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Urge to Pick? Do This Instead

Woman picking on a pimple

Pimples have power. They may not have a brain or even much of a height and girth, but they do have power. It’s in the way they sit on your face smugly looking at you as if to say, ”Whatcha gonna do about it?” Nothing? Impossible. You won’t let it talk to you that way, you’re going to squeeze it to within an inch of its life until the pus comes squirting out and exploding on the bathroom mirror.

Now you’ve shown it, but what do you really have to show for it? It may be somewhat less noticeable but in reality, it’s even more insidious. Now, it has the potential to form a scar that could stay with you for the rest of your life. There must be a better solution.

Sure, it’s hard to keep yourself from squeezing a zit that’s just screaming, “Pop me,” but picking at your zits is not a game you’re likely to win. No matter how satisfying the short-term release, its simply not worth the long-term consequences. On that note, we bring you “Do This Not That: Acne Edition.”

What is a Pimple?

Besides being a flaw that interrupts what you’re convinced would be an otherwise flawless complexion, a pimple is an inflammatory response to the invasion of bacteria inside a pore. The redness and tenderness are symptoms of the inflammation. They’re Mother Nature’s way of telling you not to interfere. Unfortunately, few of us do what our mothers tell us to.

So, here’s what we know about skin. We know that:

  • Skin is covered in pores
  • The glands in the pores pump out sebum, or natural oil, to the skin’s surface to protect and lubricate.
  • Sebum is removed naturally by good bacteria on the surface of the skin and by daily cleansing.

Blocked Pores Happen

That’s what happens in a perfect world, but as we know, the world from perfect.  When there is an excess of dead skin cells inside the pores, the sebum doesn’t flow as nature intended. Pus forms as a by-product of the dead skin cells and bacteria.

Infographic on open comedone versus closed comedone (on skin)

The glands in the pores continue to pump out sebum, but now the sebum becomes trapped inside.  The once friendly bacteria become not so friendly. If left unchecked, they will destroy the surrounding tissue.

Mother Nature to the Rescue

But does the body leave the skin undefended? Heck, no! Our blood flow increases, sending an army of white blood cells to the area to show the bacteria whose boss. The swelling and tenderness are the body’s way of telling you not to pick. Sadly, many of us have self-destructive impulses.

Resisting the Urge to Pick

So, it’s a no brainer, right? If we can only keep in mind that the inflammation response is there for a reason, we will refrain from picking our zits, and our skin tissue will live happily ever after.

That’s easier said than done. Most of us need handcuffs to resist our urge to pick. Happily, there are more socially acceptable methods.

  • Keep your hands busy

Do we really need another reason to use our cell phones? It may not be the healthiest social behavior, but then again picking zits isn’t either. If Crushing Candy keeps you from crushing a zit, we say go for it. Activities like crosswords and reading are also good ways to keep your hands busy.

  • Limit your mirror time

It’s true: we reflect on our pimples the most when we’re looking at our reflections. Hair styling, makeup application and touch-ups, selfies, and the occasional check for the errant hair leave a lot to of time for reflection. When you have a ripe pimple, long looks in the mirror can end up getting ugly. If limiting facetime proves difficult, try taping a sticky note on the mirror to remind you to look but not touch.

  • Replace the Urge

If you feel like you’re about to pop, it may be a good idea to have a rubber band around your wrist. In many cases, urges are based on impulses that come and go rather quickly. Sometimes all it takes is a little diversion. Try wearing a rubber band around your wrist and snapping it gently when the urge overtakes you. Alternatively, try clenching your fists for about 30 seconds.

  • Covering Your Hands

Who wouldn’t rather play dress up than play with her zits? When it comes to keeping your fingers off your face, wearing evening gloves around the house puts the fun in functional. And guys, if three quarter opera gloves are not your thing, try covering your primary fingers with small adhesive bandages. These will make it harder to pop pimples and put an oil-free barrier between you and your skin.

