We've all been there: It's Wednesday morning and your weekend plans are a just a whisper away. You've picked out your outfit, your friends are on board and… wait, what's that? That, our fine friend, is a breakout that matches your red top perfectly. Don't cancel those plans—we will show you how to get rid of acne fast.
But What Exactly Is It?
Well, it ain't magic, that's for sure—magic is super cool and zits aren't. There's actual science behind breakouts and we think science is pretty cool too.
Below the Surface
You've got yourself one hair underneath the surface of your skin for each pore on your face and body in what we call a follicle.
Each follicle also has a sebaceous gland that produced sebum. Sebum is the oil produced to keep your skin soft and supple.
Well, it turns out you can have too much of a good thing. When something happens, either internally or through external factors, to cause an overproduction of sebum, it gets shoved through the follicle to the surface of your skin. Along the way, it can pick up dead skin cells and bacteria.
Your body's natural defenses kick in sending red and white blood cells in to combat infection. Now you have a bunch of stuff—called pus—being pushed to the surface. Anybody wanna guess what happens? Yep—you've got yourself a pimple.
Eww—What Do You Call That?!
There are five main types of acne. We're here to break down the bad and the ugly—we left out good because there is no good acne.
These are blocked pores open to the air, so the sebum oxidizes and turn a dark black, brown or grayish color. You know these fools—they cluster on your nose and chin. These come on hard at puberty but can show up at any time.
These pores are covered by a thin layer of skin, but that sebum builds up and collects just under the surface. Luckily, these rarely get infected and their life cycle is shorter than most other acne.
These buggers are so annoying because they're just small, raised bumps with no visible pus. They're tender to the touch and irritate the surrounding skin.
Just the name grosses us out and the thing lives up to the name. These are like papules, but the body has sent white blood cells to the rescue resulting in visible pus and red, inflamed skin surrounding it—Ick.
These are one of the most severe types of acne. These, large, “underground” bumps are very tender and feel hard to the touch. These form deep below the surface of the skin and don't contain pus.
If you don't leave these alone, they can cause permanent scars and become seriously infected. They can linger for weeks and even go dormant and rear up again. That's what we call annoying.
Yeah - we've all seen videos or suggestions like this one. We're not going to do that to you.
We've got some actually useful advice without the robot voice and strange phrasing!
Now that you know more about what acne entails, let's talk about the real ways to control, treat, disguise, and get your confidence back!
First, let's start with some don'ts:
Stop It! Stop It! Stop It!
You wanna pick at it, we get it. If you're one of “those” people, like we are, you can't keep your hands off your face when you have a blemish. We could all stand to take a listen from perfect skinned models and actors who never, ever pick at anything on their face. There's a reason.
- When you pick at your skin, you immediately open it up to infection because:
- Your fingernails are microscopically gross and whatever is on them, gets on your face
- When you poke and push your skin, you can push the sebum deeper into your skin
- If you “pop” something, you create a pathway for anything on the outside to get inside
- Messing with layers of skin can cause scabs and scars and scars last a looooooong time
If you literally can't NOT pick, please wash your hands, be quick and gentle and wash that part of your face immediately. Then? Keep your hands off it!! We're serious.
What Did I Do to Deserve This?
Take it easy on yourself. Breakouts happen to the best and most diligent face scrubbers among us. So, if it's not all about washing your face—P.S. some of it is—what causes this nonsense? Well, there could be multiple reasons and we're here to help you identify what yours might be.
Ok, so you don't “inherit” acne. Your parents do pass along immune system traits to you. So if they have a low immunity to acne-related bacteria, well, you're going to break out more than your friends whose parents have an iron-clad immunity to the same bacteria.
Did you know you can come from a long line of skin cell overproducers? True story. If you produce more dead skin cells than you're getting rid of, you will get clogged pores. Your family may be predisposed to overproducing certain hormones so—you guessed it, you're breaking out.
What can be done about it? Well, denouncing your family won't work. Continue going home for holidays—there's just nothing to be done about your genes.
Hormones—What'd You Say to Me?
Listen, we all know hormones can wreak havoc on, well, everything. Your skin is no exception. The biggest fluctuations come around puberty but can pop up monthly with your normal cycle. Adults may find they develop hormonal acne in their 30s that plagues them on and off for decades.
Know what else gets hormones pumping through your body? Stress! Stress triggers your body's natural response to a disturbance in the force—kind of. If the equilibrium between you and your environment tips off balance, your body swings into action.
