We think it’s a universal opinion that breakouts are the worst. After all, nobody wants to wake up with blemishes, go to school with zits, or be memorialized in a photo with a giant red pimple demanding all of the attention. Nevertheless, as much as we wish zits didn’t exist, the reality of the matter is that they do. And not just in small numbers.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans each year, and, of those 50 million people, roughly 85 percent fall between the ages of 12 and 24. Though, that’s not to say that people in their 30s and 40s are free from blemishes. Rather, only about 15 percent of women in that age range experience the complexion concern.
Numbers aside, it’s safe to say that anyone who has ever broken out knows how annoying a random zit can be. That’s why we chatted with a few of the industry’s leading dermatologists to determine the best methods proven to reduce pimples fast. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Ashley Magovern is an L.A.-based board-certified dermatologist.
- Dr. Michelle Henry is an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and Galderma consultant.
- Dr. Michele Green is a cosmetic dermatologist.
Use Products Formulated With Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). It’s especially ideal for people with oily, pimple-prone skin, as it’s oil-soluble. As such, it targets oil while promoting cell turnover, effectively exfoliating any oil or debris that might be clogging your pores and leading to breakouts. While salicylic acid is a great ingredient to help prevent breakouts from popping up in the first place, LA-based board-certified dermatologist Ashley Magovern says it’s great for treating and diminishing pimples, too.
Magovern’s go-to salicylic acid-infused formula is Honest Beauty’s Clearing Night Serum with Honestly Pure Retinol. In addition to being an acne-fighting formula, Magovern says it’s a fave because it also has a gentle retinol in it to help improve the overall appearance of your skin and even help reduce the appearance of fine lines.
Add a Spot Treatment to Your Routine
If you’re more concerned with treating a single stubborn zit than looking for products to prevent them from appearing in the first place, make sure you have a spot treatment on hand.
“There are tons of over-the-counter acne spot treatments on the market,” says NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and Galderma consultant Michelle Henry. “You should look for acne products with the ingredients salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide—salicylic acid penetrates and clears out pores while benzoyl peroxide plays a role in treating the bacteria that causes acne.”
Try Tea Tree Oil
In addition to salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil is another ingredient that works wonders for acne-prone skin types: “Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties that are known to work on P. acnes and S. epidermidis, two forms of acne-causing bacteria,” says cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green. You can spot treat pimples with tea tree oil for a quick fix.
Try a Detoxifying Mud Mask
One of Magovern’s favorite ways to zap a zit overnight is by applying a detoxifying mud mask before bed. While a mud mask (she loves the Honest Beauty 3-in-1 Detox Mud Mask) alone may work wonders to absorb excess oil and draw out pimple-causing bacteria, she recommends following it up with a clearing serum and moisturizer to help diminish any redness or swelling while you sleep.
Use a Hydrocolloid Patch
ICYMI, hydrocolloid patches are on the rise. They’ve become such a big hit over the past couple years thanks to their promise to not only suck a zit from existence but to keep skin protected in the process. Simply stick one of these oil- and bacteria-absorbing stickers onto your spot, head to bed, and wake up with noticeably clearer skin.
On the converse, if you want to go out but don’t want your zit to be the topic of conversation, you’ll be glad to know that ultra-cute patches exist for these exact scenarios. Where Starface features star-shaped stickers (some of which even glow in the dark), Truly Beauty offers heart-shaped acne-patches, and Squish has precious flower-shaped, gemstone-adorned stickers.
Try Aloe Vera if Your Breakout Is Inflamed
Aloe vera isn’t only beneficial for sunburned skin. According to Green, the natural ingredient is a godsend for all types of inflammation—including the type associated with acne. As such, she recommends the ingredient as an add-on for any zit-zapping routines.
“One of my favorite remedies is Peace Out Acne spot patches,” she shares. “These patches contain a mixture of salicylic acid, vitamin A, and aloe vera. The combination of these three ingredients works to eliminate pimples and redness overnight.”
Use Hydrating Products to Strengthen Your Skin Barrier
While it might seem counterintuitive to layer oily, acne-prone skin with more moisture, doing so may actually help balance your skin’s oil production and limit the number of zits that pop into view: “Some patients tend to focus on treating their acne with spot treatments, which can be great, but it's important to also take care of the rest of your face to keep your skin barrier strong,” Magovern says. “I like to finish off with a great, lightweight moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid to improve hydration and keep skin looking radiant.”
See Your Dermatologist for a Prescription if a Pimple Persists
There is only so much you can do with spot treatments and preventative skincare routines. According to Henry, if you start to see multiple pimples or cysts—or if you notice any scarring—that’s when acne becomes a skin emergency and it’s time to consult a dermatologist for help. After all, without the right products, your scarring might become permanent. “Dermatologists can prescribe treatments that are more effective at not only treating active acne but also preventing new acne from forming and helping to prevent the risk of scarring,” she explains. “When a patient’s acne is beyond what over-the-counter products can treat, I often recommend EPIDUO® FORTE Gel. EPIDUO FORTE Gel is formulated with a retinoid, which is far more effective than over-the-counter ingredients at not only stopping acne cysts, but also regulating skin turnover to help prevent new acne formation and scarring.”
When to See a Dermatologist
There are many products on the market formulated with salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, and aloe vera. By implementing a targeted skincare routine and religiously sticking to it, you’ll likely be able to zap your zits overnight. If, however, every product you try seems to only exacerbate the issue—or not address it at all—it never hurts to consult a dermatologist for a professional opinion.
“If you suffer from nodular or cystic acne, it’s best to see your dermatologist for treatment,” Green explains. “Cystic acne can cause severe scarring if left untreated, therefore it’s best to see your dermatologist who can better treat this type of acne to prevent further scarring.”
Does toothpaste work on pimples?
While toothpaste can help to dry skin, it can also irritate it and lead to overdrying, ultimately making pimples worse.
Should you pop a pimple to get rid of it?
While it's tempting, it's best not to pop a pimple as it can lead to infection and/or scarring. It may even worsen its appearance.
When should you see a dermatologist for acne?
According to cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, “If you suffer from nodular or cystic acne it’s best to see your dermatologist for treatment.”
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Skin conditions by the numbers.
Decker A, Graber EM. Over-the-counter acne treatments: a review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(5):32-40.