You and I both know you should never try to crush a zit. You and I both also know that you will do it anyway. Here are five ways to minimize the damage.
1. Start with a warm compress. “Heat softens the skin and brings the infection to the surface,” says NYC derm Pat Wexler. This is the rationale behind acne gadgets like the Zeno Hot Spot ($110, amazon.com). “I have many patients who use this device and find that it works well. If it’s a small pimple without pus, you should see some improvement within 24 hours.” If you don’t have a Zeno, you can just use cotton pads (a better choice than a wash cloth because they’re sterilized).
2. If the pimple has pus, gently press on the sides. “If the pustule is ready to go,” says Wexler “you shouldn’t have to puncture it.” And remember: “You are not trying to get to the bottom of the volcano.” Squeezing it until you feel like you’ve gotten every bit out of it will likely spread the infection and make it worse, ultimately leaving you with a scar.
3. Seal it with a dab of salicylic acid. Anything drying and antibacterial will do. Wexler prefers salicylic acid over benzoyl peroxide since many people find the latter irritating. Neutrogena Naturals Acne Spot Treatment ($9, drugstore.com) and Clinique's Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel ($25, clinique.com) are both great options.
4. If gently pressing the sides didn’t work, resist the impulse to pick at it with your (bacteria-ridden) finger nails. Instead, sterilize a sewing needle with hydrogen peroxide. I actually keep a box of sterilized lancets ($7, walgreens.com) (yes, the kind used by diabetics) in my medicine cabinet expressly for this ugly task.
5. After applying the warm compress again, gently prick the top. Ideally, the pus will come out on it’s own—if not, apply light pressure to the sides with two cotton swabs. If you see blood—a sure sign that you’ve been too overzealous—apply hydrogen peroxide and an antibiotic cream like Neosporin. If not, seal that bad boy up with some sal acid and don’t look back. Whatever you do, don’t take a grimey finger and try to pat concealer over it. Dirty fingers and sponges are like lighter fluids for infection.
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