We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
There are few things as unwelcome as the arrival of a blemish-to-be. We’ve all experienced acne more than once, yet that doesn’t mean we’re ever less surprised when a zit decides to take up residence again.
Breathe — it’s okay.
As the most common skin condition in the United States, you and everyone you know has likely all dealt with a zit (or 20) before. This stat doesn’t mean Love Your Acne — it’s more of a reminder that anyone who makes you feel bad about having it is wrong.
Your pimples don’t have personality — you do, and your personality is what makes your face lovely to look at!
Still, we get it, you’re going to want to pop. So before you do so, read our round up of the cleanest — in order of the quickest — ways you can treat blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts.
And whatever method you end up trying, remember that these fixes aren’t meant to be treating your whole face, but for the one to two surprise pimples. For chronic acne, jump to learning about long-term strategies so you can minimize the blemishes after they’ve cleared up.
1. Pimple cover up: under 1 minute
There’s no blemish that a dab of cover up can’t hide.
Use green concealer to hide any potential redness, or salmon/orange concealer to counteract the blues hues on darker skin. For lighter or smaller acne, just skin-colored concealer might do for a smooth cover up.
When applying, remember this: use proper lighting, make sure you have a small brush for tiny cover ups, and keep a blending sponge for a completely silky finish.
Skin tip: In order to find your perfect makeup match — and to protect against possible skin allergies — always test out the product on your skin before use. If you don’t wear makeup enough to justify a pot, consider looking for sample packs or braving a day without cover up. You might realize how little other people notice.
2. Ice on pimple: 1 minute or more
- Begin by cleansing your skin.
- Then, wrap the ice cube in a thick towel, cloth, or use a cold compress.
- Apply the ice for 1 minute and then remove.
If your pimple is particularly inflamed, you can follow it up with repeat sessions, but wait 5 minutes in between each application. Continue to ice your pimple until it’s gone down enough to cover up.
Do this daily if the pimple persists.
3. Acne patches: 20-min minimum
Can small adhesive dots really suck the life out of your pimple? Yes — although how long it takes depends on the type of acne, as well as if it has a head, or has an opening to release sebum.
From spots that reduce pimple size in just 6 hours to waterproof patches that will act on blemishes overnight, you’re sure to find a patch to suit your skin care needs.
- Clean the area around the pimple.
- If needed, lance the pimple (only if it has a head) with a sterilized tool.
- Apply sticker directly to your pimple and wait.
It’s important to note that just like any acne treatment, patches may not provide the same results for everyone.
Dermatologist Suzan Obagi, doctor and director of the UPMC Cosmetic Surgery & Skin Health Center, notes that finding your perfect acne-fighting regimen often requires trial and error with products.
4. Draining a pimple: 5-15 minutes
Derms and estheticians like Dr. Obagi warn that serious complications can arise during at-home experimentation of lancing or popping a pimple.
In the case of particularly large or painful cysts, she recommends seeing a doctor, noting that the use of “unsterile instruments can be a setup for disaster.”
However, we know that even one pimple can wreak havoc on our esteem, so if you don’t mind (or prefer) potential scarring, follow these instructions carefully.
- Begin by following your usual facial cleansing routine. Don’t over-wash or irritate the area, but ensure that your face is clean.
- After cleansing, you should cover the area with a warm compress. You’ll continue to cover the blemish with a warm compress until it drains.
- In the case of an inflamed cyst, you can use ice in between warm compress treatments to reduce swelling.
This method will allow for any acne substance lingering in your pores to come out, which will prevent you from using your fingers or an unsterile instrument for popping.
5. Mask treatment: 15-20 min
Give your pimple a little TLC with an easy-to-follow mask treatment. Before you layer on the mask, clean your skin, exfoliate, and then add the mask.
For a mask treatment, you want to pick a product that has ingredients like charcoal, Aztec clay, and Sulfur clay, known for clearing up acne.
