It seems that everyone I speak to right now is suffering from a complexion that has gone into meltdown. Whether it's caused by the changing season, fluctuating hormones or a boozy weekend, a lot of us seem to be dealing with skin that just won't behave. So right now it seems the most pressing beauty question is how do you get rid of spots?
We put that very question to Dr. Pimple Popper, aka dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD, the expert with over 2.2 million followers on Instagram (@drpimplepopper), two million subscribers on YouTube and almost a billion views. Lee has accrued her staggering following by squeezing spots in short videos that get people hooked. Now before you head on over to her account, be warned: Her feed is not for the fainthearted or weak of stomach; some of the pimples she pops are huge and look like they've been brewing for a while.
Lee is an expert and doesn't recommend everyone start popping their own spots (although we do have a link below to a facialist-approved DIY spot-squeezing guide). Instead, Lee helps you identify what type of spots you're dealing with, along with the tips and products she recommends to get rid of them. Keep scrolling for Dr. Pimple Popper's guide to getting rid of your spots once and for all.
Blackheads and Whiteheads
Blackheads and whiteheads are otherwise known as comedones. The difference between them is that blackheads are open comedones, meaning that a pore is clogged up with keratin (dead skin cells) that is open to the surface of the skin. When the dead skin cells are exposed to oxygen, they darken, and these are the blackheads we all know about. Whiteheads, on the other hand, are closed comedones, which means there's a covering of skin over them. Since dead skin cells are not exposed to the oxygen, they appear white—they're usually pretty hard to see unless you stretch the skin.
With both blackheads and whiteheads, I advise trying not to squeeze them while they're forming. Any attempt may cause the comedone to stick around for longer and become bigger and uglier. Both are usually responsive to topical adapalene or tretinoin (which are both prescription medications). For something over-the-counter, I recommend using retinol products at night to speed up skin cell renewal. They can irritate the skin somewhat, especially in those with very dry skin, so a little goes a long way. A pea-sized portion is plenty for the entire face.
Pustules and Papules
These are traditionally raised white (pustule) or angry red (papule) bumps on the skin. With this type of spot, I suspect there are bacteria involved, so I may use some topical antibiotics—something that contains benzoyl peroxide or an antibiotic like erythromycin or clindamycin to help clear the bacteria from your skin.
Usually, if the pimple doesn't have a head yet and is still under the skin, not only can trying to extract it be very painful, but you can also cause irritation and even infection, which will make it harder for the spot to heal. Worse yet, if you really traumatise the skin, you risk scarring, which can be permanent. See a dermatologist who can prescribe medications, or try over-the-counter anti-acne medications from a reputable, dermatologist-endorsed brand.
Acne and Cysts
Now, these are more severe cases of acne that cause people to get nodules or cysts (also known as cystic acne). They are the deep, painful spots under the surface of the skin. Sometimes they come to a head, and sometimes they don't, but they really hurt when you press on them and can make your skin swollen in that area. These are the lesions dermatologists are most concerned about because they are the ones that are most likely to cause permanent acne scarring. I wouldn't recommend squeezing them yourself, as they may scar.