How to Prevent Pimples 

If an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, then preventing a zit from starting is worth a whole lot of salicylic acid. The best way to stop picking is to stop the zit from forming in the first place. Here’s a quick guide to tackling your zits before they hit the surface.

Preventing Whiteheads

Pus is a dirty word. It’s the collection of gunk (dead skin cells, bacteria, and sebum) that forms when a pore is blocked. The white head is a tiny packet of pus. If you split it open, you may be opening up and Pandora’s Box of acne. When the gunk oozes out, it can land inside other pores and cause more whiteheads.

Infographic on the stages of acne

A better way to fight whiteheads is by keeping your pores open. Here’s how salicylic acid can help:

  • Salicylic Acid dissolves dead skin cells and oil to get inside pores to clean them out.
  • While salicylic acid deep cleans the pores, it shrinks the diameter of the pore, making it less likely to get clogged in the first place.
  • Consistent use will provide for continuous whitehead prevention. Your pores will remain clean and the pore refining qualities will prevent further whiteheads from forming.

Sometimes “asking for a whitehead” doesn’t require a formal request. There are things you may be doing every day that are increasing your risk for whiteheads that you aren’t even aware of. Here are some ways to make yourself seem a little less desperate.

  • Whiteheads can form as a reaction to heavy or irritating skin products. If you are using a foundation or moisturizer, make sure it is oil free.
  • Massage cleanser in for a minimum of 30 seconds. That will help loosen up the dirt and dead skin cells for a deeper cleanse. The Resveratrol Vitamin C Cleanser would be perfect for this, as it helps to loosen dirt and clogged pores without drying the skin out.
  • Rinse shampoo thoroughly, especially along your hairline. We all know how bangs can cause pimples. Oil from hair and hair products can leak into pores in your forehead and form zits around the hairline.
  • Never pop a zit before its time – we’ll discuss this later.

Preventing Blind or Deep Pimples

If the whiteheads are the ugly, the deep pimples are the bad. Although they may look less insidious than whiteheads, deep pimples come from the inside and can be stubborn and painful. Also, because they take time to show their heads, they can bother you for a lot longer time period than whiteheads. The only good way to fight them is from the inside out.

Blind and deep pimples are often hormone related. Keeping hormones balanced can keep your deep pimples from forming in the first place. Here are some deep secrets on targeting your deep pimples:

  • Keep blood sugar levels stable and eat a lot of protein, especially at breakfast time.
  • Limit your intake of refined carbs and sugar that cause blood sugar levels to spike.
  • Contraceptive pills can have a negative or positive effect on the skin. Speak to your doctor to find out how you can use them or stop using them to improve your blind pimple count.
  • Sweat it out. If you can exercise to a sweat daily (wash your face before), you can detoxify and keep your hormones balanced.
  • Cinnamon can decrease high levels of blood sugar. Sprinkle some on your oatmeal or in your morning coffee.

Is There A Right Way to Pop Pimples?

The general rule of thumb with pimples is “ignore them and they’ll go away.” If you have the patience, your pimples will eventually live out their 3 to 7-day lifespan and fade quite naturally. The only problem is, not many of us have the patience. But if you’re going to take zit popping into your own hands, you should know there is a right way to do it.

Leave It to the Pros

Pros already know the right way to do it. They put on gloves, lance the pimple using a sterile needle and squeeze out the contents with an instrument known as the comedone extractor.

Dermatologist examining pimple of young woman's face

But if you can’t get an appointment before the zit goes away, even the best dermatologist can’t help you. If you can’t resist the temptation, according to dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, there is a way to DIY it safely:

  1. Picking a pimple before its ready is sort of like picking fruit before its fully ripe. You won’t get the full benefits nor the level of satisfaction. When a firm whitehead appears, the time is right for picking. It means the pus is close to the surface and ready to be drained.
  2. Wash hands thoroughly using warm water, soap, and a fingernail brush.
  3. Sterilize a straight pin using a lighter or match. Let it cool, then wipe it with rubbing alcohol. Swab the zit with some alcohol as well and apply some for your fingers.
  4. Dry your hands and wrap them with a clean tissue.
  5. Hold the needle parallel to your skin and pierce the tip gently at the very tip of its center.
  6. Squeeze the pimple with your fingers applying the least amount of pressure you need to get the job done. If the pus doesn’t come flowing out with ease, abandon the project immediately. The zit is not ready to be popped.

