We admit that Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube is our main supplier of beauty hacks, especially when we're dealing with an annoying breakout. Occasionally, we come across a face-palm-worthy post that makes us want to scream, "Don't do it!" at our computer screens. These fails are practically a rite of passage, but when it comes to, say, rubbing hand sanitizer on acne because a user said it helped them get rid of a zit, we cross into a gray area of skin safety.
We'll admit to dabbing toothpaste on a pimple in the hopes of shrinking it (haven't we all?), but the real question is this: Which of these so-called acne hacks actually work, and which ones are actually causing more damage? To find out, we ran some of the most popular pimple hacks by the skin experts themselves to come up with a proper do's and don'ts list for DIY'ing away your blemishes.
Meet the Expert
Read on to get some expert tips on how to get rid of pimples fast.
Save Toothpaste for Emergencies
Yes, a dab of Colgate can dry out a zit in a pinch, since it promises antibacterial and oil-absorbing properties. But it can be overly drying if you overdo it, says Russak. (Plus, most run-of-the-mill toothpastes contain other chemicals and ingredients that have no business being on your skin). While it's not the worst one out there, you're better off saving this tip for emergency situations.
Increase Cell Turnover by Exfoliating
According to Wesley, light exfoliation—typically through the use of cleansers, topical products, or chemical peels—can help skin cells turn over faster, which prevents blackheads and whiteheads from forming, helps existing acne resolve more quickly, and helps dark marks from old acne fade faster.
Ice the Pimple
You may have heard about icing a pimple in order to diminish redness and swelling, and, thankfully, it works. Try this hack if you're looking to make your breakout less noticeable.
Reduce Inflammation With Crushed Pepto-Bismol
"Applying this as a mask mixed with a little bit of water could help reduce acne marks and inflammation," says Russak. Still, as with toothpaste, it's best to be wary about products that weren't intended for your complexion. "I would suggest visiting a dermatologist instead to address concerns," says Russak.
Minimize Pimple Size With VapoRub
"This will help reduce the size of a pimple overnight—as long as there is no broken skin—but long-term use is not suggested, as one of the main ingredients is petrolatum (petroleum jelly), which will cause more acne breakouts," explains Russak. Petrolatum is heavy and greasy, which might aggravate oily complexions. File this under Vaseline's many uses—just take care not to overdo it.
Incorporate a Salicylic Acid Cleanser into Your Routine
Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, has antibacterial, exfoliating, and anti-inflammatory effects—which yields great results for clearing acne. "Salicylic acid helps dry up 'wet' or oily lesions such as acne, and in the process of drying, promotes superficial skin exfoliation which can help reduce superficial hyperpigmentation," explains Wesley. Check this one from Arbonne—it cleanses grime away all while treating existing breakouts and fending off future ones.
Always Wear SPF
Those post-inflammation dark spots? Yep, you have acne and a lack of sun protection to thank for them: "The inflammation from acne can often stimulate our pigment-making cells called melanocytes to produce more pigment, resulting in a dark mark where the acne once was," explains Wesley. "Using a non-comedogenic sunscreen (meaning it's been tested so it shouldn't clog your pores), is key in helping prevent and improve the appearance of these dark marks."
Steer Clear of Listerine
Do you really want to put something that burns so much in your mouth on your skin, too? It's a tad too harsh. "While the ingredients found in Listerine (eucalyptus, alcohol, and thyme) can kill bacteria that causes acne, using too much could cause irritation, especially to sensitive skin," says Russak.
Decrease Redness With Advil Liqui-Gel
This hack has been a runaway hit on Pinterest, and Russak says there might be a good reason behind that. "In an emergency situation, the gel from an Advil Liqui-Gel remedy will decrease redness and the size of a pimple," she says, due to its anti-inflammatory ingredients. Botton line: It works, but save it for an emergency situation, and try to stick with topical acne treatments on the regular.
Use Rose Water for Inflammation
Sick of inflamed acne flare-ups? Use skincare products with rose water. "Rose water is rich in vitamin C and phenolic compounds that can be helpful at reducing the inflammation associated with acne," notes Wesley. And, it's so gentle even the most sensitive skin types can use it.
Try a Cortisone Shot for Acne Cysts
"Occasionally for a large acne cyst or before a big event, patients may come to the office for a mild, dilute cortisone injection to help the painful acne cyst resolve faster," says Wesley. That said, steer clear of at-home topical cortisones to treat acne—this can result in rebound or "steroid acne," according to Wesley.
Heal Blemishes With Overnight Products
Your skin repairs itself while you sleep, so if there's anything to treat, nighttime is the time to put your efforts into treatment. Using a purifying overnight moisturizer like this one from Yes To can help, as it promises to detoxify, eliminate pore-clogging oil, and uses ingredients like charcoal, avocado, and tomato extract meant to heal the skin.
Never Use Hand Sanitizer
Confirmation that hand sanitizer on acne is officially the worst: "Hand sanitizer contains high concentrations of alcohol, which is good and effective for helping prevent the spread of infection from our hands, but may be too irritating for facial skin and acne," notes Wesley. "Hand skin is more thick and resilient than the skin on the face or other parts of our body."
Try an Acne Drying Lotion
In the realm of precise and effective spot treatments, Mario Badescu's signature formula is one of the best around. Generally speaking, drying lotions contain salicylic acid and sulfur, both of which are anti-inflammatory and helpful at drying out acne lesions, according to Wesley.
Avoid Using Hydrogen Peroxide
The chemical concentration of hydrogen peroxide is so strong that it might do even more damage: "It can dry out your skin, which can lead to premature aging and increase the likelihood of acne scarring," says Russak. Save it for cuts, scratches, and clothing-stain removal.
Try Crushed Aspirin Mixed With Lemon Juice
Aspirin for acne? We can safely say we've seen it all. Since Aspirin is salicylic acid—a common blemish-fighting ingredient—this hack has some credibility behind it. "Aspirin increases cellular exfoliation and is antibacterial," says Russak, who adds that the vitamin C in lemon juice can brighten sun damage and existing acne scars. Though it's a great tip, Russak says you'll still get more reliable results with a derm-administered chemical peel.
Absorb Acne-Causing Oil With a Mud Mask
Mud masks often contain clay meant to absorb oil and dry out acne lesions. What's more, Wesley says that mud baths often contain minerals such as sulfur, zinc, and magnesium, and they've long been used to help exfoliate skin when combined with water. There's a reason for this mud mask's cult status—just read the over 4000 positive reviews.
Don't Pick at Pimples
"Picking blemishes can lead to more inflammation, resulting in it taking even longer for the acne pimple to resolve sometimes," explains Wesley. "Even worse, it can result in post-inflammatory redness, brown spots, or scarring, which can often last much longer than the acne pimple itself or be permanent." If you can't keep your hands off your face, keep your hands busy with Rouleau's creation. Bottom line: leave your pimples alone.
Lyons AB, Moy L, Moy R, Tung R. Circadian rhythm and the skin: a review of the literature. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2019;12(9):42-45.