That's why people say stress makes them break out—it's those ding dang hormones again. Your adrenal gland starts to work overtime pumping fight-or-flight hormones through your body. The problem is you're not fighting or fleeing so they circulate and can end up triggering hormonal acne.
Now (Sniff) What (Sniff)?
A few things. You gotta manage your stress. Not only will your skin pay the price but, over time, your overall health will too. There are one million and one resources to help you cope with stress so your body can level out:
If you're dealing with hormone fluctuations, you can see your GP or OB/GYN to see if you need help regulating them. Your doctor can walk you through options available to you.
Take Your “Face” Off and Other Cosmetic Issues
We work so hard to put a million products on our faces to make them look flawless. Yet, it's often the three minutes of washing all that stuff off we overlook. You know what happens? It makes the flawless part even harder because we're essentially begging for a breakout. Take that face off every single night.
Speaking of make-up—have you checked your expiration dates lately? We all have that one friend that's had the same weird piece of blush from four years ago because she “loves the color”. Ok, Nancy, but an expired product is just asking for trouble—they cause breakouts. Here's how long your average cosmetic lasts without being iffy:
- Eyeliner—6-12 months
- Mascara—6 months
- Blush, eye shadows and other powder-based make-up—1-2 years
- Foundation—6-12 months
- Lipstick and gloss—1-2 years
If something is splotchy, smells weird or gloopy—get rid of it. Don't forget to wash your brushes. Foundation brushes should be washed once a week while any brush that goes near your eyes needs cleaning twice a month and all others once a month. Yeah, we haven't been doing it enough either.
Get Your Hair Outta Your Face
If you see breakouts on your forehead and anywhere your hair spends a lot of time, you've got some soul searching to do. Are you shampooing enough? Most of us don't shampoo every day but if you're going over three days without washing your locks, your hair's natural oils may be the culprit. Just pull that baby back into a ponytail until you conjure the motivation to lather up.
You might be allergic to your hair products. Allergies don't mean hives and swollen throats, it can be as simple as breaking out. If your scalp is getting small bumps, your face may too. Eliminate one product at a time for a week to find the culprit. If you're spraying your hair with anything, cover your face with a tissue or towel while you do.
If you are getting your hair out of your face with a headband or hat, make sure to wash those and wash them often. Hats are notorious for causing breakouts because the oils that come off your face and hair rub off on the material and can collect bacteria. Eww. Throw it in the wash.
Working Out the Break Out
We've already mentioned working out is a great way to ease stress and the hormones associated with it. Be smart about your skin when you're hitting the gym. If you can avoid wearing make-up while you exercise, that's ideal. If there's someone you're trying to impress at the gym, we get it—just go light and wash your face immediately when you get home.
If you're about to sweat out last night's dessert and you've still got hair product in, be sure to pull your hair back to minimize the amount of “stuff” that gets into your pores. You can throw on a headband too, but wash it with your gym clothes and towel.
Wash your face when you're done with your workout. Sweat will collect dirt and bacteria as it sits on your face. You work out to look and feel better so don't ruin your skin by doing it!
Um, Get Your Hands Off Your Face
We've talked about this. You know to not pick at your breakouts, but have you given thought to how many times you touch your face in a day? It's way more than you think. What's the big deal? Ha! Let's think about this.
You, on any given day, touch pens, door handles, sink faucets, elevator buttons, handrails, grocery carts and a million other icky surfaces that hundreds or thousands have also touched. Whatever is on your hands when you touch your face ends up staying on your face. Every time you move your hands to your face think about the number of people's germs on your fingers. That should do it.
PS- everything you touch ends up on your smartphone, too. Sure, you wash your hands but if you haven't washed your phone too, all those germs are transferring right back to your hands. Carry antibacterial wipes for your phone or at least dry wipe it often throughout the day. Yes, your shirt, while not ideal, counts.
You Are What You… Well, You Know
Food plays an important role in your overall health and that includes your skin. Parents used to say greasy foods make us break out, but that's not necessarily true. If you leave the grease sitting on your skin, sure. Great food gives you an inside out glow and can go a long way to clearing up problem skin.
There are certain foods are more likely to cause acne than others. Keep in mind, your skin may not react negatively to any of these foods but it's good to understand what you've eaten just before a breakout—there may be a correlation. Known acne triggering foods:
- Refined grains in white bread, pasta, crackers, chips, etc
- Refined sugars in soda, candy, cakes, cookies,
- Sweeteners like white and brown sugar, maple syrup and honey
- Dairy—one of the biggest allergy triggers in the U.S.
