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10 Derm-Approved Ways to Shrink Pimples Overnight

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Are we the only ones who immediately go into panic mode the moment we notice a breakout coming on? All of a sudden, it’s as if we’ve decided we’re scientists, applying every lotion or potion we can get our hands on in the hopes that the pimples will go away as quickly as they came on.

One problem with this tactic: Between all the misinformation about remedying acne on the internet and the fact that everyone’s skin is unique, some of these potions are sure to backfire. That’s why we spoke to top dermatologists to get their take on some easy, affordable—and actually effective—skincare treatments to try next time a zit decides to pay a visit. (Speaking of derms, make sure to visit one if your acne is severe or doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments.)

About the Experts:

Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a dermatologist and the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Howard Sobel, MD, is a dermatologist and dermatologic cosmetic surgeon at Sobel Skin in New York City.

How to get rid of acne:

1. Try witch hazel.

No, you can’t toss this ingredient into a cauldron and cast a spell to banish your acne, but it does have a reputation for working serious complexion magic. “Witch hazel has astringent benefits, removing excess oil from the skin,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “At the same time, it can help balance the pH of the outer skin layer.” (As you may have heard, more balanced skin equals clearer skin.)

Dermatologist Howard Sobel, MD, warns that adding witch hazel to your skincare routine can irritate dry or sensitive skin types, which is why we swear by BELIF Witch Hazel Herbal Extract Toner. It contains a cocktail of glycerin, jasmine, and oat kernel extract that soothe and hydrate the skin while clarifying pores.

2. Use tea tree oil as a spot treatment.

Tea tree oil is basically nature’s gift for combating stubborn spots. “Because of its antimicrobial benefits, it is thought to help lower levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin to treat pimples,” says Dr. Zeichner. Avoid applying the undiluted oil to the skin, which can cause redness and irritation, and opt for a product that combines tea tree oil with calming ingredients. SUNDAY RILEY U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Acne Treatment Face Oil pairs tea tree oil with milk thistle, cucumber seed oil, chamomile, and neroli.

3. Look for products with salicylic acid…

“One of the most popular ingredients for treating acne, this ingredient works by removing excess sebum and dead skin cells,” says Dr. Sobel. “It’s best for minimizing more mild blackheads and whiteheads.” MURAD Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment has maximum-strength salicylic acid to make quick work of shrinking spots and clogged pores.

4. ...or benzoyl peroxide.

Like salicylic acid, you’ve probably seen a number of drugstore remedies with benzoyl peroxide as the active ingredient. And for good reason: “Its exfoliating properties remove acne-causing bacteria from the skin, and since it destroys the bacteria rather than just slowing down the growth, many people may see results within a week,” says Dr. Sobel. ZAPZYT Acne Gel is our go-to—it’s oil-free, doesn’t feel heavy, and has no drying alcohol ingredients.

5. Make an at-home face mask.

Who says you have to buy a fancy new product to treat pimples? Raid your pantry instead and mix up a DIY treatment using one of our recipes. One of our favorites: Combine a handful of exfoliating oats, a few drops of anti-inflammatory honey, and a couple of squeezes of antibacterial lemon in a bowl, then apply evenly to your face. Massage in circles to slough away dead skin, let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then rinse with warm water. You’ll instantly see brighter, softer skin, and a clearer complexion over time.

6. Use a moisturizer made for acne-prone skin.

If you’ve ever heard that you should “dry out” your pimples, this one’s for you. “Oily skin is actually dehydrated, so our bodies are trying to produce more oil to counteract the dryness,” says Dr. Sobel. “By adding in a daily moisturizer, there will be less oil production and much healthier and more balanced skin.” Dr. Zeichner also notes that some of the best prescription acne treatments these days have a moisturizing component. Ask your doctor about Altreno, which combines pore-unclogging tretinoin with hydrating glycerin and hyaluronic acid, or top your favorite zit-fighting treatment with one of our favorite moisturizers for acne-prone skin.

7. Try apple cider vinegar.

“Apple cider vinegar is an easily accessible remedy for acne, but it should be used with caution,” says Dr. Sobel. “I suggest mixing one part apple cider vinegar with two parts water. If it’s well tolerated on the skin, this mixture can help reduce the appearance of acne scars and destroy acne-causing bacteria.” Skip this one if you have any open wounds or blemishes. (Ouch.)

8. Apply aloe vera.

Just like aloe vera soothes your worst sunburns, it can also take down much of the inflammation associated with acne. “It also contains molecules called anthraquinones, which have antibacterial benefits and can lower levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin,” says Dr. Sobel. Bonus points for lightweight, non-pore clogging hydration!

9. Look for products with sulfur.

A super-effective acne treatment that works for even the most sensitive skin types? Count us in. “One of the gentler acne-fighting ingredients, sulfur focuses on removing any oil buildup and dead skin cells,” says Dr. Sobel. Do a sniff test before you choose a product to take home, though, as some tend to smell like rotten eggs. Not only does SUNDAY RILEY Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask carry a minimal scent, but it also has purifying bentonite clay, zinc, tea tree oil, and manuka honey, plus glow-boosting niacinamde.

10. Try a hydrocolloid acne patch.

Hydrocolloid patches are a godsend if you need to get rid of a pimple fast. “They work by soaking up any excess sebum or fluids emitted from the blemish,” says Dr. Sobel. “This results in a much smaller and less inflamed blemish.” Dr. Zeichner especially loves them for patients with a habit of picking at their breakouts, because they create a physical barrier between your fingers and your skin. CUROLOGY Acne Patches are extra sticky and transparent, so you can wear them to sleep or out and about with no worries of them falling off or attracting stares.

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About the author
Kate Foster Kaplove
Kate is a freelance beauty editor in Brooklyn. She was previously a beauty editor at ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, and Seventeen. Her favorite topics to write about are skincare and fragrance, especially as they relate to art, culture, & politics.
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Article Last Updated June 23, 2020 12:00 AM