It’s the most infuriating situation ever. You have clear skin for weeks, but the night before a special event, a massive pimple materializes out of the ether and threatens to ruin everything.
Stress and hormones often contribute, but the situation still feels unfair. Even worse, most products that claim to work don’t. So what does work?
Well, the good news is you have options. Below are some tips to guide you through your massive pimple emergency. I’ll also guide you through your long-term prescription treatment options to discuss with your dermatologist if you have persistent, severe, or cystic acne.
(See the short version of this post here.)
Emergency Beauty Tips
1. Don’t pop a blind pimple.
Unless you’re an aesthetician or a pimple-popping expert, don’t pop a pimple before it has come to a head. Otherwise, you could worsen inflammation.
Don’t feel like you have to tackle the monstrous pimple on your own. Instead, see your dermatologist to prevent complications.
2. Pop it the right way if you can’t resist.
But, if you can’t resist, wait until the massive pimple comes to a head before you try to pop it. Otherwise, you increase the risk of scarring, says the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Instead, steam your face to bring the pimple to a head. Watch Dr. Pimple Popper’s video below for instructions.
3. See your dermatologist for an extraction.
Still, see your dermatologist when in doubt. For large cystic pimples that don’t respond to over-the-counter treatments, see your dermatologist for a “drainage and extraction,” says dermatologist Dr. McKinley Grant. This procedure relieves pain, speeds healing, and reduces the risk of scarring, she says.
4. Zap a massive pimple with a cortisone injection.
Finally, cortisone injections are often the best strategy to eliminate a massive pimple that refuses to vanish. Cortisone injections shrink and usually eliminate pimples within 48 hours.
Sometimes, cortisone works sooner, but don’t expect a miracle. Nothing eliminates pimples on command, but cortisone does work sooner than other methods.
Some urgent care facilities even offer cortisone injections, but see what’s available where you live.
Over-the-Counter Treatments for Mild and Moderate Acne
If your pimple crisis is a one-time event, you might not need to worry. But ask your doctor about long-term treatment options if your acne worsens or persists.
However, try over-the-counter fixes first if you have mild acne. For example, look for products that contain sulfur, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide to calm inflammation, dry up pimples, and exfoliate skin. But use a moisturizer with these products to prevent dryness, says skin care guru Renée Rouleau.
Please note: these ingredients work better for mild acne than they do for severe acne. So, here are a few products to try.
Sulfur Masque / Spot Treatment
Peter Thomas Roth, Therapeutic Sulfur Acne Treatment Masque, $52
Developed for normal, oily, and combination skin types, the Therapeutic Sulfur Masque contains kaolin clay, aloe vera, and 10% sulfur to eliminate and prevent acne.
You can also use the masque as a spot treatment. To use, apply treatment where needed and leave on for 10 minutes. Use two to three times per week for best results.
Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid, $23.60
Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid is another product to try. This leave-on treatment contains salicylic acid to exfoliate skin, fight breakouts, shrink pores, and fade red marks.
Use up to twice daily for mild and moderate acne.
Paula’s Choice Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide, $5.10
A lightweight treatment for mild and moderate acne, Skin Clearing Treatment contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide to clear acne while hydrating skin. Use twice daily after cleansing for best results.
Other Topical Remedies
Aspirin masks are another acne-blasting trick to try. First, crush aspirin tablets into a bowl and mix with a dash of water to form a paste. Then, apply the mixture to the blemish and leave on for 10 to 15 minutes.
Aspirin contains salicylic acid, which calms inflammation and dries out the pimple, says Healthline.
But for more severe acne, ask your dermatologist for a cortisone shot. Most cystic and severe acne won’t respond to over-the-counter treatments, so prescription meds and cortisone shots are your best acne-fighting weapons.
Problems With Over-the-Counter Products
Although some people swear by products, such as ProActiv, it often won’t work for cystic and severe acne. In fact, most non-prescription treatments only work for mild acne.
On the other hand, severe acne requires an aggressive approach, often through prescription medications. So, see your dermatologist for deep, stubborn pimples that don’t respond to over-the-counter treatments.
Prescription Medications for Severe and Cystic Acne
Explore these prescription ointments and medications with your doctor if you have persistent, severe, or cystic acne.
Ask your dermatologist for oral medications and ointments to get acne under control. For example, pair oral Spironolactone with topical Clindamycin to treat acne inside and out. This potent treatment combination fights existing acne and prevents future breakouts. Isotretinoin and Aczone gel are two other topicals that calm inflammation and speed healing time to clear up acne fast.
Also, ask about oral medications, such as antibiotics and Spironolactone, a common treatment for hormonal acne. Both can be taken once or twice daily and usually start working within two to four weeks.
Oral Prescription Medications
Baclofen tablets can also be crushed and applied to your skin to shrink the pimple.
Next time you need to get rid of a pimple fast, visit your dermatologist for a cortisone shot to zap the pimple within 48 hours max. Or reach for an over-the-counter remedy and look for products containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulfur.
Although it’s tempting to pop the zit, it’s best to see your dermatologist to avoid scarring. However, if you can’t resist and you must pop it, watch Dr. Pimple Popper’s video first.
But whatever you do, be careful. You don’t want to scar your skin or worsen the problem.
Feel free to share your emergency pimple-blasting tips below.