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In some way or another, all of us deal with the occasional breakout — a few have it lucky and only experience them once in a blue moon, while for others it's a never-ending war. But no matter where you fall on the skin spectrum, one truth remains constant: Having a pimple downright blows.
And, while having a daily regimen that helps protect your complexion from flare-ups is key, equally as important is having a reliable on-the-spot treatment to help you in those skin emergencies — because unfortunately, the odds are pretty high you're going to be faced with a pimple in the most awkward spot at the most inopportune time. Thanks, hormones!
Finding the right spot treatment for your particular flavor of breakouts will take a little bit of trial and error — not everyone's skin responds the same because not everyone's skin type or cause of breakout is the same — but according to Dr. Eric Schweiger, a dermatologist and acne specialist at NYC's Clear Clinic, there are a few universally effective ingredients you should be on the lookout for.
"Salicylic acid is one of the most commonly used acne spot treatments, because it works so well," he says. "It gets rid of acne by cleaning out the clogged pore and sloughing away dead skin cells that contribute to the acne flare-up. Benzoyl peroxide is another commonly used acne spot treatment, which works by killing the P. acnes bacteria that causes acne. By reducing the acne-causing bacteria, inflammation on the skin (the result of the skin’s reaction to the P. acnes bacteria) is allowed to decrease. Finally, tea tree oil , an antibacterial and antinflammatory oil, is a great choice for someone with sensitive skin, as it generally does not cause as much redness or dryness to the skin [as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid]." Also effective? Clays (like kaolin or bentonite) and sulfur, which smells funky, but can work miracles on shrinking down an angry, red, painful pimple.
While they may seem like magic, sadly spot treatments can't help all pimples pull a disappearing act. If you have cystic acne (i.e., pimples that manifest below the surface of the skin), you won't see much relief with any of these. Also, as Dr. Schweiger notes, it's very easy to over-use these products and cause even more issues for your skin. "When over-applied, spot treatments may result in redness, dryness, and flaking to the skin," he says. To avoid this, Dr. Schweiger says it's crucial to only use a small amount of the product — remember that a pea-size amount of these medications is enough to cover your whole face, so treating a spot requires the smallest amount possible. And, if you are prone to dryness, be sure to apply a non-comedogenic moisturizer immediately following the spot treatment, he says.
Now that you know the basics on battling your breakouts, check out our picks for the spot treatments we swear by, then tell us what you rely on to zap your zits.