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Maybe the most annoying thing about acne is that it always manages to pop up (pun definitely intended) at the worst possible time. Going out to an event? Say hello to your new date, Sir Forehead Zit.
Most people will try pretty much anything to make an unwanted pimple go away quickly. This includes questionable tips from the internet, such as the popular trick of using toothpaste as a makeshift (but supposedly effective) acne spot treatment.
It could be worth a try, right? After all, you have toothpaste sitting in your bathroom, so it’s not like it’s going to cost you anything. The question is: Does toothpaste actually get rid of acne, or is it just going to be a waste of time… and maybe even make things worse?
The reasoning behind using toothpaste on pimples is simple: Toothpaste typically contains ingredients like baking soda and alcohol, which can dry out a zit and get rid of it — or at least make it less obvious.
“Toothpaste can dry out a pimple because of the drying ingredients it contains,” says Dr. Marie Hayag, a New York-based board certified dermatologist. “But these ingredients, which include alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, sodium lauryl sulfate, herbal extracts and oils, and propylene glycol, can also irritate your skin by causing redness and peeling.”
So, yes, toothpaste will probably get rid of acne, but it could end up doing more harm than good. You could be left with overly dry, irritated skin that’s just as frustrating as that pimple would have been.
Fortunately, toothpaste is definitely not your only option for an effective spot treatment. “There are safer, more appropriate treatments that can treat the acne and not just dry it out,” says Hayag.
Don’t reach for the toothpaste out of desperation. Stock up on these dermatologist-recommended acne treatments so you have them right when you need them.
Acne spot treatments
Over-the-counter spot treatments for pimples are a targeted method of getting rid of or diminishing pimples quickly and painlessly. Look for spot treatments that contain ingredients like sulfur cream, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and drying lotion, as well as hydrating ingredients like essential oils and aloe vera to balance those out.
Hayag is a fan of Peter Thomas Roth Acne Spot and Area Treatment, which is an extra-strength formula that controls oil with ingredients like glycolic acid complex, aloe vera, vitamin C, vitamin E, pro vitamin B-5, and botanical extracts.
She also recommends Boscia Charcoal Spot Corrector, which contains activated charcoal as its main ingredient, and La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment, which is formulated with benzoyl peroxide and micro-exfoliating lipo-hydroxy acid.
Lastly, Hayag says Dermalogica Concealing Spot Treatment is a great option — it’s tinted, so it covers up your zit while sulfur and zinc oxide remove excess oil and help clear out clogged pores.
Pimple patches are another targeted method of making zits disappear. These have the advantage of being less messy than spot treatments.
Connecticut-based board certified dermatologist Dr. Deanne Robinson says, “I love the ZitStickas. They’re effective, and you can wear them to sleep and they don’t make a mess on your pillowcase.”
Sulfur is an effective over-the-counter acne treatment that works quickly. A natural antimicrobial, sulfur can dry out a zit and help skin absorb excess oil while unclogging pores. It acts similarly to acne fighters like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, but it’s gentler on the skin.
Look for products that contain sulfur to get rid of your acne. Robinson recommends Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Mask Acne Treatment Mask. She says you can use it as a mask for your entire face or just as a spot treatment on individual pimples.
Tea tree oil
Research suggests tea tree oil can be effective at reducing acne. A small 2017 study found that 14 people who applied tea tree oil to their faces twice a day for 12 weeks noticed a “significant” improvement in mild to moderate acne without any serious side effects.
Dermatologists agree that tea tree oil can be helpful in fighting acne. “It has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects,” explains Hayag. She recommends dropping a few drops of the oil onto a wet cotton swab and dabbing it on pimples as a natural spot treatment.
Research has shown that applying green tea topically can help get rid of acne.
“It has a lot of great properties: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant,” says Hayag. “It’s rich in epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol that also reduces sebum (oil) production of the skin.”
Applying green tea to your skin doesn’t mean brewing a cup and then applying it with your fingers. Hayag explains, “Make sure you remove the leaves from one to two green tea bags and add a little water. Mix the leaves with aloe vera gel. Apply the mixture to the pimples and leave on for about 15 minutes.”
Witch hazel is an anti-inflammatory that’s ideal for sensitive skin and can help reduce redness caused by acne or skin irritation. Research has found that it acts as an astringent and can helps shrink pores, relieve inflammation, and soothe skin.
“It has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties,” says Hayag. You can apply a small dab of witch hazel to the affected area as a natural spot treatment.