- Fast food—it's processed, it's mass marketed, it's not good for you
- Omega-6 fats like in corn and soy oil
- Chocolate—you can ignore this if you want but people who eat a lot of chocolate may have more pronounced acne
- Whey protein—causes skin cells to divide more quickly which may cause acne
That was a lot to process, particularly the chocolate. Take some time and cry it out.
Is There Anything Left I Can Eat?
Yes. There are many foods that are really great for your skin and can even help clear up breakouts:
- Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and nuts or supplements
- Pro- and prebiotics—in supplement form heal your gut which balances your entire body
- Green tea—a few cups of this polyphenol super drink are pretty much a cure-all
- Turmeric—it's all the rage and it has great anti-inflammatory properties
- Water—heard of it? We can't say enough about it and we know you're probably not getting enough
Take some time to peruse recipes online that use lean meats, fish and fresh vegetables. You'll be surprised at how quickly you can whip up something your body and your face will thank you for.
A Map to the Root Cause
Check your face in the mirror. Where your acne is will tell you what the culprit may be. Crazy, right? Just like mapping the stars in the solar system, some really smart people have mapped acne on your face.
Knowing what caused your breakout will help you better understand how to tackle it. The more you know…
What's Your Type?
It's important to know your skin type. Your skincare routine should address the specific needs of your skin. Each type requires different products, care and consideration.
We've all had dry skin from time to time from soap that drying, too much weather or just being dehydrated. For those of you with dry skin, you probably suffer from constant symptoms of:
- Dull complexion
- Red, dry patches
- More visible wrinkles than other skin types
- Minimized to invisible pores
- Times when skin may crack or peel becoming itchy or irritated
Why Dry Skin Breaks Out
Doesn't seem right, does it? There's also a rumor going around dry skin doesn't produce enough oil. Not true! In fact, your skin may overproduce oil trying to compensate for its dry exterior. While dryer skin can't hold on to the oil but the excess oil underneath the surface can cause breakouts.
Your skin relies on its ability to keep irritants out and maintain cell turnover. Dry skin can hamper these natural defenses resulting in a buildup of excess skin that can cause pesky pimples.
Your solution may be part of the problem. Seems cruel, doesn't it? A good deal of acne fighting products cause drying so now you've got dry upon dry upon dry. Don't worry, the odds aren't totally stacked against you.
What Products Give Dry Skin Hope
It's super important to avoid products with benzoyl peroxide as they dry skin out even more. The holy grail of drying zits out—retinoids—will only cause you harm dry skinners.
You know the bar soaps that make your skin “squeaky clean”? Yeah, those are no good for you either. You need to keep as much moisture in while unclogging pores. Choose these kinds of products:
- Lotion or oil-based cleansers
- Products with calming lavender oil
- If you're treating on the spot, use creams or ointments
- Exfoliate with gentle AHA or BHA products to remove those dead cells
- Be sure to moisturize daily with creams formulated for dry skin
Dry skin sufferers need to bundle up against the elements more than the rest of us. You gotta protect your face, hands and neck from the wind and cold or you will dry out even more. A little protection goes a long way.
Just like we've all experienced dry skin from time to time, we can say the same about oily skin. But if you have an oily skin type, you get more than the occasional shine after a day in the sun. Oily skin type is characterized by:
- Constant and consistent shine over entire face
- Easily break out over entire face
- Your makeup may seem to slide off during the day as it attaches to the oil in your skin and is blotted away
Why Oily Skin Breaks Out
Genetic and hormonal factors contribute to oily skin. Genetically you may be predisposed to overproducing sebum. Hormonal shifts can increase production of sebum. Remember when sebum is being pushed toward the surface of the skin, it may pick up bacteria and red and white blood cells resulting in pus.
Because your skin produces more sebum than others, you're far more likely to experience breakouts and more often than other skin types. You, like your dry skin counterparts, need specialized and targeted skin regimens to control your breakouts.
What Products Give Oily Skin Hope
You're going to be inclined to go right for the “drying” products. That's a mistake. If you dry out your oily skin, its natural defenses will kick in and start to produce even more oil. It's a cruel joke. While you do want to remove surface oil, you still need moisture.
- Use oil-free and noncomedogenic products—they won't clog your pores
- Use a gentle, foaming cleanser—emphasis on gentle
- Use a gentle BHA exfoliant—don't scrub!
- Use a lightweight moisturizer twice daily
- Use oil-free sunscreen every day
- Use blotting papers during the day
- Use oil-free cosmetics so they don't add to the shine and breakouts
It's even more critical to wash your face every morning, evening and after working out. Your pores will get clogged faster than others'. You also need to wash your pillowcases often and wipe down your smartphone regularly.
