels, serums and ointments. Topical treatments can be found over-the-counter (OTC) or at a pharmacy when prescribed by a doctor.
If you’re shopping for topical treatment solutions, look for products that contain acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and glycolic acid that can penetrate pores to loosen and dissolve debris. Topical solutions are generally best suited to treat mild to moderate acne.
2. Oral Medications
Oral acne medications such as systemic antibiotics and hormonal agents work internally to improve acne, rather than a topical treatment like the ones we discussed above. Antibiotics work from the inside out to help clear your complexion by killing the bacteria lodged within infected pores. Hormonal agents such as birth control are frequently used to regulate androgen levels and treat hormonal acne.
Self-care practices and lifestyle choices can also improve your complexion. Nutrition, stress management, ample sleep, and good hygiene are all important for healthy, clear skin and might be able to prevent blemishes from forming in the first place. Self-care practices can—and should—be used in conjunction with all skincare treatments.
Want to know how to get rid of acne fast? It’s usually a comprehensive approach to clear skin that works the best!
What Type of Treatment Is Right for You?
So what kind of treatment is most effective on which type of acne? Here are the top suggestions:
Talk to your doctor to see if birth control is the best option to treat your hormonal acne. In the meantime, aim to keep reduce your stress, eliminate acne-worsening foods from your diet, improve your skincare routine, and try some of the natural home remedies we recommend below.
Comedones associated with acne vulgaris are usually easy to clear using over-the-counter products like our clinically-proven skincare line, but papules and pustules are a little tougher to treat. The first step is to make sure you’re properly cleansing your face and using products that reduce inflammation and swelling. Traditional antibiotic therapy should relieve the symptoms of your acne nodule and gradually decrease its size.
Cystic acne will most likely need to be treated with antibiotics. In most cases, topical solutions are not strong enough to reach the infected pores lodged deep within the skin. To jumpstart your acne’s healing process, consider a chemical peel or microdermabrasion.
Typically, this condition is managed using medications and corticosteroid injections for pain. Often, acne face wash and medicines can also be helpful but are not sufficient on their own. Surgery may also be recommended if conservative treatment methods are not effective.
Clearer skin in as little as two weeks.
This 3-step routine combines the most effective (clinically-proven) acne fighting ingredients with powerful plant intelligence to leave your skin nourished, refreshed, and clear.
5 Natural Acne Remedies to Try
If you prefer to try the natural route, or want to do everything you can to supplement your acne treatments to get rid of pimples fast, you can try these home remedies:
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
The organic acids found in apple cider vinegar have been shown to fight bacteria and reduce inflammation, making it a popular natural remedy for breakouts. The mixture you use should contain 1 part apple cider vinegar and 3 parts water. If you have sensitive skin, we suggest adding more water to dilute the solution.
Only let it sit on your skin for about 20 seconds or less, then rinse and gently pat dry. You can do this up to two times daily.
2. Tea Tree Oil
Another affordable natural remedy you can use is tea tree oil as an alternative topical spot treatment. With anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, tea tree oil can prevent and treat breakouts. However, use with care because some people develop an allergy to the oil.
3. Sulfur-Based Methods
Sulfur helps fight bacteria and unclogs pores. However, dermatologists caution that it is better as a spot treatment than a solution for a larger area of acne. You can apply it to one lesion for specific pimple treatment or smaller broken-out areas.
4. Take Fish Oil Supplements
As we explained earlier, Omega-3’s can help manage oil production and reduce inflammation. Taking a fish oil supplement may be a good way to integrate these acids into your diet if you don’t like fish.
5. Exercise Regularly
We all know exercise is important but did you know it plays a critical role in hormone regulation, increases blood flow, and reduces stress—all of which contribute to a clear complexion.
Want something that’s dermatologist tested to banish breakouts? Our cruelty-free acne products are made using safe, naturally-derived ingredients that will help you clear your skin.
Essential Dos and Dont’s
Before you go, read through these general skincare dos and don’ts to help you achieve a clear complexion:
After learning how to get rid of pimples and beginning your acne treatment, keep in mind that pimples might leave a red or dark spot on your skin after they go away. These marks will fade, but it could take days, weeks, or even months. Stay diligent, remain hopeful, and use this guide to get rid of pimples once and for all.
Abby Vinas has long been an active member of the holistic health community, advocating in favor of its benefits to both our physical and emotional well-being. Her commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle has made her an authority on self-care practices. Abby is passionate about fitness, nutrition, and proper skincare, and is also an avid lover of avocado toast and dog-petting.
