Updated 12/9/20 Are you making your blemish worse in your effort to get it to go away fast? Unfortunately, so many people are treating their blemishes incorrectly which is making it last longer with increased scarring. Having treated thousands of blemishes on my client’s faces over the past three decades, it has given me tremendous insight into the life cycle of a blemish. This information just might be a total game-changer for healing your breakouts fast.
What you’re doing wrong that might be making your blemish worse
The moment you feel a blemish come up, you immediately apply a strong, drying acne spot treatment in an effort to get it to go away fast. Does this sound like your strategy? If so, read on.
Two things that make you think your drying acne spot treatment is “working”
1. The blemish appears smaller
Due to the nature of the drying ingredients in an acne product, when it’s applied, it instantly goes to work to dry out the surface skin cells. After it’s been on the skin for a few hours or overnight and you wash it off, you may notice that your blemish has shrunken a bit and appears smaller. This is because the skin’s surface shrivels up when it gets dried out. However, make no mistake, the infection from the blemish is still alive and well under there and doing its thing.
2. The blemish appears less red
When the surface skin cells get dried out from an acne treatment, they take on an opaque look which creates a false illusion of the blemish being less red. Essentially, a drying spot treatment is like putting on a touch of concealer. However, the blemish is still very active underneath.
What’s really happening when you apply a drying spot acne treatment
Making a blemish appear smaller and less red seems ideal, right? Well, not exactly. For most blemishes, what’s occurring in the process is that all of the newly created dry skin sitting on top of the blemish is now trapping the infection from coming out. Essentially, your blemish is hanging around longer underneath the skin’s surface, which is never good in your effort to get it to go away fast—with the least amount of scarring.
“Your blemish is hanging around longer underneath the skin’s surface, which is never good in your effort to get it to go away fast—with the least amount of scarring.”
What you must understand is that the most common type of breakouts, known as pustules, have an infection within the pore lining that wants and needs to come out through the skin’s surface. This is simply a part of the natural healing process. Learn the science behind breakouts. When you do anything to interfere with the life cycle of a blemish and prevent it from coming up and out (assuming the type of blemish you have wants to do that), it’s going to prolong everything. Plus, the longer the infection is trapped under there, the more it puts pressure on the surrounding skin tissue. This immediately sets off an inflammation response that leads to increased melanin production. The result? A red and dark mark scar that will take what feels like forever to go away. (More on treating acne scars and marks in a bit.)
What might happen if you don’t allow the infection to come out through the skin’s surface
Sometimes, drying spot treatments CAN penetrate and lessen the infection making it look like it’s going away. However, if the pore remains impacted because the whitehead never fully came out, this can lead to a clogged pore that leaves a bump. (Check out the closed comedone picture to see what sometimes can be the result of a leftover breakout.) Since there is still a blockage in the pore, it can lead to future breakouts over and over again as the pore is trying to clean itself. Ever have a blemish that always appears in the same place? This could very well be because the infection was never properly removed.
Pay attention to drying ingredients that might be making your blemish worse (when used at the wrong time)
There are so many spot treatments available and while all are not equal, many of them contain drying ingredients intended to dissipate the infection. However, as I have been explaining, you don’t want to spot treat too early. My definition of “drying” is something that is known to quickly dissipate moisture within the surface layers of the skin which then creates dry cells.
Common drying ingredients used in spot treatments include:
Note: Drying ingredients aren’t bad for pustule blemishes. A drying spot treatment like Night Time Spot Lotion can be beneficial, but it’s best to use it after the infected whitehead has popped out of the skin. The mistake people make is applying it too soon in the life cycle process. (I share the best way to treat a blemish below.)
Common non-drying ingredients used in spot treatments include:
- Salicylic Acid
- Kaolin (clay)
- Tea Tree Oil
- Zinc Sulfate / Zinc Oxide
- Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (Licorice)
- Beta Glucan
When it comes to products, often times the non-drying ingredients can be combined with drying ingredients within a formula. The dominant ingredients will determine if the product is considered to have a drying effect on a breakout.
However, I suggest using your best judgment when determining if your spot treatment is too drying. It’s hard to determine the effectiveness of a product by an ingredient list. After you leave it on overnight, look at the blemish closely and see the results it gave. Keep in mind that not all blemishes are equal. Sometimes teeny, tiny little whiteheads that quickly pop up overnight can benefit from a drying spot treatment applied right away.
The right way to get your blemish to go away fast
Read my step-by-step instructions for how to get rid of a blemish fast
I have written so many posts about blemishes but how to get rid of a blemish fast is one of the more popular ones. It explains in detail what you should do the moment a blemish appears and walks you through all the steps.
Use products that are in sync with how a blemish wants to heal
I created this best-selling Zit Care Kit which gives you all the tools along with the best spot treatments so you’re using the right products during the right phase of the life cycle of a blemish. The kit also includes step-by-step instructions on exactly what to do the moment a breakout appears. The end result is your blemishes will go away faster with less scarring. A big win! I also like the idea of the pimple patches (also known as hydrocolloid patches) that a lot of brands have come out with. I haven’t personally tried one but it’s a gentler approach for treating breakouts, than the traditional dry-it-out strategy.
Don’t overlook how your actions are impacting the aftermath of a blemish
When it comes to breakouts, I believe the real issue is not the blemish itself. After all, a pustular blemish will generally go away within 5-7 days (IF you’re treating it correctly) but the scarring can take what seems like forever to fade. If you want a blemish to go away fast, I suggest that you not just focus on the active blemish, but also be mindful of how your actions are impacting the aftermath. Read how to fade acne scars fast.
Note: For cystic blemishes that never come to the surface, that’s a whole different story. I recommend using a non-drying product like Anti Bump Solution as it works specifically for the deep bumps that form deep within the skin and rarely come to the surface.
“The real issue is not the blemish itself, but the scarring that can take forever to fade.”
In summary, none of us can prevent blemishes from ever appearing again, but we CAN control what happens when one does show up. I hope you enjoyed this post and you start experimenting with treating your blemishes in a new way.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”