Aloe vera gel
Studies consistently show that aloe vera is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and great for sensitive skin. It’s not overly drying — in fact, it’s hydrating — so it won’t leave your skin irritated.
If you’re using aloe vera gel on acne, make sure it’s as pure as possible. “If you don’t have an aloe vera gel plant, pick an aloe vera gel that has at least 10 percent aloe vera,” says Hayag.
OK, let’s be real: Everyone has popped a pimple at least once in their life (probably more than that). We know we’re not supposed to, but when it’s just sitting there, looking like it’s literally ready to burst on its own, it’s hard to resist. So… is it really that bad?
“I always tell people not to pick or pop their pimples because of concern of overdoing it and causing more harm,” says Hayag.
Popping a pimple can increase your risk for scarring and infection in the area. It can also delay your body’s natural healing methods, which means the zit may end up sticking around longer.
While dermatologists don’t recommend popping pimples, they also know that people are going to do it anyway. And when it comes to popping, it’s all about doing it the right way to minimize the risks.
“It’s about knowing when it’s ready to pop and when to stop, and that’s where people get into trouble,” says Robinson.
How to know if your zit is ready to pop
“If your pimple has a clear point to it, a white pointed center, then you can safely give it some relief,” says Robinson.
You want to look for specific types of pimples. “Knowing what to pop and how aggressive you are with the procedure is important. Blackheads and superficial whiteheads can be gently squeezed with gentle pressure,” says Hayag.
She adds, “Do not pick or try to pop red, tender pimples, as these will not ‘pop’ and will just get more aggravated and inflamed.”
How to pop it the right way
“Wash your hands, and then clean the area with alcohol,” says Hayag. “Use two Q-tips or clean tissue wrapped around two fingers to apply pressure downward and inward until the material surfaces.”
The key is not to overdo it. “If you cannot get it out after one or two tries, leave it alone,” says Hayag. “Going after it repetitively can cause more irritation and increase the chance of scabbing and scarring.”
Want a step-by-step guide to safely pop those pimples? We got you.
What to do when you’re done popping
If your efforts were successful, make sure to fix the area. “If it opens up and discharges pus, clean the area again and leave it alone,” says Robinson.
You can also apply another acne treatment when you’re done. Hayag recommends applying a spot treatment to the area after popping the pimple.
Certain acne treatments might work quickly, but they don’t always get the job done fast enough. Sometimes the answer to making pimples disappear is a combination of treatment and coverage.
Choose the right products
Using makeup and skin care products formulated with ingredients that will irritate skin is not your best bet. Hayag says, “It’s important to choose products that are noncomedogenic. Stay away from heavy creams and moisturizers.”
When it comes to concealer, look for options that treat acne while also covering it. “Look for concealers formulated with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid,” Hayag says.
Robinson says to also avoid products that contain excess oils, even if they’re natural (such as avocado oil). She adds, “You also have to look beyond the products and look at tools — brushes and sponges. Are those clean?” Be sure to clean them after each use.
Start with a clean face
Makeup shouldn’t just go on bare skin. “Always start with a clean, dry face that is properly moisturized and protected with SPF,” says Hayag.
Robinson notes that you should also address redness and swelling: “A drop of Visine can subdue redness, and plain old ice can help minimize swelling.”
Follow up with a primer
“Start with a primer to create a smoother canvas for makeup products,” says Hayag. “Primers also act as a barrier, preventing makeup from disappearing into your pores. You can apply it all over your face to even out skin tone, or just to the area with the breakout.”
You can also try protecting the blemish before applying makeup directly to it. Robinson recommends applying a drop of tea tree oil to a pimple before adding concealer.
Cover up with concealer
Concealer is your best bet for hiding a pimple, but what to apply depends on the type of pimple you have.
For a pimple that has a lot of redness, opt for a green-tinted concealer. “It will help neutralize redness,” explains Robinson. You can apply green concealer first to reduce redness and then apply your regular skin-tinted concealer on top of that.
For pustules (small pimples containing pus), Hayag recommends using a thick, “spackle-like” concealer. “A stickier formula will better adhere to the bump,” she says. “Be precise and dab a tiny amount directly onto the bump. Dust with a fine layer of loose powder that matches your skin tone.”
Inflamed cysts require a slightly different method. “The key here is to first apply a tinted moisturizer to even out the skin tone,” says Hayag. “This will minimize a lot of the background redness present with cystic acne.”
From there, dab concealer on any area you notice. “Crayon concealers are great for cystic acne because they glide easily over textured skin and the pointed tip allows for very precise application,” says Hayag. “They are also super user-friendly!”