Breakouts have a way of popping up quite literally at the worst moments, but picking at your new zit and slathering toothpaste all over your chin is only going to make it worse.
The key to keeping breakouts at bay? Prevention. "If you wake up in the morning and you feel it coming in, or you feel the pressure and sensation of a pimple, use a warm compress to decrease inflammation," says Julie Russak, MD, dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic in NYC.
But what do you do if the pimple is already a prominent new fixture on your face? Follow these derm-approved tips and kiss your zit goodbye ASAP.
1. Do NOT try to pop it.
Although early treatment is key to minimizing the sitch, that doesn’t mean you should start poking, picking, or prodding. “It's tempting, but if you start digging away you're only going to risk spreading the infection and creating more inflammation and redness,” says Rhonda Klein, MD, partner at Modern Dermatology. So hands off!
2. Switch up your cleanser.
Opt for a cleanser that will both control and banish acne while also calming irritation caused by your current breakouts. “To help control acne, I recommend salicylic and glycolic acids,” says Dr. Russak. Salicylic acid deep cleans pores, exfoliates away dead skins, and gets rid of excess oil.
“Glycolic acid does not reach as deep of skin layers as salicylic, but does wonders for the topmost surface," says Dr. Russak, which is why you see it in a lot of chemical peels. It has the ability to get rid of glow-blocking surface dead cells to reveal a brighter complexion.
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3. Ice, ice baby.
Both Dr. Russak and Dr. Klein suggest icing the area for 10 minutes at a time to decrease swelling and redness. While it's certainly helpful, you shouldn't rely on it as the sole solution, say Dr. Russak, who recommends saving this cold spot treatment to manage the pain and redness right before a big event.
4. Apply a warm compress.
This soothing step will open your pores and bring all the gunk to the surface. "A warm compress is great for reducing inflammation and improving circulation of the area," says Dr. Russak. "It helps open up pores, making it easier to get rid of excess oil and pollutants causing the pimple."
5. Slather on a spot treatment.
A targeted spot treatment or pimple patch can zero-in on the infected area. They often rely on either benzyol peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur (or a combo of the three) to dissolve dead skin cells that clog pores and kill the bacteria at the root of the problem, all while reducing redness and inflammation.
6. ...But be careful not to over-dry the area.
While these potent formulas are major lifesavers when it comes to minimizing your breakout, be sure to follow directions because it is possible to overdo it. "Most spot treatments can be drying, and if overused they can cause irritation," says Hadley King, MD, AcneFree Consulting Dermatologist.
When it comes to spot treatments, more is not always better. Start with a tiny dot over your pimple. If you see any new redness, crusting, or peeling, then you've applied too much product.
7. Wash your face before and after a workout.
Think you're in the clear because you diligently washed your face after every single sweat sesh? Think again. Like the steam portion of a facial, your pores actually open up during your workout "Any sweat and residue from the day can easily get in, so be sure to wash your face before and after a workout," says Dr. Russak.
Speaking of workouts...
8. Make sure your makeup isn’t the culprit...
If you can't figure out what's causing your breakout, it might be time to switch up your makeup. Comedogenic products common in beauty, like lanolin, algea extract, and almond oil, are known to clog pores, which leads to more breakouts.
"Make sure to look for 'non-comedogenic' and 'oil-free' products," says Dr. Russak. You can also opt for double-duty products that offer treatment as well as coverage. This Jane Iredale concealer also has green tea in it, which calms inflammation.
9. ...Or your diet.
Do you find yourself frequently breaking out after you eat certain foods? Well, you aren't alone. "Many people don’t realize that food is a surprising cause of acne," says Lamees Hamdan, MD, founder of Shiffa Beauty.
Food that's high in sugar, fat, gluten, or preservatives increases inflammation in the body, which shows up in your skin. If your breakout just won't quit, it might be time to pay more attention to your diet.
10. Be weary of some at-home hacks.
We've all heard the old wive's tale about toothpaste, but it's actually the last thing you should slather on your face. "There are often ingredients present that can cause further irritation to the skin," says Dr. Klein. Opt for a targeted spot treatment that's specifically formulated to fight pimple-causing bacteria instead.
11. ...Except the one about crushed-up Aspirin.
A paste made up of crushed Aspirin and water can work wonders on your zit. "Aspirin contains salicylic acid, which is a tried and true ingredient for fighting acne," says Dr. Klein. "It can help unclog and dry the affected area, while also reducing swelling and redness."
12. ...And the one about eye drops.
Brimonidine, the ingredient that reduces redness in your eyes, can have the same effect on your pimple. Simply apply a few drops of anti-redness eye drops to your pimple and let it work its magic.
"Brimonidine (the ingredient in Lumify, below) constricts the blood vessels and decreases redness," says Dr. Russak. If you don't have eye drops, hydrocortisone cream (with at least one percent hydrocortisone) would also do the trick. "Just don't use it more than once or twice, because then it will cause the opposite effect," warns Dr. Russak.
13. For the big ones, make an appointment with your doc.
If you you're dealing with a cyst (aka the underground, painful pimples that never come to a head) that won't go down on its own, it's probably time to call your doctor. "See your board-certified dermatologist for a cortisone injection," says Dr. King. "Nothing works as quickly to decrease the inflammation."
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