We wish we could tell you that there is some magical age at which breakouts instantly (and indefinitely) vanish, but the fact of the matter is that acne and pimples can linger well into adulthood. Whether it's hormone-induced at a certain time of the month or just a random spot that always seems to pop up right before a big date, breakouts are always annoying. The good news is these pimples are often treatable — but there are some dos and don’ts to make sure you aren’t damaging your skin in the process. Read on for expert advice on how to (safely!) get rid of a pimple at home.
What Causes Pimples?
Generally speaking, acne occurs when the hair follicles in the dermis layer of the skin become clogged with a buildup of sebum (read: oil), debris, and dead skin cells. The natural bacteria that normally lives on the skin then multiplies rapidly and causes the inflammation and irritation associated with both papules and pustules.
Types of Acne:
While that explains how pimples form, you may now be wondering why they happen. Basically, it comes down to congestion and/or an inflammatory response. “Things like hormonal changes, stress, or diet can cause inflammatory pimples to pop up,” explains Evonna Kuehner, founder of plant-based skincare line ANOVÉ. “Congestion creates pimples by blocking the pore, so factors like humidity, comedogenic beauty products, or even your workout can start a breakout.”
How to Get Rid of a Pimple
The hardest part of getting rid of a pimple is wading through the copious amounts of old wives’ tales and acne myths out there (no lemon juice, toothpaste, or DIY extractions here). In fact, you may be surprised to hear that, when it comes to clearing breakouts, simpler is better.
What you’ll need:
- A gentle but powerful cleanser
- A spot treatment to put on your pimple
- A product to banish any post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) that may arise
A word of caution: while these products can reduce the size of a pimple overnight, it’s likely to take about three to seven days for the pimple to completely disappear.
And don’t be in such a rush to get rid of the spot that you fail to notice what it's telling you. The location of your pimple can reveal if you need to make some lifestyle changes. For example, if you consistently get pimples on the side of your face, it could be due to congestion or irritation as the result of long phone calls, hair brushing against your face, or sleeping habits (hi, side sleepers!). If you’re experiencing cysts along your jawline once a month, meanwhile, that’s usually the sign of a hormonal breakout.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the three pimple-busting steps we laid out above:
We get it: your determination to banish your pimple may lead you to neglect other parts of your skincare routine. But Kuehner says it’s important to keep up with your regimen, and that should include using a cleanser that will both soothe and treat your acne. “Cleansing is key to clear out congestion,” she explains. And, once breakouts arise, it may be time to swap out your regular cleanser for one with acne-fighting ingredients.
- Products to Try: We recommend ANOVE’s AHA + Aloe Cleansing Gel and the Pore Normalizing Cleanser from Paula’s Choice. The former combines alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and aloe vera to simultaneously clear and calm the complexion, while the latter uses salicylic acid to dissolve pore-clogging impurities and cleanse without irritation.
2. Spot Treatments
The next step after cleansing? Treating the spot(s). For your spot treatment, you want to look for products that include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, or tea tree oil. While Kuehner likes benzoyl peroxide because it can “speed up the healing process in an emergency,” Zaida Gordon, a licensed esthetician and founder of Skintegrity LA, prefers a topical antibacterial product with sulfur. “Sulfur provides a fix for red and inflamed acne lesions, and it’s especially great for people with sensitive or dry skin, as it contains no harsh chemicals,” she shares.
- Products to Try: The strongest over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide products generally contain 10 percent of the ingredient, like this drugstore acne treatment cream, and it can be used day and night. If you go for sulfur, the Face Reality Sulfur Spot Treatment uses a combination of 6 percent sulfur and a peptide to clear breakouts. Another sulfur favorite? The Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment that pairs 10 percent sulfur with antibacterial BHAs, and oil-absorbing zinc oxide. And let us not forget the healing powers of pimple patches. The Peace Out Salicylic Acid Acne Healing Dots are infused with salicylic acid to shrink spots in six hours.
3. Post-Acne Dark Spots
If your pimple has vanished without a trace, you’re done! However, many people deal with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and/or acne scars after a breakout. The chance of a pimple leaving a dark spot increases if you pick at or irritate a blemish, but, unfortunately, it’s still possible to be left one even if you don’t do anything at all. Acne scars are permanent, while most PIH (which appears as pink and red marks on lighter skin tones and brown or black spots on darker complexions) fades in time. In-office resurfacing treatments (think: lasers, microneedling, and chemical peels) can improve the skin texture concerns associated with acne scarring, while at-home skincare can often speed up the PIH healing process.
- Products to Try: The ANOVÉ Perfecting Oil targets post-pimple PIH with soothing and brightening actives like goji berry, sea buckthorn, and arnica extract, and Dr. Jart+ Focuspot Micro Tip Patches work to fade dark spots with hyaluronic acid and vitamin C.
To Pop or Not to Pop?
You may be tempted to quite literally take your pimple into your own hands and pop it, but every skincare expert we’ve ever talked to says it’s just not worth it. You risk doing even more damage to your skin. “I highly recommend against ever popping your own pimples,” Gordon warns. “Not only can popping a pimple lead to infection and scarring, but it may actually lead to more outbreaks in the long run.” Her one exception? Small whiteheads. “Those may be extracted gently with Q-tips or comedone extractor,” she says.
If you have already picked at your skin (let’s be honest, who hasn’t?), all is not lost. “If you’ve already picked at a pimple, treat it like what it is: an open wound,” Kuehner says. That means applying an antibiotic gel, keeping it covered with a hydrocolloid bandage or a thick layer of moisturizer, and, most importantly, leaving it alone as much as possible.
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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