There are a lot of things in the world that are unexplainable, but the inconvenient timing of a pimple popping up on your face right before a big date or event is one of life's greatest mysteries. When that happens, as it inevitably always does, your only goal is getting rid of it fast. Preferably yesterday.
Understanding how to get rid of acne involves years of education and medical training, which is why dermatologists don't come cheap. Fortunately, we tapped board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anar Mikailov, MD, FAAD to give us the facts when it comes to getting rid of acne fast.
What Causes Acne?
When a new zit pops up overnight, Dr. Mikailov says there are "several parallel problems" to blame. The first is an increase in the production of our skin natural oil, called sebum, which is typically is stimulated by hormones. Hyperkeratinization, which is the build up of old skin cells that are supposed to shed (exfoliate) but have not done so, may also play a role in the fast development of pimple. Acne can also be caused by the proliferation of a bacterium called Cutibacterium acnes. Finally, acne may result due to increased inflammation - something has triggered the body’s defense system, which creates the redness along with the white head or “pus.”
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"Sometimes you may notice an early subtle bump or redness with some discomfort," says Dr. Mikailov. "More often there are no specific warning signs."
When a pimple shows up uninvited, Dr. Mikailov has a few recommendations for getting the bump to disappear ASAP.
How To Get Rid Of Acne Fast
Do NOT pop the pimple
We know it's tempting, but resist the urge to pop the pimple. Doing so can introduce new bacteria into the pimple, which can cause an infection, meaning it'll take even longer to heal. At the very least, all that pinching and popping will lead to redness and inflammation, drawing attention to the zit. Trust us on this one–you want to leave the pimple popping to the professionals.
Apply a hydrocolloid patch to the blemish
Instead of popping your pimples, cover them with a bandage made specifically for zits. "For smaller blemishes, hydrocolloid patches are the go-to approach," says Dr. Mikailov. These patches form a barrier to lower inflammation, minimize additional bacteria and prevent picking/popping."
He recommends the Sweet Chef Carrot Ginger Rescue Patch, which features ingredients like salicylic acid, ginger, and carrot to treat and soothe blemishes.
Read more: Best Acne Patches
Use an acne spot treatment
Spot treatments are designed for this very problem. Regardless of what caused the acne, spot treatments all target acne in the same way. Look for spot treatments with classic acne-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinoids. Unlike in a face wash or pimple cream, these high-strength products deliver concentrated active ingredients directly where you need it: at the head of a pimple.
Read more: Best Face Wash for Acne
These solutions can be drying, since that's what they need to do in order to get rid of acne, so it's best to apply spot treatments on overnight and wash it off in the morning. Spot treatments are supposed to be short-term solutions, so if you find that after a few days of treating your pimple with a spot treatment it shows no sign of surrendering, it might be time to change your approach.
Read more: Best Acne Spot Treatments
See a dermatologist
While over-the-counter spot treatments are widely accessible and incredibly effective for most people, there are certain acne-fighting tools that dermatologists have at their disposal that you can't find in stores. And if you need to get rid of acne fast–let's say in under 24 hours–it's helpful to have a dermatologist you're familiar with who you can see for a quick fix.
"Ask [your dermatologist] for a prescription ultra-strength retinoid like Tazorac to use as spot treatment," recommends Dr. Mikailov. "For larger pimples that need to be gone in 24 hours, you will need to make an appointment and have an injection of a steroid medicine directly into the cyst or pimple."
If the pimple is caused by bacteria, a burst of an antibiotic can be another miracle treatment that works quickly to get rid of acne.
Acne is a medical skin condition, so it's no surprise that seeing a dermatologist will get you faster results than anything you can buy straight off the shelves. If you're struggling with stubborn acne, a dermatologist can save you from wasting your time and money on spot treatments that aren't designed to treat your specific skin condition. As Dr. Mikailov puts it, "every pimple is different," so it has to be treated differently.
"Often, long standing pimples will develop a new type of inflammation called granulation, which is like a thick wall around the pimple contents," he says. "This most often happens in areas that we subconsciously touch and irritate. The treatment for these almost always requires a small injection."
Be wary of natural remedies
There are hundreds of natural remedies for acne that maybe your mom swears by, but scientifically haven't been proven to get rid of acne.
"Green tea, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils do not have strong science to prove that these do or do not have benefits," says Dr. Mikailov.
However, there was a 2018 study that examined the hard science for what
Dr. Mikailov and his peers refers to as "complementary and alternative medicine." It showed that most of the studies are poorly conducted and use a very small population size, but it did also conclude some interesting findings.
In studies with 100 patients or more, the study showed that tea tree oil can reduce the number of acne lesions. However, when compared to more traditional 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil has a slower onset of action and can cause contact dermatitis. The study also found that chamomile extract used topically can reduce redness.
Read more: Tea Tree Oil for Acne
Cristina Montemayor is a freelance writer and journalist living in Austin, Texas, covering beauty, grooming, style, and culture. Her work has appeared in Very Good Light, BRIDES, Elite Daily, among others.