Pimples go by many different names, including zits, blemishes and breakouts. No matter what you choose to call the red, inflamed lumps that appear on your skin, pimples are an uncomfortable and often embarrassing problem.
Having pimples is also incredibly common. Almost 85 percent of all Americans will develop pimples at some time in their lives. Acne, the broad term for the skin condition that is associated with pimples, is the most common skin problem in the United States, affecting the lives of 40 to 50 million people every year.
The reasons for the prevalence of pimples lie in the factors that contribute to their appearance. Pimples form when debris becomes trapped within your pores, forming clogs. This debris may consist of excess oil or sebum produced by your sebaceous glands, dead skin cells, makeup residue and droplets of sweat.
Often, bacteria that are present on your face become stuck inside of the pores along with the debris, causing an infection. When your immune system senses the presence of the clog, it releases chemicals into your body to help protect you from the foreign material and fight any infection that is present within your pores. These chemicals cause your skin to swell and become red, creating pimples. The inflammation often makes your skin tender and can even be painful.
Pimples are a treatable condition, but unfortunately, many people struggle with fully eliminating blemishes and preventing their return. To get rid of pimples and keep them away, you need to fight the factors that lead to breakouts by:
Removing excess oil, dirt and impurities from your complexion
Healing pimples and dislodging debris from your pores
Preventing dead skin cells from lingering on your face
Killing any bacteria present within your pores
For each of these important skin care goals for treating pimples, home care, clinical treatments and over-the-counter treatments are available. If you have mild to moderate acne problems, you will likely be able to treat your pimples simply by following home care steps and using over-the-counter products. More severe, chronic cases of pimples may require a visit to a dermatologist to remedy.
Removing excess oil and impurities from your skin helps to prevent blockages from occurring, decreasing the likelihood that pimples will form.
Cleansing is vital to keeping your skin free of pimples. Choose an over-the-counter cleanser that is formulated for acne-prone skin and wash your face with it twice a day. Look for products that contain salicylic acid, which gives your skin the added benefit of exfoliation every time you wash. Cleansers that contain triclosan are also highly beneficial for battling pimples, as the compound is effective at fighting bacteria.
If you have oily skin, toning helps to modify the amount of oil that your skin produces by balancing the pH or acid-base balance of your complexion. Toners and clarifiers are the ideal follow-up to cleansing for pimple-prone skin, particularly when the products you select contain acne fighting ingredients. One particularly effective ingredient found in toners is witch hazel, which absorbs excess oil and also has antibacterial properties.
Dermatologists have begun using lasers, highly concentrated beams of colored light, in the treatment of chronic acne. During the treatments, acne-prone regions of your skin are exposed to the lasers for a short period of time. The lasers penetrate the outer layers of your skin and destroy a small number of the sebaceous glands that are responsible for producing oil. Eliminating some of these glands decreases the amount of oil produced by your body, meaning there is less of a risk for blockages in your pores. Laser treatments for acne are not available in all areas of the country. The procedure does have the potential to cause redness and pain that is similar to a severe sunburn.
As you battle blemishes, you’ll need to take care of existing breakouts to quickly eliminate them from your complexion. In addition, removing blockages from your pores is vital to keeping new blemishes from forming.
If you suffer from chronic pimples and also have blackheads (tiny black dots in your pores), at-home steam treatments can help clean out your pores. To steam your face, boil hot water in a low pan. Then, drape a towel over your head and bend over to allow the steam rising from the pan to reach your face. The steam will cause your pores to dilate and help release trapped debris. You'll need to remain over the steam for approximately 15 minutes to receive the best results. Always use caution when performing at-home steam treatments to prevent burns; if you experience pain or discomfort, quickly step away from the pot. Also, if you have a gas range, be sure to use a short towel that does not hang near the burners to prevent fires.
Oral zinc supplements are recommended by some natural medical practitioners as a home remedy for pimples. A natural metal, zinc helps boost the healing process in your body, which can make pimples disappear more quickly. Although zinc ointments and creams are also available on the market, use caution with these products as they have the potential to clog the pores and exacerbate acne.
Deep cleansing mask treatments are excellent for removing clogs from the pores by allowing formulations of powerful ingredients to remain on the surface of your skin for extended periods of time. Look for masks that contain moisturizing ingredients, like shea butter, along with cleansing agents, like lemon extract, to get the best results with no unwanted dryness.
Performed by a dermatologist or estheticians, pore extraction is the process of using tools to remove dirt and clogs from the pores. Extractions can't be done in areas where pimples are already located, but can be useful on the chin, forehead and nose to prevent future breakouts. In some cases, pore extraction can leave behind inflammation or discoloration that lasts for several weeks.
Since dead skin cells are one of the major sources of pore-clogging debris, continuously removing old skin from your complexion is vital to treating acne.
At home, you can purchase a pumice stone or loofah to scrub the skin and remove excess cells to prevent pimple outbreaks on your body. For your face, wiping with a rough washcloth can help to slough off some dead skin cells. Never perform manual exfoliation on formed pimples, as this can lead to irritation and even scarring.
A number of over-the-counter exfoliator products are available to help remove dead skin cells before they can become lodged in your pores. The best exfoliators for preventing pimples from developing are those that use both mechanical and chemical methods to remove skin cell particles. Many exfoliators contain bits of apricot pits, walnuts and other natural substances or beads that contain jojoba oil or other essential oils. These particles or beads create friction on your complexion to dislodge dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliators, like alpha hydroxy acids, azelaic acid and salicylic acid, remove dead skin cells by causing the bonds that hold them to your face to dissolve.
Doctors can prescribe medications that assist with exfoliation and speed up the skin cell turnover process to treat pimples. Options include topical benzoyl peroxide and retinoid drugs that are derived from vitamin A, such as tretinoin and adapalene. These medications have the potential to cause skin irritation and dryness. For severe cases of acne, your doctor may prescribe isotretinoin, an oral medication that also increases skin cell turnover. Isotretinoin is typically used only after other treatments fail, as it has the potential to cause severe side effects, including birth defects and depression.
Allowing bacteria to dwell on the surface of your skin or in your pores increases the risk of acne breakouts. Once you spot a pimple, killing the bacteria in the area allows any infection to heal and inflammation to fade more rapidly.
Tea Tree Oil
A natural substance derived from trees native to Australia, tea tree oil is a natural antibacterial that can help treat pimples. You can purchase tea tree essential oil at many health food stores. To use it for pimples, apply a few drops to blemishes twice daily until they heal. If the camphor odor of the oil is too strong for your senses or if irritation occurs, dilute the oil with an equal part of water.
Benzoyl Peroxide is a common acne fighting ingredient that works by oxygenating the infected follicle so that bacteria cannot survive. While it is very effective, many people do experience dryness and irritation. Always use a good moisturizer.
Many over-the-counter skin care treatments designed for acne help eliminate the bacteria that contribute to pimples. Look for treatments that contain natural antibacterials, such as tea tree oil, bergamot oil, burdock root, clove oil, eucalyptus extract, juniper berries, neem oil and parsley extract. Skin-soothing botanicals like aloe vera, chamomile and cucumber extract in over-the-counter skin care treatments also help eliminate redness and irritation.
If over-the-counter treatments have been ineffective at treating your pimples, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics to help eliminate bacteria. Commonly prescribed antibiotics for pimples include clindamycin and erythromycin. Topical antibiotics have the potential to cause redness and irritation, while oral antibiotics can cause more serious side effects, such as severe diarrhea.