How to Get Rid of Acne Scabs, According to Derms

Popped a pimple and dealing with the aftermath? We're here to help.

How to Get Rid of Acne Scabs, According to Derms

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You've probably been told that the number one rule for getting rid of a zit is not to pick it and yet, here you are, post-pimple pop and with an acne scab to show for it. Your first thought might be to break out the concealer and full-coverage foundation but alas, this won't totally mask or get rid of acne scabbing. And since patience is not your greatest virtue (it's what got you here in the first place, after all), you probably won't be satisfied with the advice that you should just simply wait for your acne scab to heal (FYI it can take weeks).

So to help you out, we reached out to two dermatologists to get their expertise on all things acne scabs, from how to treat them to how to prevent them, and everything in between.

Keep reading for our complete guide to getting rid of pimple scabs — without doing further damage.

What are acne scabs?

"Acne scabs are formed when there is enough injury to the tissue to break through the surface, either from draining of liquid and pus from inside an acne lesion, or when the acne pimple becomes traumatized from an external source (most often from picking, squeezing, or aggressive scrubbing and washing)," board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D., F.A.A.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group tells us. "There must be a break in the top layer of skin, in order for the formation of a scab to be triggered."

As for what types of blemishes are more prone to scabbing, Mona Gohara, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale University, says that deep, cystic, painful, or hard ones most often cause inflammation, which can lead to itching, irritation, and the urge to pick.

How to Prevent Acne Scabs

The major culprit of acne scabs, namely, popping/picking your pimple, is a difficult — albeit not impossible — habit to break. Avoid irritating your pimple and instead, treat it with acne-fighting products and ingredients. It's your best bet to keep an acne scab and even, an acne scar, from forming.

And while not all acne scabs will turn into a scar, you're definitely opening yourself up to the possibility if you pick, Dr. Nazarian tells us. "Although having a scab does not mean that you are definitively going to scar, it does indicate that there was an increased amount of injury to the skin, and the chances are slightly higher. It’s for this reason dermatologists often encourage our patients to keep their fingers off their skin!" 

How to Treat Acne Scabs At Home

Banishing pimple scabs is all about facilitating the healing process and steering clear of any factors that could exacerbate it. You'll want to update your skincare routine to include ingredients and products that cleanse, hydrate, and treat your scab.

  • Resist the urge to pick: It turns out that treating post-pimple scabs isn't that different from what you should do when you first notice the pimple: don't touch it. "Do not touch or pick scabs," emphasizes Dr. Gohara.
  • Keep the area clean: To avoid infection and to aid the healing process, Dr. Nazarian recommends cleansing gently daily. When patting dry, she stresses trying to avoid all unnecessary pressure or rubbing the scab. It might not be picking, but it's still irritating.
  • Moisturize — and then moisturize some more: "It's best to keep [the acne scab] well lubricated because it gives the skin a chance to heal," comments Dr. Gohara. However, avoid using alcohol-based toners and harsh astringents on the area because these products can cause further irritation, she adds. Dr. Nazarian recommends applying an anti-inflammatory moisturizer, such as the Proactiv Green Tea Moisturizer. "The Proactiv Green Tea moisturizer has hydrating ingredients like allantoin, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid to keep the scab moisturized."
  • Apply an ointment: After cleansing and moisturizing, apply a small amount of Vaseline Healing Ointment to cover the scar, instructs Dr. Nazarian. "This prevents infection and stimulates healing of the wounded area."
  • Address hyperpigmentation: "Since a scab can often leave a stain as it heals for several weeks, I recommend a topical product to minimize the pigmentation and improve the discoloration that’s common in post-acne dark marks," says Dr. Nazarian. Her pick? Restorative Elements Dark Mark Corrector, which contains licorice root extract, niacinamide, and Centella asiatica.

When to See a Professional

If you've managed to avoid popping your pimples yet you're still dealing with pimple scabs, it might be time to call in the pros. According to Dr. Nazarian, "If you are producing acne that is consistently scabbing, it’s always best to see a board-certified dermatologist to initiate an acne regimen immediately because this type of acne can have a much higher rate of scarring."

Also, as we mentioned earlier, resisting the urge to pick and pop zits is a must if you're trying to keep acne scabs at bay. Still, it's easier said than done. "If you are unable to behaviorally curb picking or squeezing habits (because it’s a very challenging habit to quit and often rooted in anxiety) speak to your dermatologist," advises Dr. Nazarian.

"Oftentimes your dermatologist will have techniques and tools to help you address picking, and can also work with therapists and other healthcare professionals to improve chances of breaking the habit." 

VIDEO: 4 Foundations for Acne-Prone Skin

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