Well, aren't you the lucky one? You get the worst of both the dry and oily worlds. You may feel you're fighting a losing battle—just as one area on your face dries out, another turns scaly. When will the madness end? Combination skin types will notice:
Dry and dull patches on their cheeks
- Shine on their t-zone—your forehead, nose and chin
- Breakouts on t-zone
- An insufferable experience in the skin care aisle
Why Combination Skin Breaks Out
Your dry areas are producing a ton of oil underneath the surface but aren't hanging onto the oil on the surface, so it doesn't feel supple to the touch. Because dry skin doesn't get rid of its skin cells, they hang out begging to cause your face trouble.
The oily parts are overproducing sebum and that's being pushed to the surface bringing bacteria along with it. Hormonal fluctuations will affect your t-zone the way they affect and oily complexion's entire face.
What Products Give Combination Skin Hope
There is no one size fits all solution for those with combination skin, you have to find a regimen that works for you. You have to attack the different zones of your face with different strategies. Yeah, that sounds like a lot of work—great skin is worth it, right?
You can build your combination skin care routine while considering:
- Start with a gentle cleanser
- Apply a hydrating, gentle toner—a great one will balance both the dry and oily parts of your face
- Look for gentle, leave on BHA exfoliant
- Combine your daily moisturizer and sunscreen by looking for a moisturizer with SPF
- Use a lightweight serum at night to nourish dry patches and not add oil to the t-zone
- You can add a night cream to your cheeks and eyes if the serum isn't enough
You can pick and choose from the list above to find the combination—get it?—that works for you.
You've got it rough, sensitive skinners. When we call you a snowflake, we mean it in a sweet, we want to care for you way. Many of us go through bouts of being allergic or having a reaction to something but if you really have sensitive skin, you'll experience:
- Skin that flushes easily and often
- Skin that burns in the sun quickly
- Often getting little bumps and rashes
- Using beauty products stings
- Broken capillaries
Why Sensitive Skin Breaks Out
You have more reasons than most to break out. Because your skin is thinner, it's sensitive. Your face may produce more oil to compensate for the disruptions on the surface. You may get dry patches that will cause the glands underneath to pump more oil out to compensate for that.
Not to mention, your skin reacts to just about everything and that can sometimes manifest as a breakout. Lucky you!
What Products Give Sensitive Skin Hope
You're in luck. The beauty industry is all about those of you with sensitive skin. They want to help and have come up with great solutions. If you're adding new products, add only one at a time. Give each one a week to see if you have any kind of reaction to it. If all seems fine, you can add the next.
Look for these kinds of products:
- Always look for fragrance-free products
- Looks for the words “noncomedogenic” so whatever you're using won't clog your pores
- Always use SPF 30 or higher and ALWAYS use it
- Look for soap-free cleansers or mild gel or lotion cleansers
- Gentle moisturizers specially formulated for sensitive skin
Give the ingredient list a look and compare on the shelf. You should always choose the product with the fewest ingredients—fewer things to make your life miserable and a better shot at picking a winner.
Well, well, well… Lookie who joined the party—Ms. Perfect. We're kidding. We're happy for you. And we also understand you're not without your share of breakouts like everyone else.
Here's how you know if you have a normal skin type:
- Few breakouts
- Barely visible pores
- Minimal dryness or shine
- Rare reactions to products
The occasional break out for you will be hormonal or environmental. You may have forgotten to wash your face, had a really stressful month or touched your face too many times after using the handrail at the mall.
You can choose any product that gets you the results you want. You can use heavier creams in the winter and stronger cleansers in the summer. The world is your oyster, normal skin types. Just don't overdo a skin routine by adding too many products—even the strongest skin can only take so much.
Well, I've Broken Out—So, Now What?
We're back to the look in the mirror making us want to cringe away from our weekend plans. If you find yourself staring at a pimple, we can help you treat it so it goes away quickly and hide it until it does. This is how to get rid of acne fast.
Kill That Sucker
Spot treatments are designed to attack the problem head-on. They're made by companies that make a living finding solutions for how to get rid of acne fast. These treatments can be found in most drug stores and are meant to be left on overnight. Some even come tinted so you can wear them during the day while still concealing.
