How to Get Rid of Pimples: Dermatologist Tips For Clear Skin

Augusta Falletta


It’s not pretty, but we’ve all had our own battles with pimples. From blackheads to acne scars, everyone deals with it at some point in their life, but that doesn’t mean you just have to sit down and take it. In an effort to help everyone get clear skin, we talked to Dr. Whitney Bowe, board-certified New York dermatologist, and she told us everything we need to know about how to get rid of pimples below.

Beauty High: What are some of the causes of pimples that we don’t typically think of? 

Dr. Whitney Bowe: Diet can affect the skin. We used to think the idea that what we ate and its potential to exacerbate acne was merely a myth, but recent evidence suggests that certain foods and drinks can actually make acne worse. For example, refined carbohydrates like white bread and white potatoes can make acne worse, as can certain dairy products, particularly skim milk.

Stress can make acne flare. The brain and skin are closely connected, so stressful events can really wreak havoc on the skin.

Playing sports can cause breakouts. Friction (against a baseball cap or sports bra, for example), can lead to acne exacerbations, especially along the hairline and on the chest and back.

Genetics also play a very large role in an individual’s risk of developing acne.

Which kinds of ingredients should those with acne look for in cleansing products? 

There are two key ingredients to look for in acne cleansing products. One is salicylic acid and the other is benzoyl peroxide. Both are proven to be extremely effective in clearing acne. I typically recommend cleansing with a gentle cleanser with salicylic acid for everyday use. To add extra acne-fighting power, add an exfoliating cleanser with benzoyl peroxide twice a week (I like Clean & Clear Advantage 3-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser).

Can people with acne still use moisturizer without clogging pores?

Absolutely, just look for a moisturizer that says “non-comedogenic,” which is the fancy term for “won’t clog pores.” If you’re going to be out in the sun during the day, either find a moisturizer with SPF built in, or use a sunscreen over the moisturizer in the morning.

What are some habits we should stop so we can get rid of acne?

If there’s one thing worse than having acne, it’s dealing with the red or brown marks that can be left after an acne flare. Do everything you can NOT to pick at or pop your acne. The act of picking or popping only makes those marks more likely to stick around for months after the acne is gone. If can even lead to scars. Apply a spot treatment with benzoyl peroxide as soon as a new pimple appears. If a mark persists after the acne seems to have flattened out, try a spot treatment with glycolic acid, which helps lighten dark marks and even skin tone and texture (try Clean & Clear Advantage Mark Treatment).

How can you treat acne scars?

Acne scar treatments depend on what kind of scars are present (deep, shallow, elevated, etc.). Most scars can be treated effectively using a laser called Fraxel, followed by injections with a substance called hyaluronic acid (examples are Juvaderm, Restylane and Belotero Balance). Some acne scars can be surgically removed and stitched back together, and elevated, thick scars can be injected with a bit of cortisone to flatten them out.

How often should you be washing your face?

Twice a day, unless you play  sport or exercise, in which case you should wash a third time after you workout.

Do you have any tips for washing your face? Is there a trick to it? 

Use warm water to open pores and splash that water on your face. Then use your fingertips to gently massage the cleanser all over the face and neck. Rinse off and pat dry with a clean towel. Twice a week, you can use either an exfoliating cleanser or an electronic brush (such as Olay Pro X Advanced Cleansing Brush), but try not to do this more than twice a week or you might risk making your acne worse.

Are cleansing brushes okay to use? We hear they can hold onto dirt, and essentially buff the dirt into your face, clogging pores. 

Cleansing brushes like Olay or Clarisonic can be useful for exfoliating once or twice a week. They shouldn’t be used more than that on acne-prone skin. Use your fingertips to cleanse the remainder of the week. Dirt doesn’t cause acne, so it’s very unlikely that brushes are pushing dirt into the pores and clogging them. Regardless, it’s important to keep the brush heads clean as the instructions indicate so that bacteria doesn’t build up on them.

How can you get rid of the redness in a pimple?

Use a spot treatment with benzoyl peroxide to “dry up” the red pimple, an then camouflage it with a green-tinted concealer. Ingredients like feverfew and green tea can also calm red and inflamed skin (I recommend Aveeno Ultra Calming Line).

Is it okay to pop a pimple at home?

No! Popping pimples leads to acne marks and scars. Use a spot treatment and visit your dermatologist for a quick shot of cortisone, which will make the pimple go away in a day.

What’s the best course of action for blackheads?

Start with salicylic acid and if that doesn’t do the trick, look for a product with retinol (try RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum ). Then, visit your dermatologist for gentle extractions.

What’s the best course of action for cystic acne?

Oral antibiotics or hormonal medications such as the birth control pill or spironolactone will work very well, but they take time. If you’re in a rush, ask your dermatologist for a quick cortisone injection.

Are there any products you should stay away from (whether it be makeup, face products, etc.)?

Toners with alcohol are a definite no-no, even if you have oily skin. They dehydrate the skin and can trigger breakouts and irritation.

Image via Istock

More Clear Skin Tips From Beauty High:
101 Best Tips For Clear Skin
Acne Scars and Dark Spots: What You Need to Know For Clear Skin
4 Key Ways to Change Your Diet For Clearer Skin