While our collective obsession with all things skincare has seen us plunge deeper into complex conditions and their cures, we still find ourselves coming back to the most general, non-discriminative of skin issues being that they can be just as difficult to pin down as issues that aren’t within our scope of knowledge.
Breakouts, whether they be infrequent pimples or chronic acne, are one such example of skin issues that unite us, but still perplex us all. According to the International Dermal Institute, 40 to 55 per cent of the world’s adult population aged between 20 to 40 are diagnosed with low-grade acne and oily skin. The Journal of American Academy of Dermatology also found that 54 per cent of women aged 25 and over have suffered from acne.
While many of us are unsure of what to do when they’re faced with either a single blemish or a cluster of acne looking back at them in the mirror, there are a few expert-approved solutions to tackling your breakouts. And, spoiler alert, none of them involve going at them with your fingertips until you’ve prodded your skin to near-bleeding stage.
So keep your hands clear of your face, and scroll down for Vogue’s ultimate guide to getting rid of pimples and acne.
What causes acne?
According to board-certified dermatologist and Mohs skin cancer surgeon, Dr Dendy Engelman, the cause of someone’s acne can be varied: “Acne is an inflammatory disorder—it can be hormonal in the case of cystic acne, and it can be clogged pores that have trapped oil, dead skin cells and other gunk.”
Whatever type you may have, the road to breakouts is fairly similar. “Your body responds to stress by producing more cortisol (the stress hormone), leading to an overstimulation of sebaceous oil glands, which then get stuck in your pores, trapping bacteria,” says Engelman.
Once your pores are clogged, your skin responds by forming a red mount on the surface of the skin, the area around the clogged, or infected, pore becoming inflamed and forming a cyst under the skin—in other words, a pimple or a case of acne.
What is the lifespan of a pimple?
While many of us are extremely vigilant when it comes to preventing breakouts, avoiding at all costs the emergence of red, sometimes painful, bumps on our skin, the truth is that acne or pimples could be lurking under the skin for much longer than you think, and can be in the works even when you’re sticking to your routines. Here, we detail the steps that eventually lead to a pimple, or acne, forming.
- Something is already developing that is unrecognisable to our eye. While you might not yet be able to see it, inflammation has already begun to emerge around your infected pore, this process being the first in many steps to a breakout.
- While a pimple has already begun to form prior, a small red bump will now appear on the skin’s surface, which is the first visible sign of a breakout. Note, this should be your prompt to start doing what you can to treat the pimple. Start by removing any make-up or product from your skin that potentially irritates the area further.
- The next stage is the one that sees your pore clog, the pore in question filling with oil and external aggressors, such as dirt or debris.
- Following the pore’s clogging, it will now begin to ‘erupt’. As the breakout begins to swell, any visible red bumps will get bigger and pus-filled pimples begin to develop.
- The final stage of a breakout is here: the cyst that has now formed under the skin has become further inflamed and is clogged with dirt and oil.
The best ways to get rid of acne
While we’ve all tried (and likely failed) to resist the urge to pick or squeeze a pimple, doing this may delay your skin’s recovery process by weeks. And if you’re attacking your acne with your fingertips, you can extend its shelf life to a month, or maybe even longer. However, adopting an effective, yet delicate, cleansing approach, the healing process will likely be reduced and take just three to seven days. Below, we list the best ways to rid your skin of pimples and acne.
Considering bacterial build-up in your pores is what leads to breakouts, then it would make sense that an effective cleansing routine is key to getting rid of pimples. This means that you should look out for products that clear away excess oil, dirt and debris, and steer clear or any products that may clog your pores or irritate your skin—keep your eyes open for formulas that contain ‘non-comedogenic’ and ‘non-irritating’ formulas, the former preventing the blocking of pores and the latter avoiding chemical irritation, which can lead to further flare-ups. You should also avoid over-exfoliating your skin, be it a chemical or physical exfoliant. Experts have found that disrupting the skin’s surface can make it harder for it to heal, and potentially leave it susceptible to more breakouts.
