Pimples, acne, and scars
At some point in their life, almost everyone experiences pimples somewhere on their body. Acne is one of the most common skin conditions. In the United States, acne affects 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24.
Pimples are red, sensitive bumps that crop up when the pores in your skin become clogged with dirt, oil, or dead skin cells. When your pores and hair follicles are clogged, a buildup of oil occurs which feeds bacteria and creates pimples.
Sometimes it’s difficult to resist popping or picking at a pimple, especially if it’s itchy, dry, or particularly large. However, popping a pimple can lead to scabbing that, if not treated properly, can become infected or leave a scar.
Scabbing is a good thing. It’s your body’s natural response to stopping blood loss and healing skin wounds. When a pimple bursts, slight bleeding can occur. When the platelets in the blood sense the presence of air, they collect at the site of the ruptured pimple to scab and stop the bleeding.
The platelets break apart, and with a mixture of the following, they thread together and form a clot:
- vitamin K
- fibrinogen (a protein)
When the clot hardens, a scab is created.
In addition to stopping blood loss, pimple scabs act as a barrier to protect the injured skin from physical and bacterial invaders so that your body can rebuild its skin cells.
Pimple scabs are helpful, but they can cause some people discomfort and embarrassment. Luckily, there are some ways to treat and speed up the healing process for pimple scabs so your skin can get back to looking smooth and healthy.
When pimple scabs work properly, they protect and repair broken skin cells. However, sometimes scabbing can go wrong, and a burst pimple can:
- get infected
- take too long to heal
- lead to scarring
While your body’s natural healing is usually very effective, there are some steps you can take to minimize negative side effects from burst pimples and pimple scabs.
Don’t touch, pick, squeeze, or scratch the affected area
Sometimes the best thing you can do for a pimple scab is to leave it alone. Scabs can be itchy, but if you pick at a pimple scab, you run the risk of reopening the wound. When a pimple scab is reopened, it can lead to:
- increased inflammation
The more damage that you do to your pimple scab, the longer it takes to heal and the more likely scarring will form. So, keep your hands away.
Keep it clean
It’s important to keep a pimple scab clean and free from dirt and debris. If a pimple scab is dirty, it commonly becomes more irritated and the extra bacteria can lead to infection. Use these cleansing methods to keep the irritated area clean:
- antibacterial wipes
- mild face wash
- soap and water
- warm compress
After cleaning the area, make sure that it’s properly dried using a soft clean cloth.
Apply topical treatments
After cleaning and drying a healing pimple scab, your skin may become dried out or irritated. If this happens, there are a variety of different lotions and ointments that you can apply directly to the area, such as:
Other topical treatments you can use to hasten the healing process include:
- acne cream with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide
- antibiotic ointment
- zinc cream
Use first aid
You can cover a healing pimple scab after it has been cleaned and treated with a topical first-aid (antiseptic) ointment or gel. You can also use first aid bandages to cover a pimple scab. Band-Aids, gauze, and hydrogel sheets are effective at protecting the affected area from outside damage. This gives the scab a safer and cleaner environment in which to heal.
The best way to avoid pimple scabs is to avoid popping or picking your pimples. Popping a pimple typically leads to a scab.
If you have a pimple scab, it’s very important to keep the area clean and dry. You can also treat it with antiseptic ointment, and cover with a bandage. These steps will help the scab heal faster and prevent infection. The steps also lower the chances of scarring.
Certain treatments don’t work for everyone. If you have particularly bad acne, you should speak to your doctor or a dermatologist to discuss your treatment options. If you don’t already have a dermatologist, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.