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Skin 911! What to Do (and What Not to Do) for an Acne Breakout

Posted by Nikki Wisher on Jan 30th 2024

Skin 911! What to Do (and What Not to Do) for an Acne Breakout

It’s happened to all of us: you wake up one morning, make your way into the bathroom and look in the mirror, only to discover that a colony of pimples has taken up residence on your face overnight. At this point, it’s time to shift away from acne prevention mode and into treatment mode…but what should that look like? How do you get rid of a pimple or a breakout as quickly as possible? Here are all the dos and don’ts you need.

What To Do During an Acne Breakout

Thanks to skin care research, we know that there are plenty of ways to treat breakouts so they resolve sooner and look less prominent in the meantime. Follow these steps to evict those nasty blemishes.

1. Upgrade Your Cleanser

If you aren’t already using a salicylic acid cleanser for acne management, now is the time to make the switch. Salicylic acid is one of the most trusted acne-fighting ingredients, and it works fabulously for not only keeping blemishes at bay but clearing them more quickly when they do appear.

2. Use a Specialized Acne Treatment Product

The most critical step of your acne emergency care is a quality topical acne treatment. It’s important to recognize that most acne products you see are designed for long-term acne management and preventing breakouts, and those are great, but when you’re already facing a breakout, you need a reactive acne treatment. These are specifically designed for treating pimples that are already there. Look for products with benzoyl peroxide, adapalene, azelaic acid, and/or salicylic acid.

3. Try Warm Compresses for a Deep, Inflamed Pimple

If you have one of those deep, painful pimples (you know the type – on the surface they look like nothing but a little lump, yet they’re very painful with any amount of pressure), these are tricky. Topical treatments do little because the pimple is so deep. In these cases, you can bring them toward the surface so they’re more treatable, and all you need are simple warm compresses.

Get a washcloth wet with hot water. Then, press it gently on the area for 10-15 minutes. Do this three times per day, making sure you use a clean washcloth every time.

4. Cover Up with a Skin-Conscious Concealer

You don’t have to use concealer, of course, but if you do want to make your pimples less noticeable, choose your concealer wisely. Look for a skin-healthy concealer that’s designed specifically for acne like the Jane Iredale Disappear Full Coverage Concealer. This concealer soothes your skin while covering up the blemishes so you can actually reduce and conceal your acne at the same time. At a minimum, use a concealer that won’t irritate your skin or clog your pores.

5. Patch the Pimple

Another excellent way to get rid of pimples faster is by applying a hydrocolloid patch or hydrocolloid bandage to the blemish. These bandages promote healing while protecting your skin from further irritation. Plus, if you’re tempted to pick at or pop your pimples this patch will protect you from yourself.

What Not to Do During an Acne Breakout

It’s important to know what to do to kick your pimples to the curb, but it’s just as important to know what not to do so you aren’t fighting your own efforts. Here’s what you should avoid during your next breakout:

1. Try to Pop Pimples

I know, I know, it seems like if you could just get that clog out of there, all would be right with the world. But don’t do it! Every time you touch or mess with your pimple, you could be introducing more bacteria to the area and making it worse, not to mention pushing the pimple deeper into your skin with the pressure you apply. Popping pimples increases your risk of scarring later and, in the short term, makes the pimples harder to cover up with concealer.

2. Skip Your Moisturizer

A lot of people worry that their moisturizer will make their acne worse, so they ditch the moisturizer when a breakout appears. While you do need to be smart about your hydration by using an acne-friendly moisturizer, avoiding moisturizer could harm your skin. Moisturizer strengthens your skin’s protective barrier to make your skin less sensitive to irritation and inflammation.

3. Go Overboard Washing Your Skin

This is another common mistake that comes from a logical thought process: you figure that if you’re more diligent about getting debris off your skin by washing more often, it will help your acne clear sooner. Cleansing your skin twice per day is crucial, but washing more often than that could make matters worse. Overwashing can dry out your skin, leading to irritation and sensitivity.

4. Try to Dry Out Your Pimple

I might be dating myself by saying this because this myth isn’t as popular today, but in my teen years, there was common advice to use an alcohol swab to dry out a pimple. The thought was that this would dry up the oil that clogs the pore, but simply put, it doesn’t work. In fact, it can make the problem worse by drying out and irritating your skin. Your skin may even produce more oil to make up for that dryness, leading to more acne.

Having Your Acne Toolkit

Acne breakouts tend to pop up at the worst possible times, so now is the time to prepare for your next breakout in advance. Along with having a consistent acne prevention routine, put together an acne first aid kit with everything you need to resolve a breakout quickly, including salicylic acid cleanser, a topical acne treatment, acne-friendly concealer, and hydrocolloid patches or hydrocolloid bandages so you can jump into action when pimples appear.