6. Cortisone shots: 4 to 8 hours
In the case of severe and painful acne, you may want to schedule a visit with your doctor for a cortisone shot. The $25+ shot (depending on your insurance) is injected directly into the skin and helps to quickly fight redness and speed up the healing process.
7. Spot treatment: overnight, at least
Spot treatment is a targeted method that can take a little time and is best followed up with an acne patch. You may want to ice the pimple before spot treating, especially for bigger zits.
After washing your face, ice the pimple for less than 5 minutes. Follow that up with the application of an over-the-counter pimple product of your choice.
Be sure to apply a spot treatment that contains ingredients noted for their acne-fighting abilities, including:
- essential oils, like tea tree or witch hazel
- sulfur cream
- benzoyl peroxide
- aloe vera
- salicylic acid
- cortisone cream
- a drying lotion
Once applied, you want to keep your fingers away and wait for the pimple to disappear.
Got some time to calm your flare-up? Focus on slowly introducing the quick fixes in combo order, like lancing, spot treatment, and an acne patch. Or masking, icing, and a spot treatment again.
The idea is to drain your pimple while also babysitting your skin so scarring and dryness don’t occur.
To give your skin an extra boost, follow this 3-day method to rebuild its inner and outer defenses:
- get extra sleep
- wash off any items that touch your skin
- increase the amount of water you drink
- follow a diet rich in plant-based foods
- use acne patches every night as needed
Although the process may take some time, Obagi notes that many parts of our daily lives can be potential acne triggers, including our hairstyling items.
“Avoid letting hair products clog your pores,” she says. “If you are acne prone, keep your hair pulled off your face or avoid these hair products. When you condition in the shower, follow this by washing your back, chest, and face with soap to remove any conditioner that gets onto your skin.”
She also suggests keeping your hands away from your face, and monitoring your diet for signs that food — particularly items with dairy or gluten — are causing you to break out.
Try as we might to rid ourselves of unwanted acne, chronic or recurring acne may need to be treated more aggressively from the inside-out.
At-home blue LED light (1 to 4 weeks)
Retinoid (2 to 4 weeks)
Along with fighting acne, retinoids are great for reducing scarring and smoothing the skin. You should begin to notice a change in your skin after applying the product every other day for two to four weeks.
Zinc (3 months)
Known for its ability to fight off inflammation, zinc may potentially provide you relief from chronic acne. There are side effects and risks to taking a zinc supplement, but those concerned should always consult with a doctor first.
See a dermatologist
When all else fails, you can always schedule an appointment with a trusted dermatologist. These skin care experts are here to help you, and may have other means of treatment not available over-the-counter, including:
- recommendations on an acne-fighting diet
- prescription acne medication
- hormonal therapy
- chemical peels
- laser therapy
Not every acne treatment is worth trying, even some of the ones listed above may not suit your skin type. Masking can irritate sensitive skin and skin that’s slow to heal will want to stay away from lancing.
But be extra wary of DIY routines, especially those that encourage you to use undiluted or raw ingredients like:
Some may swear by these remedies for fighting their acne, but research hasn’t confirmed those claims, and they may cause more harm and sensitivity than healing.
Instead Obagi suggests beginning with a trip to your favorite drugstore. “You can start with over-the-counter acne medications from the drugstores to see if you can control your acne at home. This should include a retinol or retinaldehyde cream to help reduce acne formation and an acne wash or acne wipe (preferably with salicylic acid and witch hazel or tea tree oil).”
How effective these treatments are is going to vary from person to skin type to even weather — it really will take some experimentation! Still, you can begin taking lifestyle steps to positively impact your skin.
As Obagi reveals, one of the best things you can do to treat your acne is to practice enhancing your overall well-being.
And this looks different for everyone — for some it means revisiting your diet and eliminating sugar, or sleeping early to ensure your body’s defenses are strong again. For others, it means embracing your acne and throwing all care out the window.
For us, it means all of the above: becoming confident and comfortable in our wellness so we can put our best face forward.