It may feel like a painful pimple erupted on your skin overnight, but did you know that it can actually take two long months between the time a pore gets blocked to the time it creates a hellish red spot? With this knowledge in mind, Dr. David E. Bank, founder and director of The Center For Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery, says there are ways that we can stop a pimple in its tracks before it has a chance to rear its ugly head–and that some of the methods most of us rely on would work better if we didn’t wait so long to try them.
“By the time you are painstakingly applying topical products to a pimple that has broken out on your skin, you are about eight weeks too late,” Bank says. The minute you feel your skin aching in a familiar way that suggests a pimple is planning to surface any day now, Bank says to pick up a product that contains 10% benzoyl peroxide (as long as you’re not one of the 5% of the population who is allergic to it) and apply it to the area two to three times per day. Clearasil or Oxy-10, both of which can dry out a new pimple and exfoliate the area, should do the trick, but Bank cautions against choosing “designer” brands that don’t contain at least 10% benzoyl peroxide because they won’t be as effective.
If your spot seems like one that threatens to grow into a cyst, which is a deeper, often more painful lesion, the way to stop it dead in its tracks is to hold a wet, warm washcloth over the area for a few minutes, several times a day. “If worse comes to worse and you can’t spare the time to wait a day or two for the pimple to heal and disappear, then I recommend a quick trip to the dermatologist for a little cortisone injection which will zap it within 24 hours,” Bank says.
Already got a pimple and wishing it away quickly? Bank says you can pop it, but only if you do it in the most hygienic way possible. Rather than using your fingers, which can cause an infections, Bank recommends purchasing a comedone extractor, disinfecting both your skin and the tool with alcohol, and then gently “placing the extractor over the pimple and discharging the pus without scarring or driving the infection deeper into the skin.”
Of course, if you haven’t done so in awhile, visit your dermatologist so he/she can help you create a skincare regimen that works for your skin type. Particular care should be taken if you suffer from acne-prone skin. “If you do have acne, it’s important to wash your facecloth often,” Bank says. “Otherwise you are simply wiping dirt, oil, grime and makeup on freshly washed skin over and over again which is a breeding ground for acne. And, contrary to popular belief, sunbathing is the worst thing you can do if you have acne so if you’re looking for your acne to improve, don’t sit in the sun. The initial, temporary drying effect and the blemish concealing tan will fool you–UV rays actually stimulate oil production and thicken the outer layer of your skin which blocks pores and leads to more breakouts.”
Lastly, Bank recommends these five products, ingredients and cleansing methods to help prevent future pimples.
1. Salicylic acid wash or topical salicylic acid. A cleanser which contains salicylic acid is also fine to use, Bank says. One to try: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash.
2. Benzoyl peroxide. This is something that you can get over the counter without a prescription. “It’s terrific because it’s the only ingredient that is anti-bacterial and also exfoliates the skin, unblocks pores and dries up excess oil,” Bank says.
3. Retinol. This anti-aging ingredient, which is from the vitamin A family, helps to increase exfoliation and normalize the cells that line the pores so they don’t get blocked below the skin’s surface, Bank says.
4. Steam extraction facials. A pro facialist who can extract blackheads and whiteheads after steaming your skin can offer your skin relief and make it look a lot clearer and healthier. “They can also help pop some blackheads and zits that are not commonly seen by the naked eye,” Bank says. “Keep in mind that it’s not a cure for acne or chronic blackheads.”
5. Accutane. If you feel it’s time to look beyond OTC solutions for stubborn acne, Bank recommends a low dose of prescription Accutane, which he says can actually “thin out” the outer layer of the skin to help reduce pimples and blackheads.