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Even if you do all the right things for your skin (lots of water, regular sleep, a consistent skincare routine, etc.), an unwanted breakout can happen—and it’s usually at the worst possible time. Going on vacation next week? Of course you’d get an angry hormonal zit on your chin. Prepping for a big work presentation? Why wouldn’t you wake up with a massive whitehead on your face? Cut to the inevitably panic-Googling: how to get rid of a pimple fast. Immediately. Right Now.
If you’re all too familiar with these types of scenarios, keep reading, because I’ve reached out to some of my most trusted skincare experts to share their must-know tips and tricks for quickly getting rid of surprise pimples. From DIY hacks to genius product recommendations and more, these are the 10 best ways to get rid of a pimple fast.
1. Wash smarter.
We get it, washing your face isn’t the most ~exciting~ of skincare steps, but it does make a huge difference when you’re dealing with a breakout—especially if you wash with a cleanser with active ingredients designed to treat acne. Dermatologist Shari Marchbein, MD, recommends formulas that contain a mix of exfoliating and oil-absorbing ingredients, like salicylic acid and tea tree oil.
As a general rule, you should only use a cleanser with active ingredients like the options above once a day—or even just a few times a week if your skin is on the sensitive side. For more frequent washing, stick with a gentle, sulfate-free formula, like Cerave Foaming Gentle Cleanser. It’ll remove excess oil and buildup from your skin without compromising it’s protective barrier.
2. Bring on the ice.
The swelling associated with an angry breakout can be hard to hide with concealer. Your best bet for quickly calming things down and reducing the size of your breakout is to treat it with ice (FYI, cold has anti-inflammatory properties). Simply wrap an ice cube in a clean towel and hold it to your pimple on-and-off for five minutes. You can also use an ice roller or cryo balls if you have them handy.
3. Rock a pimple patch.
Pimple patches or stickers made with hydrocolloid material are total game changers when it comes to treating breakouts. They help absorb whatever gunk is stuck in your pimple to speed up healing time—plus they act as a physical barrier to prevent picking and popping, says dermatologist Caroline Robinson, MD.
Slap on a clear patch before bed or pop on one with a cute design (we love the ones from Starface) and rock it during the day Justin Bieber-style. Just be sure to leave it on for six or more hours so it has time to work its magic.
4. Pop like a pro.
Only when your pimple has a visible white head at the surface is it safe to try and pop at home, says esthetician Renee Rouleau. “Wrap your clean fingers in a tissue, then softly (too much pressure can damage the skin) squeeze the pimple from different angles until the infection is released,” instructs Rouleau. And don’t worry, seeing a little blood and a clear liquid is totally normal.
“If nothing comes out after three tries, leave it alone—otherwise you can cause scarring,” she says. Follow up your warm compress and a salicylic acid treatment (I’m a big fan of the Renee Rouleau Daytime Blemish Gel—it layers perfectly under makeup) to help dissolve any remaining pore-clogging oils and dead skin cells.
5. Consider a benzoyl peroxide treatment.
“To get rid of a red, angry pimple there’s no better ingredient than benzoyl peroxide,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “It works by lowering levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin and reducing excess oil and inflammation too.”
Benzoyl peroxide comes in varying strengths, from 2.5 percent to 10 percent, and while it may be tempting to reach for the strongest treatment you can find, it’s important to know that a higher concentration doesn't necessarily mean better results. According to studies, 2.5 or 5 percent benzoyl peroxide often works just as well as 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, just with fewer irritating side effects. So, as a rule, always start off with a low dosage, and work your way up if your skin can tolerate it and/or needs it.
6. In a pinch, DIY with Aspirin.
If you’re away on vacation and a breakout erupts, it’s probably harder to find an acne treatment than it is to find an anti-inflammatory pain-reliever. Instead of swallowing an Aspirin in pill form, though, dermatologist Elizabeth Hale, MD, recommends crushing it up and mixing with a few drops of warm water. Then, apply it directly on the breakout, just like a spot treatment, for quicker relief. Why? Aspirin’s active ingredient is acetylsalicylic acid, which is similar to acne-fighting salicylic acid. This DIY concoction, when worn for 10-15 minutes can help to lessen the appearance of a swollen pimple.
7. Dab on some hydrocortisone cream.
It’s a must-have for mosquito bites and allergy-induced rashes because of its redness-reducing and inflammation-fighting powers, so naturally it’ll help with an irritated pimple. “A tiny dot of hydrocortisone a breakout can quickly diminish any redness and swelling,” says Dr. Hale. Look for a hydrocortisone cream like Aveeno Maximum Strength 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream, not an ointment because you don’t want to run the risk of it causing more clogged pores. And remember, it’s a steroid, so it’s not meant for daily use—just occasional emergencies.
8. Zap your zit with high frequency.
In addition to topical products, there are also tools that can help quickly get rid of a pimple. Rouleau recommends at-home high frequency devices and says that “while most at-home devices are often weaker or less effective than their professional counterparts, the high-frequency devices you can buy now are just like the ones used in facial rooms or med spas.”
High frequency technology helps to oxygenate the skin, which ultimately kills acne-causing bacteria and helps to improve breakouts faster, explains Rouleau. Try Skin Gym's High Frequency Wand (p.s., it's a former Cosmo Acne Award Winner); it comes with a few attachments for use on different areas of your face.
9. Try an LED treatment.
If your acne is a stage five clinger and just keeps on coming back, LED light therapy is a good option, which helps in both treatment and prevention. Dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, MD, says it’s great for really irritated acne lesions and recommends blue light specifically as it is anti-inflammatory. Solawave Anti-Breakout Wand with Blue Light Therapy and Warming Massage has a two-pronged approach that uses blue light to kill acne-causing bacteria, plus heat and massage to help with product penetration and decreasing puffiness.
10. Make an appointment at the derm.
While all of the at-home remedies can seriously help in getting rid of a breakout, the quickest, most foolproof way is to see a derm for a cortisone shot. Especially if you have one of those blind pimples that’s deep below the surface. FYI, most topical products can’t penetrate deep enough to tackle the infection, but an injection can. It’s a pretty seamless (and practically painless) process where a dose of the anti-inflammatory steroid is injected directly into the acne lesion, says dermatologist Tiffany Libby, MD. “This will help the pimple disappear in about 24 hours.”
Speaking from my own experience, I’ve had plenty of cortisone shots where I’ve seen my pimple literally deflate on my way home from the doctor’s office. Usually, insurance covers cortisone injections, but if not, you’re looking at about $100 for the shot.
Meet the experts:
Elizabeth Hale, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Complete Skin MD in New York, NY and also a Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at the New York University Langone Medical Center.
Joshua Zeichner, MD, is is the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology and an Associate Professor of Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, NY. He is also the co-founder of Jori, a skincare line formulated specifically for adult acne.
Tiffany Libby, MD, is a Rhode Island-based board-certified dermatologist, Mohs Surgeon & Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Brown Medical School.
Why trust Cosmopolitan?
Lisa DeSantis is a freelance writer who has been in the beauty industry for nearly ten years. She began her career in beauty and fashion at QVC and has since written for and contributed to top women's magazines and digital brands such as Health, Real Simple, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, Byrdie and more. She has tested thousands of products and considers herself a professional guinea pig who's always on the search for the next big trends in beauty, wellness, and beyond.
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