How to Get Rid of Pimples Overnight (Yes, It Can Be Done)

·8 min read
Photo credit: Design by Yoora Kim
Photo credit: Design by Yoora Kim

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Pimples seem to pop up out of nowhere, so it's super unfair that they take forever to go away — if you don't know how to treat them, that is. But don't worry, the next time you wake up with an angry red zit right on the tip of your nose, you can just reference this article, because we've got all the answers for you. We talked to dermatologists Dr. Claire Chang, Dr. Robin Evans, Dr. Whitney Bowe, and Dr. Joshua Zeichner to get their top tips on how to get rid of pimples overnight. From cleansing your skin the right way to using an effective spot treatment, here's how to make those pesky spots disappear.

This list is packed full of all their genius, zit-reducing recommendations, but before you jump right into the pimple treatment, take caution. Trying all of these remedies at once won't boost your chances of making the pimple disappear — more than likely, it'll just wreak havoc on your skin and turn a tiny blemish into a red, blotchy mess.

Don't forget to do a spot test before you use a new product.

Look for these ingredients

  • Adapalene

  • Benzoyl peroxide

  • Salicylic acid

  • Azelaic acid

Dr. Chang recommends these four key ingredients for a quality acne product. "Topical retinoids, like adapalene, reduce inflammation and normalize skin cell turnover to prevent and treat acne," she explained. "Benzoyl peroxide has been shown to decrease inflammation and fight acne-causing bacteria."

She says salicylic acid is best for de-clogging pores and exfoliating, while azelaic acid products should be used for "reducing inflammation, killing bacteria, and reducing clogged pores."

Get a superstar cleanser

This might seem obvious, but seriously: It's so much easier if you can prevent acne rather than trying to do damage control once you have a full-blown breakout. Granted, breakouts are mostly outside of your control, but getting a really good cleanser can keep your skin in shape so that you can live your best life.

If your skin is particularly oily or acne-prone, consider double cleansing: use an oil-based cleanser or cleansing balm first, then wash your face with a water or gel-based cleanser. An oil-based cleanser is great for removing dirt and excess oil, so double cleansing will ensure squeaky clean skin.

Use a hydrocortisone cream

Since you can't run to your doc every time you get a zit on your chin, this will be the next best thing. "If it's red and juicy, dabbing a bit of over-the-counter hydrocortisone can take out about 80 percent of the red and make it flatter overnight — not gone the way an injection can, but pretty darn close," says Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist in New York City.

Use a teensy bit right on the pimple at night and again the next morning. Just don't use it on the reg, because using too much hydrocortisone can thin the skin and lead to more acne breakouts.

Prevent new pimples from forming

There are a lot of causes of acne – some genetic, some environmental. According to Dr. Chang, here are the ones you should look out for: "The root causes of teenage-onset acne include excess oil production, clogged pores, bacteria, and inflammation. Teenagers also experience hormonal fluctuations that can trigger acne," she said.

"Stress, diet, and lifestyle contribute to acne. Stress increases cortisol levels in the body, which increases inflammation in the skin and worsens acne. Clinical studies have shown that diet can exacerbate acne, especially high glycemic diets, and dairy. If you notice a dietary trigger for your acne, I recommend avoiding these foods."

Focus on skin barrier health

You may have seen skincare brands and influencers talk about the skin barrier. What is that, you ask? Board-certified dermatologist and Associate Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital Dr. Joshua Zeichner explains, "The skin barrier is the ability of the outer skin layer to function optimally and protect the skin from the outside world. An impaired skin barrier translates to a loss of hydration and inflammation and contributes to the development of a variety of skin issues ranging from eczema to acne."

Basically, if you have acne-prone skin, you may have a weakened or dysfunctional skin barrier. Dr. Zeichner tells us that you'll want to look for products that contain the following ingredients to heal that barrier:

  • Ceramides: Think of ceramides as spackle that fills in cracks in the outer skin layer. Ceramides keep moisture and your acne-fighting ingredient locked in.

