How To: Stop A Blemish In Its Tracks

If you just started to get the sniffles, you wouldn’t take antibiotics, right? Of course not. Turns out, the same treatment philosophy should apply to your breakouts – the best course of action depends on what stage your blemish is at. Our overseas team in the US consulted with Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, to get an expert’s take on how to treat spots in various states. One thing to remember, regardless: “It’s crucial to treat a pimple as early as possible to minimise the risk of scarring.” What are you waiting for?

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The Blemish Stage: Under the Surface

The Solution: Skin that appears blemish-free may not be so clean and clear underneath. “Studies have shown that normal-looking skin may still have blocked pores and microscopic inflammation that’s invisible to the naked eye,” says Zeichner. To stop pimples before they start, use a face wash with salicylic acid, which exfoliates dead skin cells, removes excess oil, and minimises the risk of future breakouts – we love Sarah Chapman’s Skinesis Rapid Radiance Cleanse for this very reason. Prone to blackheads? Go for a more targeted treatment, like the REN Clarimatte™ Invisible Pores Detox Mask which penetrates your skin with gentle-yet-effective ingredients to clear impurities and prevent blackheads.

The Blemish Stage: Blackheads and Whiteheads

The Solution: When it comes to acne, blackheads and whiteheads (which are the result of clogged pores) can be even more frustrating to treat than pimples because they tend to cluster in hard-to-reach areas like the sides of your nose. A face wash like REN ClearCalm 3 Clarifying Clay Cleanser uses French clay to unclog pores and remove toxins without drying out your skin. After cleansing, smooth on a targeted treatment containing salicylic acid like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant — the BHA-based formula clears blackheads and whiteheads without irritating your skin. Finish with an oil-free moisturiser like Amie Skincare’s Morning Dew Matte-Finish Moisturiser.

Blemish Stage: Full-Blown Pimple

The Solution: At this point, you’re not just dealing with clogged pores. “Acne-causing bacteria has produced inflammation, resulting in an angry, red bump with a head,” says Zeichner. “When this happens, it’s crucial to use a spot treatment containing benzyl, which kills acne-causing bacteria and helps open up blocked pores.” We swear by Balance Me’s Congested Skin Serum, which combines the power of natural ingredients like organic aloe vera and Roman chamomile to reduce any redness. Applying an ice cube wrapped in a towel to the pimple can help take care of the swelling.

Blemish Stage: Acne Cysts

The Solution: Cysts are painful, deep-seated pimples, the contents of which have discharged inward. “They’re like little balloons that fill up with oil,” says Zeichner. “When they get inflamed, they become red and tender.” It’s crucial not to touch or try to pop cysts because they’re rooted so deep into the skin. “The goal here is to reduce inflammation,” says Zeichner. “The best way is to apply an over-the-counter, 1 percent hydrocortisone cream.” Do this in addition to continuing with a routine of salicylic face wash and benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, and the cyst should clear up in a few days. Although there’s no hard and fast rule to preventing cysts, making changes to your diet—like avoiding milk and food with a high glycemic index such as white rice and bread—can help. Ask your dermatologist about topical retinoids, which can also help prevent cysts from returning.

The Blemish Stage: You popped it!

The Solution: You know, you know, you’re not supposed to. But you caved and now you’ve got a red mess on your hands (or rather, your face.) Zeichner says the best thing to do is apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. And then stop touching it!

—Abigail Libers