Wedding day, job interview, class photo…Is it just bad luck that zits appear on important days? Maybe not. We don’t know exactly how it works, but we do know that there’s a link between stress and acne. If you’ve never had acne, stress won’t cause it, but studies have shown that those who are prone to acne breakouts may find that stressful situations aggravate the condition.
So when a nasty pimple appears on your big day, what can you do? There is no shortage of home remedies for emergency treatment. Not every remedy will work on every individual and more important, not every suggested remedy is safe or effective. Some can irritate the skin and make things worse. I recommend a two-step process for a quick fix: first treat the pimple and then camouflage it.
Treat the Pimple
- Ice it: Wrap an ice cube in a soft cloth and apply gently to the affected area for 20-30 seconds, rest for a minute and apply again. Cold reduces blood flow to the area and may reduce swelling and inflammation. Don’t press hard and don’t leave the ice on too long or you may irritate the skin.
- Apply an over-the-counter acne preparation that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid which kill the bacteria that cause pimples. These creams and lotions also help shed layers of dead cells, leaving skin fresher and rejuvenated. A 2.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide is sufficient and is less irritating than stronger formulations. Overusing acne preparations will irritate the skin; follow directions precisely.
- Apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream that contains 1% hydrocortisone. This medication provides pain relief, and can help to reduce swelling and redness in the area of the pimple. This should not be used every day, or for acne prevention; if used all over the face every day it can actually promote acne.
Camouflage the Pimple
- Eye drops that are formulated to reduce redness in the eyes can also be effective in reducing the redness and irritation of acne. (Tetrahydrozoline hydrochloride is the ingredient to look for.) Apply to the area with a cotton swab, or combine with cold by soaking the cotton swab with eye drop solution, freezing for an hour or so, then applying to the pimple.
- Conceal the blemish with a heavy-duty cosmetic concealer. Consider blending two shades to avoid using one that’s either too light or too dark, which will accentuate the pimple. Blend carefully into the surrounding area.
What NOT To Do
- Don’t pick, pop, squeeze or scratch an inflamed pimple. It will take longer to heal, will be more likely to leave a scar and will be harder to camouflage. Try to keep your hands away from your face entirely.
- Don’t use aspirin, toothpaste or other home remedies that aren’t formulated for the skin. They may actually trigger acne or cause irritation.
- Don’t expect a facial, chemical peel or other spa treatment to provide a quick fix. While they may ultimately have beneficial effects, in the short term they are likely to leave the skin red and irritated.
- Don’t overuse astringents. If used appropriately this can help the skin to contract and may shrink the pimple while also reducing the size of your pores. Pharmaceutical astringents that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid also fight pimple-causing bacteria. Natural astringents include: witch hazel (choose one without alcohol); lemon juice (dilute lemon juice with water and dab with a cotton swab over the area); and green tea (steep a tea bag in hot water, drain and apply directly).
- Don’t apply undiluted tea tree oil. This is an antibacterial essential oil with anti-inflammatory properties, and if used directly this may be irritating to the skin. There hasn’t been much research on its effectiveness, but it’s safe to use in diluted form. Dilute with coconut oil or argan oil and dab it on with a cotton swab.
General skin care advice won’t help in an emergency, but good skin hygiene will help you avoid those emergencies. In a true pimple emergency call your dermatologist and see if you can be seen that same day; a dermatologist can inject the pimple with low potency cortisone which dramatically helps to resolve the break-out. For prevention, start by washing your face twice a day with a gentle facial cleanser; follow with moisturizer. Pat your face dry with a soft towel; don’t rub. Drink plenty of water. Exercise regularly and shower after exercising to remove excess perspiration from your skin. You can’t completely prevent your skin from acting up, but you can reduce the likelihood of it happening at an inopportune moment and be prepared if it does.
Kaleroy Papantoniou, M.D., F.A.A.D., specializes in all areas of medical dermatology for adults and children, the prevention and treatment of skin cancer, cosmetic dermatology and laser surgery. Papantoniou works with Advanced Dermatology, P.C. www.advanceddermatologypc.com