  • Linoleic acid: This is a building block for ceramides that is naturally deficient in people with acne.

  • Cica: Also known as centella asiatica, it's commonly used for calming, soothing, and skin-repairing benefits.

Try a spot treatment or pimple patch

You've probably seen these emergency pimple treatments at the drugstore — usually an extra-strong solution of salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide. And yep, they can actually get rid of pimples overnight.

"Spot treatments can definitely be effective — they help to reduce inflammation and dry up the pimple," says Dr. Robin Evans, a dermatologist at SoCo Dermatology in Connecticut. Just keep in mind these treatments aren't meant to be used on your whole face, just the pimple itself. And if you're on any prescription meds for acne, talk to your doctor before using a spot treatment.

Pimple patches are also great for whiteheads: they're made out of hydrocolloid, which absorbs and sucks out the fluid in your pimple. If your zit starts to "leak" or bleed, pop a pimple patch over it rather than squeezing it — you'll prevent unwanted bacteria from getting into the open wound and the patch will absorb all of the goo from inside.

If the little circular patches aren't heavy-duty enough, you can buy bigger hydrocolloid sheets designed to fit your entire forehead, cheeks, chin, or nose. Wear them overnight and peel off the gunk in the morning — soooo satisfying.

Dab on a little tea tree oil

Tea tree oil clears up all sorts of skin stuff — like insect bites, athlete's foot, and minor burns — and it can help zap acne, too.

Just mix it with some water, dab it on a cotton swab, and apply it directly to the pimple. "Dilute it at first, because some people are too sensitive to use it straight up," Dr. Bowe cautions.

Crush up some aspirin

Sounds weird, but this medicine cabinet trick can actually help.

Aspirin is a derivative of salicylic acid, and it can soothe an angry zit just like it soothes a headache if you crush it into a powder and then create a paste with water. "Crushed aspirin is anti-inflammatory," Dr. Evans says.

Avoid DIY remedies for pimples that aren't dermatologist-approved

You might've heard well-meaning friends and family or your TikTok faves suggest interesting remedies like baking soda, salt scrubs, or even urine, but you're going to want to steer clear of any strange DIY concoctions that aren't approved by your dermatologist.

Dr. Zeichner gives us his final verdict: "I do not recommend at-home remedies like toothpaste, lemon juice, or rubbing alcohol. They all will dry out pimples, but they ultimately cause more harm than good by disrupting the skin barrier and leading to overall skin irritation."

Conceal and cover up redness

If you're already using pimple patches, skin barrier-supporting products, and derm-approved topical acne treatments, the next best thing you can do for a pimple is to let your skin heal itself. This means no picking or popping.

"Picking will make any pimple take longer to heal," Dr. Evans says. It can also lead to infection, so even if it seems like it's just begging to be squeezed, leave it alone and cover it up with makeup or anti-redness products instead.

If you aren't a fan of foundation or concealer but still want some coverage, a green-tinted color-correcting treatment will help counter unwanted redness. TikTok fell in love with the viral Dr. Jart+ Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment that goes on green, turns beige, and neutralizes redness you might have from active acne or red acne scarring.

When in need, go to a derm for a cortisone injection

If you wake up the day of prom with a big honking zit, your doc may be able to help. If you can swing it, your best bet is to head to the dermatologist. "There is an almost immediate fix, and that's an injection with a dilute strength of cortisone done by your dermatologist," says Dr. Evans.

"It's quick and easy, with minimal discomfort, and it usually goes down within a day." This isn't the cheapest option, but when it's an emergency — like, you have a huge cyst on the tip of your nose the day before senior portraits — it might be worth it.

Spot treatments, soothing products, and zit stickers can help in a pinch, but you can prevent a breakout altogether by avoiding bad habits that make you more likely to break out (like sleeping in your makeup or using harsh scrubs). And if you just can't get rid of your acne, talk to a dermatologist to find a skincare regimen and potentially medication that works for you.

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