So what is one supposed to do when they're cursed with, say, a whitehead and a hormonal cyst? Do your typical spot treatments work double duty or does this dilemma require a more strategic game plan? I sought out a dermatologist for what to do—and it's really all about being ingredient savvy.
The most beneficial tactic is to make sure you're using salicylic acid. "If you have both comedones—whiteheads or blackheads—and red pimples or pustules (the pimples that turn into white pus-filled bumps after a couple of days), I would use a face wash that contains salicylic acid, which can help exfoliate and unclog pores," says Shirley Chi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. "After that, I'd recommend a non-comedogenic moisturizer and an all over tretinoin cream in the evenings."
If you don't have a prescription tretinoin (a form of vitamin A), retinol—or even its natural alternative, bakuchiol—will do the skin cell turnover trick and make your zits go away faster. But then your spot treatments should be more specific. According to Dr. Chi, an anti-inflammatory option like hydrocortisone can help deep, painful cysts resolve themselves more quickly. "Cystic acne is caused by hormone changes and worsened by stress, so should be treated with systematic treatments," she explains. In other words: Stay calm.
For whiteheads, pimple patches can work some magic to suck out the gunk underneath the zit. Also, salicylic acid can be beneficial in spot treatments for all breakouts—"This is good for all types of pimples," says Dr. Chi, since it's antimicrobial. As far as your makeup goes, she recommends avoiding heavy liquid foundations in favor of face powder (she likes Bare Minerals), and dabbing on some concealer to hide your blemishes (if you want). "Many drugstore brands carry options that are medicated with salicylic acid, like Neutrogena's SkinClearing Blemish Concealer ($10). And don't forget sunscreen." So then you can go into battle armed with an arsenal of pimple-fighting essentials.
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