Our skin contains millions of small sebaceous glands underneath the surface. These glands excrete an oil, called sebum, that helps to keep our skin smooth and supple. This oil is released via pores, which are small holes on the surface of the skin, which is also where hairs grow out of. When the body produces a lot of sebum, the skin can feel oily and these pores can become clog. It is when these pores become clogged that germs and bacteria can thrive and grow. The result – pimples.
As you go about treating acne, it's important to remember that all acne isn't the same. What works really well for one kind of pimple might not work at all for another. You want to use the type of acne treatment that targets your particular kind of acne. If you use the wrong treatment you might even make your breakouts worse. The first step in how to get rid of acne is understanding what kind of acne you have—read on to learn about blackheads, white heads, small red bumps, hormonal acne and cystic acne, and how to best treat each.
Whether your acne has persisted since your teenage years or has appeared as a new skin problem in later life, consider seeing a dermatologist if you're looking for treatment options. A specialist can help you determine the factors which may be triggering your acne and can help you with prescription medications to help regulate hormones or treat your breakouts without drying or otherwise irritating your aging skin.
"I have seen many patients develop a tolerance to prescription acne treatments, and when they stop working, it’s devastating. Treating acne demands a more holistic approach that includes lifestyle, nutrition, and advances in topical skincare. I developed Outsmart Acne™ Clarifying Treatment to be used as part of a whole-person regimen to help skin stay consistently clear."—Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD
Do not—we repeat, do not—even think about attempting to get this out yourself. "With deep zits, there’s no exit strategy, so if you’re pushing on it to try to get rid of it, it could actually leak sebum into the dermis and cause more lesions," explains Dr. Hale. Instead, this is the time to visit your dermatologist for a cortisone injection, which should take care of it in 24 hours. If you're sitting here wondering why doctors don't just shoot all of your zits up with cortisone, that's because that it can actually lead to scarring or even a depression in your skin, especially with smaller zits, says Dr. Chwalek. That's why cortisone shops reserved for the oversize monsters like these.
Blackheads are, essentially, open comedones. "Comedone refers to plugging of the follicular opening," explains NYC dermatologist Elizabeth Hale, M.D., referring to hair follicles that technically cover your entire face and body (hi, peach fuzz). "Every hair follicle appears in a sebaceous gland." So a blackhead is the mixture of dead cells, bacteria, and grime that builds up and hardens in the follicular opening—but it's open to the world, which is why blackheads are so easy (read: tempting) to push out.
It’s the end of the line for adult acne with this new powerful treatment that jump-starts acne clearing and helps prevent acne well beyond the treatment.  A deep-cleansing is followed by professional exfoliation to remove pore-clogging skin cells and extractions to help clear current breakouts without spreading acne-causing bacteria.  The application of our soothing professional masque system detoxifies skin while calming irritation and redness.
2. You're OD'ing on spot treatments. Overusing topical salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulphur over-the-counter treatments can dry out your skin, causing it to produce more oil and possibly blemishes. Those ingredients can actually make the appearance of your pimples look worse, since the active ingredients can slightly burn the top layer of your skin if used too often, making the pimple appear even redder and harder to conceal than if you had just left it alone. (Tip via Samantha Wright, a licensed aesthetician and Skinovator at the Dangene Institute.)
11. You need to clean your phone, too. If you're seeing pimples on your cheeks or anywhere near the area where you hold your phone, they may be from those hour-long convos with your crush. Your phone picks up lots of dirt and bacteria (from your hands, your bag, the kitchen counter), which can then get transferred to your face when you're chatting on the phone. Wipe your screen with an anti-bacterial wipe often to get rid of dirt and germs.

When it comes to acne scars — especially difficult to treat indented or raised ones — the best offense is a good defense. If you’re still struggling with active acne and want to avoid future scarring, Avram likes this drugstore-staple Neutrogena wash because it contains salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that he says “exfoliates the skin, softens the appearance of the acne itself, and has some antibacterial properties.”
This lightweight, all-over acne treatment clears acne with two percent salicylic acid—the highest percentage allowed. It also contains retinol, which helps smooth the look of skin texture and even the look of skin tone while a blend of soothing ingredients helps balance the skin’s microbiome. This hydrating formula also contains sodium PCA and sodium hyaluronate, which moisturize skin and help offset dryness that could be caused by salicylic acid and/or retinol.
So if popping pimples doesn't cause scarring, what does? Long-lasting scars typically turn up after a recurring bout with cystic acne. Cystic acne is a breakout that burrows deep into the skin. These red, painful nodules occur when clogged pores are filled with pus and bacteria, which causes inflammation. Cystic breakouts are often tied to an internal fluctuation of hormones like testosterone (that's why they're common during puberty, monthly menstruation, and perimenopause). "If there is a cyst in the skin, it's going to cause a scar the longer it sits there because pus or bacteria deeper inside the pores cause surrounding inflammation," says Dr. Karolak. And as a result, the inflammation affects the collagen production as well as the fat stores under the skin, creating a visible scar on the surface.
