Getting a big, red pimple on your face happens to literally everyone, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept defeat and wait patiently until the blemish goes away.
First, it’s important to understand how blemishes work (knowing your enemy is half the battle, after all). “We have sebaceous glands in the skin that normally provide moisture and lubrication, but the combination of stress and hormones can form clogs,” explains celebrity dermatologist Dr. Marina Peredo. “The bacteria causes inflammation in the skin, which is why blemishes and acne form.” And voila! Just like that, your skin flares up.
So, how do you free yourself of this pesky inflammation? Here’s how dermatologists recommend getting rid of that big ol’ zit as soon as possible — and how to avoid making it worse.
1. Hands off.
All dermatologists agree that you should never, ever pick at your pimple. We repeat: Do not pick at your pimple. “It may seem tempting, but remember that once you’ve picked at an acne lesion, it will take longer to heal and is more likely to scar,” warns dermatologist Dr. Doris Day, author of 100 Questions and Answers About Acne. Trust us on this one.
2. Skip homemade “remedies.”
While toothpaste, lemon juice and even Windex have been cited as excellent at-home remedies for blemishes, derms advise against them. “Toothpaste is more complicated than it used to be and can irritate or over-dry your skin,” warns Dr. Day. “Lemon juice is also irritating and wouldn’t have any effect on the pimple itself.” And Windex — well, it’s glass cleaner. Don’t put glass cleaner on your face.
3. Apply a warm compress.
Heat is a super simple way to soothe your skin if you feel a blemish coming on, says Dr. Margarita Lolis, dermatologist at Skin and Laser Surgery Specialists of New York and New Jersey. “Use a warm compress or steam to bring everything to the surface,” she explains. And once your pimple appears, apply a spot treatment. Alternately, you can use a cold compress to bring down the swelling of a particularly large, painful blemish.
4. Continue washing 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 Daily Clean 4-in-1Water Activated Cleansing Cloths.
5. Apply a spot treatment with three ingredients.
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. “Combine benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and 1% hydrocortisone cream in a custom compounded acne spot treatment,” Dr. Zeichner recommends. “Benzoyl peroxide kills acne causing bacteria, salicylic acid removes excess oil, and the cortisone cream reduces inflammation.” This way, you can treat your pimple by addressing as many factors as possible.
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 pretty 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.”
8. Go light on your makeup.
Unfortunately, using heavy coverup to make your blemishes visually disappear 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 be very occlusive. You can even do yourself one better and go totally makeup-free for a few days — it could be just the break your skin needs to clear up quick.