Conceal It with Noncomedogenic Makeup 

What do you get when you cover a zit in heavy foundation and powder? You get a mountain of makeup and a smothered pore. If you choose to camouflage your zit using makeup, there are ways to keep it natural looking and breathing naturally at the same time.

The first tip is to start with a noncomedogenic cover-up. That means it won’t block your pores. Hollywood makeup artist Tasha Reiko Brown advises, “When you’re trying to hide a pimple, your goal is to take away the redness, rather than flatten out the zit.” Overapplication may take away the redness, but it won’t decrease the volume.

When she attempts to hide blemishes on her clients, she uses a dry concealer, rather than a creamy one that matches their skin tone. Even though she generally uses her fingers to apply makeup, a flat brush with short bristles is her weapon of choice for zit coverup. “That way,” She says, I can get the concealer right where I need it without leaving a fingerprint behind.” Blend the concealer beyond the limits of the blemish for a smoother appearance.

How to Treat a Pimple

Remember that treating a pimple does not necessarily mean treating it badly. There are many ways to cure a pimple without abusing it. The top three are:

  • Benzoyl Peroxide: Over the counter treatment, targets surface bacteria that aggravate acne.
  • Retinol: Vitamin A derivative to treat blackheads and whiteheads. These are mostly prescription only.  There is an OTC version of Differin now available.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics can be topically applied to the skin or taken orally to control surface bacteria and reduce inflammation. They work best when used together with benzoyl peroxide and/or retinoids and are generally available by prescription only.
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How to Heal Acne Scars

woman popping pimple in front of mirror

There are some scars you wear as badges of honor: the scar you got beating up the school bully, the tattoo of your child”s name on your ankle, the “Mom” tattoo on your upper arm. Conversely, there are other scars that don’t earn bragging rights, such as the ones you get from acne. Those who have left their acne years behind are more likely to want to banish any existing evidence than hold on to unpleasant souvenirs. If you are among those battling with the remains of your acne, read on for a few helpful tips.

Fade Creams

If you have a red or swollen scar, Tina Alster, MD and professor of dermatology at Georgetown University, suggests using a cortisone cream. Cortisone is absorbed by skin cells and reduces inflammation. Creams containing cortisone can be bought without a prescription and are available at most pharmacies.

After the cortisone application, you’ll want to work on lightening dark spots left by the scar. “Hydroquinone, a popular skin lightener, has recently fallen out of favor and is now being omitted from many fading creams due to irritation and carcinogenic concern,” says Alster. Safer alternatives include Kojic acid, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and arbutus.

Filler and Laser Treatments

If your acne scars are not responding to at-home treatments, you may want to call in a professional. Laser skin resurfacing can even out the surface of skin and stimulate collagen formation. The new collagen will act as a building block of skin, and can help to fill in scars from acne.

Filler injections will fill in indentations in the skin left by acne scars. However, because the product reabsorbs into the skin over time, filler treatment needs to be repeated every 4 to 6 months.


Time heals all wounds, and acne scars are no exception. According to Alster, a  few weeks after scarring, new blood vessels will move to the area to nourish the skin. Months later collagen will begin to fill in the injured area. But, keep in mind, patience is key. Ron Moy, MD, says that because cystic acne destroys fat and skin, fading of scars may take up to a year.

Prevention of Scars

If you are currently in the throws of acne, here are a few tips for surviving it scar-free.