When you have true scars that have changed the texture of your skin, you’ll need a medical procedure to see improvement. We use a laser specifically approved by the FDA for treating laser scars. Some people try chemical peels, which aren’t very effective. Others try dermabrasion, a technique like a sanding wheel on your skin, but there’s a high risk of permanent scarring. A laser gets much better results without the same risk.

Unfortunately, sometimes our workout routines can have a negative effect on our skin and be a cause of acne. One of the top perpetrators of gym-related skin conditions is dirty workout equipment. Whether it’s a yoga mat, weights, or handle bars on a cardio machine, shared gym equipment is filled with bacteria and dirt. When this comes into the contact with the skin and sits on the surface, it can cause skin irritation. If you don’t shower immediately after working out, the mixture of sweat, body oils, and bacteria can remain heavy on the surface of your skin, settling back into your pores and causing the onset of pimples.
If you have scarring, your dermatologist may suggest surgery to help heal acne lesions and remove scarring. A laser can reshape scar tissue and reduce redness. Dermabrasion is a type of surgery that can remove surface scars and reduce the depth of deep scars. Another option is to transfer fat from one part of the body to the face. In some cases, a single treatment can help scarring. But for lasting results, several are often needed. There are also topical treatments for acne scarring.
15. Try the 3-step solution. If you have acne, dermatologists recommend fighting it with a three-step regimen: a salicylic acid cleanser, a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, and a daily moisturizer. Benzoyl peroxide works by fighting the bacteria that causes acne. It causes an exfoliating effect that might cause some slight peeling and can dry out your skin. It's great for mild cases of acne, and you can get it without a prescription — many drugstore acne washes, creams and gels contain benzoyl peroxide. Prescriptions creams that contain higher doses of benzoyl peroxides such can also be prescribed by a doctor for more severe cases. Salicylic acid dries out the skin and helps exfoliate it to make dead skin cells fall away faster. It's good for mild cases of acne, and is available without a prescription. Many drugstore acne creams, washes, and gels contain salicylic acid, but stronger versions are also available in prescription form. It can dry up your skin and cause redness and peeling.
This is Dr. Schultz's number-one piece of advice. "Exfoliation is the most important thing you can do on a regular basis to be fighting acne both in terms of preventing it and treating it." His go-to ingredient? Glycolic acid. While a glycolic cleanser will help, a treatment that really soaks into your skin is what will give you the results you want. Try BeautyRx Advanced 10% Exfoliating Pads or Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum.
What you do when a pimple dies down is just as important as what you do when it's just beginning its life. When my zits came to the surface as whiteheads, I'd carefully, gently pop them using two clean cotton swabs (not fingers!) and immediately apply one of these dots. I know popping is the number one sin for skin care, but these dots work best when the zit is punctured because it's made with hydrocolloid, which extracts debris out of the pore (so there needs to be an opening). It also infused with salicylic acid and vitamin A to treat and ease down redness. When the stickers are worn overnight, pimples totally flatten out by morning.
"Crushed aspirin, combined with a little bit of water, removes excess oil and exfoliates the skin," says Dr. Bank."Aspirin itself contains a salicylic acid in it which help dissolve dead skin and help reduce the possibility of clogged pores. It will help to dry out any acne lesion, and it also helps the redness and swelling that are often associated with pimples."
Sure, we’ve all heard that toothpaste or rubbing alcohol can help dry out a zit, but many DIY treatments aren't solutions for how to treat acne. In fact, applying toothpaste or rubbing alcohol are more likely to cause irritation and dryness than treat the actual pimple. Instead, stick with topical over-the-counter and prescription spot treatments with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide that are specially made to target pimples, says Dr. Hammerman. For an all-natural spot treatment, she suggests dabbing tea tree oil on the area a few times a day with a cotton ball.
As the name suggests, ice pick scars are very deep acne scars that look like the skin has been punctured with… an ice pick. When the body produces too little collagen in response to an injury, depressed scars such as ice picks can form. “Ice pick scars represent the result of infected sebaceous gland openings on the skin. They are usually the most difficult to correct,” says New York City plastic surgeon Gerald Imber, MD.
Avoid picking at spots and scars. Though it may be tempting, picking at your scars interrupts the process by which your skin naturally heals and can worsen their appearance. Picking at existing pimples, meanwhile, can cause your skin to scar in the first place, as bacteria from your hands may be transferred onto your face, causing it to become inflamed and infected. Therefore, picking should be avoided at all costs.
What you can do differently: Wipe your face, chest, and back down before you work out with facial wipes, like Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, to remove your makeup. Then, if you don't have time to shower immediately after the gym, use another fresh facial wipe to clear away any sweat and bacteria on your skin to minimize the chance of new pimples popping up.
If you use hair sprays or gels, try to keep them away from your face, as they also can clog pores. If you have long hair that touches your face, be sure to wash it often enough to keep oil away. And if you have an after-school job that puts you in contact with oil — like in a fast-food restaurant or gas station, for example — be sure to wash your face well when you get home. It also can help to wash your face after you've been exercising.
Light treatments: Recent years have brought reports of success in treating acne using special lights and similar devices, alone or in conjunction with photosensitizing dyes. It appears that these treatments are safe and can be effective, but it is not clear that their success is lasting. At this point, laser treatment of acne is best thought of as an adjunct to conventional therapy, rather than as a substitute.
×