Dermatologist Sandra Lee knows a thing or two about pimples. After all, they don’t call her “Dr. Pimple Popper” for nothing. Which means that in addition to squeezing the life out of the grossest zits the Internet has ever seen (… I’m one of those people who can’t go anywhere near her Instagram feed without gagging), she also knows exactly how to treat them when they aren’t ready to blow their contents all over your bathroom mirror.
She’ll be the first to tell you that you should leave the pimple popping to the pros—because, who knows, it could even land you a spot on national television!—which means that it’s in your best interest to use ingredients to treat them instead of the pads of your fingers. To find out which ingredients, exactly, you should be using, we asked Dr. Lee to share her favorites for treating the three most common types of acne… no actual popping required.
For blackheads, whiteheads, and acne-related dark spots: salicylic acid
Ever wondered what Dr. Pimple Popper’s “favorite” skin-care ingredient is? Look no further than salicylic acid. “It can do wonders as a spot treatment,” she says. “Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that that crystalizes to a small enough size, allowing it to settle down within our pores to clean them from the inside out thereby preventing the accumulation of dead skin cells, debris, and oil which provide the perfect environment for pimples to live. It’s a chemical peel acid, so it helps to exfoliate the skin and even helps to speed the lightening brown spots that may have been created from previous acne breakouts.” Try a salicylic acid on any acne-related issues that aren’t wildly inflamed, like blackheads, whiteheads, and acne.
Shop salicylic acid
For inflammatory acne: benzoyl peroxide
“Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial ingredient that is going to kill the Propionibacterium acnes (or p.acnes for short) bacteria that are responsible for those big, angry, red and inflamed pimples,” says Dr Lee. She recommends using the maximum strength you can find over the counter (which, FWIW, is 10 percent), and using it as a spot treatment, because it’s likely too strong for your full face. “If you can, lay it on very precisely but a little thick directly over the issue to create a mask overlying the pimple and let it sit there overnight or for as long as possible,” she says. “This will also help you keep your hands off the area, reminding you not to pick it, which prevents further irritation or worsening of the pimple.”
Shop benzoyl peroxide
For those deep, cystic suckers: coriticosteroid shot
If you’ve got one of those massive hormonal zits with roots that just won’t budge, it may be worth going to the derm for a quick cortisol injection. “If you have access to a dermatologist and feel a big pimple coming, a doctor can inject the pimple with a corticosteroid shot, making it disappear in 24 hours,” says Dr. Lee. “This is a great solution if you have something very special happening that you need a pimple to be gone for, like a wedding or photoshoot.” Just don’t try this one at home, ok?
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