Nothing can ruin your day quicker than catching a glimpse of a newly formed mountain on your cheek or a cluster of fresh bumps cropping up around your chin. Breakouts have a way of showing up when you least want to deal with them and always overstay their welcome.
We all know better than to pick at our skin — but we also know better than to eat raw cookie dough and yet the threat of salmonella poisoning has never been enough to dissuade most of us. Popping spots makes a bad situation way worse, but if you just can’t help yourself (we’re guilty of it too) there are steps to take to ensure that you don’t end up badly scarred or with dark spots that linger long after the initial breakout.
If you can’t make it in to see an esthetician to help calm an active breakout or professionally extract a pimple, there are a few things you can do at home to help speed up the healing process.
Acne is the result of inflammation in the skin, and fresh bumps tend to make inflammation even worse — a truly vicious cycle. If you’re going to heal a breakout, addressing the inflammation is the first step.
Ice is very helpful in calming redness and swelling — wrap a single ice cube in a paper towel and hold it over the bump for five minutes. If you’re experiencing a cluster breakout or if the rest of your skin also feels heated or itchy, hold a cold compress (a bag of frozen peas or something similar) onto your skin for a couple minutes. Anything you can do to keep your skin cool is helpful against inflammation, so switch to washing your face with cold water until your breakout has subsided.
If your bumps are causing your skin to itch, apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream to the affected area at night. Taking an antihistamine such as Benadryl for the first couple days into an active and painful breakout can help calm the inflammation as well. Do not use these two treatments as part of your ongoing skincare routine, only when an active breakout is present and painful.
Spot treat carefully
Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur masks have long been the standard go-tos when it comes to spot treatments for blemishes. While these ingredients definitely effectively dry out spots, they can also leave them flaky and even more irritated than before. These ingredients can also create a hardened “shell” of dead skin cells which trap the infection causing bacteria within a pore and will prolong the issue.
Rather than reaching for a drying treatment, spot treat with a hydrocolloid bandage (or an “acne dot”) that will draw out the infection while keeping the spot hydrated. Skin that is devoid of moisture cannot properly heal — hydrocolloid is a gel like substance often used to treat blisters and other mild skin lesions as it protects against outside bacteria while retaining essential moisture.
Do it correctly
If you really can’t stand not to pick at a bump, just be sure you’re doing it the right way. A pimple must have a visible white head before you even consider touching it. If the bump doesn’t extract easily with one or two attempts — BACK OFF! Give it some time to come closer to the surface, as hard as that might be, as this is the only way to avoid scarring and hyperpigmentation.
Once your pimple has presented a white head, either steam your skin or take a shower to loosen up the pores. Make a warm compress with a washcloth and hold it over what you hope to extract, but make sure the compress isn’t too hot — if the bump isn’t ready to come out this might inflame it further.
Only ever use your fingers to extract, never use tweezers, fingernails, or extraction tools on yourself as you can do some serious damage to your skin. Wash your hands and wrap your fingers in tissues to avoid any bacteria being introduced to the area. Press around the perimeter of the spot with both fingers gently and again — know when to stop. If the bump does not extract, apply another hydrocolloid bandage and try again tomorrow.
It’s important to note that not all pimples will come to the surface. If you’re dealing with a cystic breakout (large painful pimples that are deeply embedded in the skin, usually along the jawline, chin, and cheeks) you might want to consider seeing a dermatologist who can administer a cortisone shot, attempting to pop a cystic pimple can cause severe scarring.
Fade it away
The aftercare of a breakout is just as important as tending to the active bumps as they tend to leave behind discoloration that can be stubborn to correct. Once your breakout has begun to heal, you can focus on products that will not only fade the evidence the breakouts ever existed in the first place — but can help prevent new ones from forming.
Retinoic acid works to strengthen the deeper layers of skin, restructure the foundation of enlarged pores, increases the production of collagen and elastin, and encourages your skin cells to regenerate quickly. Retinoids will go to work chipping away at the ghosts of breakouts past while also reinforcing your skin’s ability to fight them off in the future.
If you struggle with discoloration of any kind, not just the dark marks that acne leaves behind, then Vitamin C definitely needs to have a spot in your daily skincare routine. Picking the right product can be tricky, so be sure to read our full rundown of Vitamin C in skincare here. Antioxidants like Vitamin C along with any other major active ingredient need time and consistent application in order to show full results, so be patient with your progress.
Along with the other five hundred reasons you have to wear daily sun protection, post breakout discoloration is drastically exacerbated by exposure to UVA/UVB rays. Additionally, not wearing sunscreen lends itself to breakouts in the first place — when sebum produced in our skin oxidizes at the skin’s surface inflammation occurs and pimples form as a result.