4. Use an acne spot treatment.
On top of always washing off your makeup at night, using the right moisturizer for your skin type, and keeping your fingers away from your face, you can use a spot treatment to get rid of stubborn pimples. Ingredients to look out for: Benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria, salicylic acid to help exfoliate and unclog pores, and retinoids to help control cell turnover, which allows clogged cells to shed and prevents them from clogging.
Best Acne Spot Treatments
Countercontrol SOS Acne Spot Treatment BeautyCounter beautycounter.com $22.00 Drying Lotion Mario Badescu amazon.com $17.00 Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment (Pack of 2) Differin amazon.com $20.70 Emergency Blemish Relief Proactiv amazon.com $40.00
5. Wash your face regularly.
“Your oil glands are active all day,” explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital; when that oil combines with dirt, makeup, and pollution, it’s not doing your skin any favors.
That goes double for workouts: “Sweat mixed with dirt and oil can become trapped under wet workout clothing,” potentially worsening a breakout. “If you can’t take a full shower,” Dr. Zeichner says, “at least use a cleansing towelette,” like Good Housekeeping Beauty Breakthrough Award winner and Seal-holder, Olay Daily Facials.
Olay Daily Facials Deeply Purifying Cleansing Cloths Olay amazon.com $12.99 $10.72 (17% off)
6. In a pinch, get a cortisone shot.
Have a really big event coming up? Then, you probably don’t have time to wait and see if your blemish will disappear on its own. Consider seeing a dermatologist for an overnight cure. “A cortisone shot is an anti-inflammatory, so it treats the pimple itself,” explains Dr. Peredo.
“If it’s a big, painful pimple, the cortisone diffuses the inflammation and flattens it out, hopefully without leaving a scar.” Of course, this isn’t an easy, at-home DIY fix. It should only be administered by a physician, usually a dermatologist, and it is often covered by insurance if you have acne.
7. Try a salicylic acid cleanser.
If your breakouts are frequent and you’re sick of it, you may want to consider switching up your skincare routine. “Pick a cleanser that has glycolic or salicylic acid in it, which you can get over the counter,” Dr. Peredo instructs. “Those with acne-prone skin may need an astringent to degrease the skin, too — I like salicylic or glycolic, because they can help with the scarring that could occur, as well.”
Best Salicylic Acid Cleansers
Renewing SA Cleanser CeraVe amazon.com $8.90 Oil-Free Acne Wash Neutrogena amazon.com $18.90 Salicylic Acid Cleanser The INKEY List sephora.com $9.99 Clarifying Cleanser MURAD nordstrom.com $30.00
8. Go light on your makeup.
Beauty products are one of the most common causes of adult acne, and unfortunately, using heavy duty makeup to hide your blemishes won’t make them physically disappear.
“Use mineral makeup on your skin rather than oil-based products that can contribute to breakouts,” recommends Dr. Peredo, adding that oil-based foundation and concealer can block pores. Better yet, go totally makeup-free for a few days — it could be just the break your skin needs to clear up quick.
Best Mineral Makeup
Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30 bareMinerals sephora.com $33.00 True Match Mineral Foundation L’Oreal Paris amazon.com $11.97 Liquid Minerals A Foundation Jane Iredale dermstore.com $55.00 Miracle Cushion Lancôme lancome-usa.com $47.00
9. Medicate if necessary.
For those who suffer from cystic acne, a combination of topical products, in-office treatments (like lasers), and medication are often times the way to go. A dermatologist can work with you to find medications that will help treatment in the long-run.
“Nodular acne often requires treatment with systemic medications such as oral antibiotics, and hormonal medications (oral contraceptives, spironolactone),” says Valerie Harvey, MD, a dermatologist based in Virginia. “Isotretinoin, a derivative of vitamin A, is also very effective.”
10. Use light therapy to zap acne.
Instead of going to your dermatologist for red and blue light therapy (which can cost upwards of $100), use an at-home device over a blemish, or over your whole face, for just two minute. The red light reduces acne inflammation, while the blue light targets acne-causing bacteria. Additionally, the light stimulates the dermal layers of the skin and produce additional collagen. In turn, acne scars fill out and the skin looks more even-toned.
Best Light Therapy Acne Treatments
SpectraLite FaceWare Pro Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare dermstore.com $435.00 Light Therapy Acne Spot Treatment Neutrogena amazon.com $16.96 Clear Bilight 2-in-1 LED Acne Treatment Device Michael Todd Beauty ulta.com $99.00 Light Therapy Acne Treatment Mask Neutrogena target.com $29.99 Pia Velasco Pia Velasco is the Associate Beauty Editor at Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, and Prevention magazine. Marci Robin Marci Robin is a former senior beauty editor for GoodHousekeeping.com.