Avoid the Sun

Ultraviolet rays can cause the stimulation of pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. This can cause scars to darken and slows down the healing process. Protect yourself with a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and avoid the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when its rays are strongest.

Don’t Pick Scars

Scars are made up of collagen, and can become indented due to loss of this protein. Squeezing can damage the collagen and cause bacteria and pus to filter into the skin more deeply, while picking increases inflammation, leading to further discoloration and scarring.

Don’t Use Vitamin E

Although Vitamin E is a much-touted cure all for any and all skin problems, a study from the University of Miami shows that the opposite may be true when it comes to eliminating scars. According to the study, vitamin E increased or had no effect on scarring in 90% of the patients, while 33% developed contact dermatitis from application of the vitamin.

Let us know how you survived acne and what you did to heal the battle scars. We want to know!

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Everyday Acne Causes

Woman frowning upon discovering a pimple on her face

Hormone fluctuations during puberty are routine, but nonetheless horrifying to many teenagers. And just when we thought we were out of the woods, adult acne rears its ugly head. Find out everyday causes of adult acne and how you can prevent breakouts.


It seems no great surprise that what you’re putting on your skin could be an obvious cause of acne. Makeup and sunscreens can all contain ingredients that can irritate your skin and result in a breakout. Consumers are advised to read labels before buying beauty products. Tony Nakhla, M.D. and author of “The Skin Commandments: 10 Rules to Healthy, Beautiful Skin” warns against the following ingredients:

  • Artificial color (FD&C) which can irritate skin
  • Lanolin, which is basically sheep sebum or oil, and could cause breakouts in acne prone skin
  • Mineral oil which can form a film on your skin trapping dead skin cells and bacteria
  • Petroleum: Another oil that you really don’t need on your skin
  • Isopropyl Myrlstate: Although this gives the illusion of making skin feel less greasy, it will ultimately clog pores

Your Cell Phone

That’s right, this convenient piece of modern technology could be a major component in what’s making you break out. Pressing your cheek and chin around the phone causes pimple producing oils to collect and build up along with any bacteria already on your mobile. Eric Schweiger, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City explains, “It’s called acne mechanica. It’s caused by not letting the pores breathe and the repetitive motion causes friction.” Acne caused by your cell phone can be avoided by cleaning the phone regularly with the same cleansers you would use for computer and TV screens. Also, try not to keep your cell phone against your face and try to alternate the sides of your face you are pressing against your phone while speaking. A hands- free device could be another solution.

Hair Products

Many people don’t think about how their hair products cause acne, but, if you think about it, hair is constantly touching your face and if there is product in it, it will seep into your skin’s pores causing breakouts such as ‘pomade acne’ along the hairline. Annet King, director of The International Dermal Institute warns to stay away from hair products with oil, silicones and plasticizers which will clog pores if they get into your skin.


We’ve all heard that greasy foods and chocolate can lead to breakouts, but that’s not totally true. Ava Shamban, MD, author of “Heal Your Skin” notes that it’s really an all over unhealthy diet that can cause acne. Avoid eating foods that spike your blood sugar levels, like refined, sugar, white bread, pastas, and fried food. They will mess with your body and cause acne. Also, you may be allergic to certain foods which could be leading to breakouts. If you notice that your skin is breaking out after eating certain foods, avoid eating them and see what happens.

So, what do you find makes you breakout? Do any of these acne solutions seem like they might work for you?

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Fast Facts About Acne

Unhappy woman pointing at pimple in the mirror

Acne, a common skin condition that is usually associated with breakouts and social embarrassment. On a positive note, there are many treatments and ingredients which may help alleviate some or all of the symptoms associated with acne. So stop skipping out on important events and fun social outings and start using the right ingredients that can help you control your acne. These fast facts about acne can arm you with the information to select the best ingredients for your skin and reduce the impact of acne on your life. Read All About Acne and What Really Causes Acne to learn even more!

Infographic on acne