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.
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).