- Benzoyl peroxide—this is the hardcore stuff made to kill the bacteria in your pore and dry it out. It'll dry out the surrounding skin too so be accurate
- Salicylic acid—dissolves dead skin cells and gets rid of whatever is inside that pimple
- Sulfur—dries out your pores and kills the gunk inside your blemish, not as tough as benzoyl peroxide but not as drying either
If you want to know how to get rid of acne fast without putting chemicals on your skin, we have some ideas:
- Aspirin—crush an aspirin and mix with a bit of water. Put that paste on the blemish overnight
- Manuka honey—known for its antimicrobial properties, putting a cotton ball dipped in this for 30 minutes on the blemish and rinsing will do wonders
- Fresh lemon juice—apply some with a cotton swab to the affected area and let it sit overnight
- Tea tree oil—place a few drops on a cotton ball and hold to the blemish for 20 minutes before rinsing
- Green tea—place a wet, cooled bag on the affected area for 30 minutes—no need to rinse
You've used our answers for how to get rid of acne fast, but the last traces of the pesky pimple remain, and your date arrives in a few hours. Try these tricks to hide your unwanted visitor by first reducing swelling:
- Ibuprofen—it's an anti-inflammatory and will reduce swelling for about eight hours
- Ice—wrap an ice cube in a washcloth and hold it to the pimple. It will temporarily reduce swelling and pain
Next, you will have to do some artwork. These tricks will show you how to get rid of acne fast with a little sleight of hand. You need thick concealer. Not the stuff you can put under your eyes and smooth to the rest of your face when you're in a hurry but the putty-like stuff from a tube or a pot, then:
- Using a small, precision brush dab the head of the blemish and the red skin around it, nothing more otherwise you get a bulls-eye
- Tap it with your finger to set the cover up and reduce any height you've built
- You can place some skin tone matching powder on top but only a little, tiny bit
Don't forget that whatever you do at home, you will need to take with you in your bag for your night out. It's great to have figured out how to get rid of acne fast when you're walking out the door, but it won't help if it pops up three hours later—be prepared!
How to Get Rid of Acne Fast with Other Tips and Tricks
If you're like us, you may have just spot treatment'd your blemish to death and now it's a flaky red spot. You need to add moisture to this before you cover it up. That's right—you're drying it out to hydrate it again—beauty isn't for the weak minded.
If it's one of the cystic, painful, ridiculously large acne spots, you need to first minimize your pain and swelling with an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen. After that, go easy on the concealer or you'll make it look weirdly big and brown and gray all at the same time. Just dab some light foundation on it with a little powder so it doesn't shine. Don't cake it, you'll want to stay home if you do.
If it's super red, pick up some green concealer. It cancels out the red—sounds weird, but it works. You will also need some yellow to smooth out the green. “What's going on?” you're screaming from your bedroom. We know—trust us. Just don't cake it on or it's going to look as weird as it sounds.
When All Else Fails, Distract
Look, not all pimples will allow themselves to be totally hidden, they're sometimes mean that way. If you have one that insists on making itself known, draw everyone's attention somewhere else.
If the blemish is on your chin, wear a light matte lipstick and go for a dramatic smoky eye. If it's near your eyes or forehead, go for a neutral eye and a dramatic lip. Get it? Smoke and mirrors, girls—smoke and mirrors.
When to Call in the Big Guns
If your breakouts are consistent and resistant to a normal skin care routine or spot treatment, a trip to the dermatologist isn't a bad idea. If a particular outbreak is painful or sticks around for more than a week without getting better, you can find relief in a doctor's office.
Some treatments your dermatologist may discuss with you:
- Topical medications
- Low dose antibiotics
- Birth control to regulate hormonal fluctuations
- Laser or light therapy
- Chemical peels
Most offices have access to high-end skin care lines formulated by and for dermatologists. They tend to be pricey but effective—think of them as a high-performance sports car for your face.
In a pinch, your doctor can inject unsightly pimples with a steroid to make them virtually invisible in 48 hours. This is a great option for those of you invited to the Oscars last minute. We got you, boo.
So, You're Telling Me There's a Chance…
Acne flares are just a part of life for most of us. What they don't have to be is a weekend plan ruiner. If you look in the mirror and see a bright red enemy starting back at you, you're now equipped to fight back. You have the power.
With great power comes great responsibility—like Frodo taking the ring to the cracks of doom in Orodruin… yeah, we have a nerdy side. When your friend calls you panicked over a few whiteheads popping up, you can lean back and smile like the Godfather of acne rescue.
Direct her to our guide of how to get rid of acne fast. We also won't hold it against you if you give her instructions and take the credit for it.
If she effectively disguises her acne, she'll owe you a life debt—like that silk cami you've been eyeing. You're welcome.