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.
Acne occurs when the small pores on the surface of the skin become blocked with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Each individual pore on the skin opens up to a follicle beneath the epidermis. Within these follicles lie a singular hair and a sebaceous gland. The sebaceous gland produces sebum, an oil designed to keep your skin lubricated and soft. However, when hormonal changes and other factors cause the gland to produce an excess of sebum, the oil will be pumped through the follicle, and may pick up dead skin cells and P. acnes bacteria on its way out. Should these substances clump together, a plug will form. As this plug starts to press up against the surface of the skin, the body responds with an accumulation of red and white blood cells to combat any infection, and this results in inflammation and redness. Acne can occur on the face, back, neck, chest, arms, and buttocks, and any other skin area with a saturation of sebaceous pores.
In order to treat acne marks and scars, it's helpful to learn how to distinguish between the two. "What many people don’t realize is that a dark or pink mark on the skin is not actually an acne scar. Inflammation in the skin often leaves behind a stain as part of the natural healing process. The inflammation revs up pigment production, creating the mark that fades on its own over several weeks to months," says dermatologist and 2018 Acne Awards judge Dr. Joshua Zeichner. Unlike scars, these are smooth to the touch (AKA, not raised or indented), and signify that there is no permanent collagen damage to the skin.
Some skin advocates suggest foregoing this method. The pH of baking soda is 7.0, which is far too basic for skin's pH. Optimal skin pH occurs between 4.7 and 5.5, which is an inhospitable environment for p. acne (the bacteria responsible for causing most acne). By raising the pH to a more basic level, p. acne is able to survive longer and cause more infection and inflammation. So try this method with care, and stop using it if it's not effective for you.
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.
"You want to calm the inflammation right away," Chiu says of treating newly popped pimples prone to scarring. She suggested asking your dermatologist to prescribe an anti-inflammatory acne medication like Aczone Gel. For a prescription-free solution, dermatologist Ronald Moy suggests treating newer scars with a product containing innovative growth factors that "stimulate collagen production immediately" and "should prevent any new scars from becoming old scars." This serum from Moy's product line, DNA EGF, uses growth factors clinically proven to speed up the growth of healthy skin cells. Both hyperpigmentation (not true scarring, but the spotty aftermath of a breakout) and atrophic scars (those crater marks more deep and sunken) benefit from a stimulating collagen boost because thickening the skin leads to less visibility of existing scars, Moy says.
Acne (acne vulgaris, common acne) is a disease of the hair follicles of the face, chest, and back that affects almost all teenagers during puberty -- the only exception being members of a few primitive Neolithic tribes living in isolation. It is not caused by bacteria, although bacteria play a role in its development. It is not unusual for some women to develop acne in their mid- to late-20s.