Those big, painful zits will leave a scar if you pick and prod at them—"the only way to reduce it quickly is to drain it, and that's not a DIY deal," Dr. Schultz warns. The reason they're painful is because quick expansion stretches the nerves. "Drinking good red wine is often helpful [to numb the pain]," he jokes. Take Advil, apply a warm or cold compress (whichever feels better to you), and go see your derm. "Cortisone shots are the true 'spot treatments' for painful cystic acne lesions," Dr. Tzu says.
Skin-care geeks rejoiced when the formerly Rx-only Differin gel became available over the counter, in 2016. A prescription-strength retinoid, Differin also affects cell turnover faster than OTC retinols to prevent the formation of new acne. Avram recommends it for those dealing with a lot of small pimples and only the occasional monster cyst. Because Nagler says retinoids “encouraging collagen remodeling,” a well-tolerated formula like Differin can also reduce the appearance of deeper scars.
Scrubbing your face daily with grainy cleansers and exfoliating products can do more harm than good. When done too often, it can cause redness, inflammation, and irritation. “Exfoliating a pimple can pull away healthy skin cells and create an open wound and higher risk for scarring,” says Jessica Weiser, MD, from New York Dermatology Group. “Exfoliation should be done with caution, and not more than 2-3 times a week maximum.”
This powerful, medicated cleanser delivers a luxuriously whipped texture and three percent sulfur to address acne and blemishes, draw out impurities, and target congested pores. Honey and rice bran extracts calm redness, while natural oat extract addresses excess sebum. With continued use, this gentle, yet effective daily cleanser leaves skin clearer with visibly minimized pores.
Contrary to popular belief, acne isn't caused by a harmful diet, poor hygiene, or an uncontrolled sex drive. The simple truth is that heredity and hormones are behind most forms of acne. Swearing off chocolate or scrubbing your face 10 times a day won't change your predisposition to this unsightly, sometimes painful, and often embarrassing skin problem.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.