How to Deal with a Zit Before, During, and After a Breakout

The more you know: Acne is the most common skin condition in the U.S., and it’s not one of those things that gets better with age. (According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it can start when you’re in high school and continue well into your 30s and 40s.) Is it harmless? Sure. Fun? Not so much.

And if there were a foolproof solution for it, we wouldn’t have studies and studies — not to mention shelves upon shelves of skin-care products — devoted to snuffing it out entirely. There’s good news, though: What we do have is the potential to shrink a zit’s lifespan, both when it’s just a growing bump beneath the skin and once it’s left an acne mark or scar. Here’s how to do just that, so you can get back to your regular clear-skin programming faster.

Status: You have a tender, red bump under the skin

Those who’ve had breakouts can probably I.D. a zit before it’s even fully formed. The usual signs? Those associated with inflammation, be it redness, soreness, or feeling tender to the touch. Start gently: “A warm compress can be soothing to apply to the skin where you feel a pimple starting to form and additionally, can encourage pores to open up,” says Michelle Green, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City. “This can potentially bring the sebum, dead skin cells, and debris that’s creating that pimple closer to the surface of the skin so that it can be treated with other topical acne medications or safely extracted. 

She also recommends using a cleanser or exfoliant with salicylic acid, a.k.a. beta hydroxy acid (BHA) to tackle any clogs. “BHA is an acne-fighting ingredient that is able to deeply penetrate the skin and break up sebum, dead skin cells, and debris that are clogging the pores,” Green says. “Those pimples which have not yet hit the surface of the skin can be tricky to treat, but BHA can melt down into the pores, taking care of acne before it even comes to a head.”

Start by cleansing with Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser, which has gentle AHAs to remove dead skin cells from the surface of skin, and follow up with a toner like Watermelon Glow PHA+BHA Pore-Tight Toner. It pairs BHA with PHA (a mild exfoliating acid) and tea tree oil (an antibacterial ingredient) to take down pimples before they even form.

Status: You have a fully-formed zit, and it’s come to a head

Depending on the type of breakout you’re dealing with, you’ve got some options here. While you can (and should) still keep up with cleansing and using a BHA toner, you can take a blackhead, whitehead, or pustule as a cue to use a detoxifying clay mask, which can help yank the clog out of the pore (or dry it up). But not any clay mask will do. Instead, try the Watermelon Glow Hyaluronic Clay Pore-Tight Facial, which has the pore-refining power of clay alongside hyaluronic acid’s hydration (hence hyaluronic clay). (And, thanks to the hyaluronic clay, it won’t dry out your skin like traditional clay masks—making it gentle enough for even sensitive skin.) You’ll also find a lineup of chemical exfoliants, such as BHA, PHA, and watermelon enzymes to help dissolve the clog in question.

If you’re dealing with deeper zits — including those that never come to a head — consider paying a visit to your derm. “There are some in-office procedures which can help shorten the lifespan of an annoying zit or stubborn breakout that are best done with a board-certified dermatologist,” says Green. One among them is a cortisone shot, which, she explains, “is used to reduce inflammation in pustules and cystic acne.”

Status: Your zit is gone, but there’s now a dark spot in its place

For starters, “try and reduce inflammation of the acne lesion while it’s active,” says Green. That’s why a gentle approach to clogged pores is key, and why all of our products contain some type of hydration to nourish and support the skin barrier. You can also use niacinamide in our Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops, since this powerhouse not only helps to keep pores clear, but also serves as a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient in its own right.

However, dark spots can happen no matter how much you’ve tried to nix inflammation. If that’s the case, wait until the zit has healed (so, it’s not bleeding or scabbed) before you start using brightening ingredients. You can find those in the Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum. It contains five stable forms of vitamin C for maximum brightening power, as well as tranexamic acid, a buzzy new ingredient that halts the pigment production process via an entirely different method. The latter has also been shown to rival hydroquinone in certain concentrations, but is far gentler and safer.

The bottom line? There’s no guaranteed treatment for acne that will make it disappear overnight. But with the right ingredients in your routine, you can speed up the process and return to smooth, glowing skin that much faster.

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