Look out for these key ingredients
Simply put, applying the right ingredients to your skin will aid in treating pimples and acne. Use glycolic acid to exfoliate your skin in a non-abrasive manner, salicylic acid to clarify clogged pores, and retinol to boost cell turnover.
Use moisturisers made for acne-prone skin
If you’re prone to breakouts, you may be able to put them down to a pore-clogging moisturiser. Pick up products that boast a non-clogging formula, which should lightly moisturise your skin without further blocking your pores. Specifically, keep your eye out for products from non-perfumed, dermatology brands, including Cetaphil, La Roche-Posay, Avène and Vichy.
Use breakout-friendly make-up
Just like skincare, there are certain make-up products that are formulated to help you curb breakouts. For example, using mineral make-up formulas will ensure you’re allowing your skin to breathe without having to compromise on coverage and colour. And as far as keeping your skin’s oils at bay, powder formulas will not only ensure you’re mattifying your skin, it should also keep signs of breakouts cleverly hidden.
How to prevent acne
In addition to maintaining a regular, acne-fighting skincare routine, Dr Engelman also stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy digestive tract and immune system to help keep your breakouts at bay: “A recent Korean study of 56 acne patients found that drinking a lactobacillus-fermented dairy beverage effectively reduced their total acne lesion count and decreased oil production over 12 weeks. In an Italian study, half of the patients were administered an oral probiotic supplement in addition to their standard acne and rosacea treatment, while the other half didn’t take the supplement. The probiotic group experienced better clearing of acne and rosacea symptoms.”
As the above explains, ensuring you have good bacteria in the gut will keep the quality of your skin in check. And just as our insides can benefit from probiotics, so too can our complexions. Schooling Vogue on the benefits of skin-perfecting probiotics, a number of experts have matched your ingestibles to the skin concern you wish to remedy. For those who have blemish-prone skin, it’s recommended you take an inulin powder and a prebiotic fibre that will reach the large intestine undigested and lead good bacteria to prosper.
How to get rid of pimples fast
The sad news is that there’s no quick fix when it comes to breakouts—they’ll likely take just as long to disappear as they did to emerge. But there are some expect-conducted treatments that may speed up the process slightly. Some dermatologists will offer cortisone shots and PDL (Pulsed Dye Laser), which works to rid your skin of redness by targeting the oxygen-carrying component of blood. This will aid in the breakdown of the lining of the vessel, as well as clearing redness and swelling from the skin.
How to get rid of acne scars fast
While there are a number of options for lessening, and sometimes eliminating, acne scarring—think microdermabrasion, microneedling, fillers, peels, etcetera—one great way to get on top of treating it is booking in a laser resurfacing treatment like Fraxel. Touted as an alternative to invasive treatments, Fraxel promises to improve the tone and texture of your skin, with scarring set firmly in its sights. How does it work? Fraxel sees the use of fractional layers capable of penetrating the top layers of skin to stimulate collagen in the deeper layers, while subsequently resurfacing the skin back up top. From there, all the hard work the lasers did in the deeper layers of skin will see your skin’s natural rejuvenation process stimulate collage to smooth scarring. If this treatment sounds tempting, there are a select few clinics nationwide that perform Fraxel—a treatment created by Solta Medical—each of which are ready to get to work on ridding your skin of scarring, if that’s what your desired outcome is.
How to prevent (and get rid of) maskne
According to skin experts, maskne can be caused by a number of factors, including a lack of airflow around the skin (which leads to an increase in warm, moist air in contact with your skin), as well as reduced light exposure, and constant rubbing of the skin, these factors not only seeing an increase in bacteria on the skin, as well as inflammation-causing irritation.
As is the case with regular breakouts, the key to treating maskne lies is giving your skin a gentle exfoliation to slough off dead skin cells and dirt with products that won’t overly strip the skin, and then reinforcing your skin by strengthening its barrier.
The pimple-fighting products to try now
Below, we’ve included a few pimple-fighting products to work into your routine today.