Cystic zits never have good timing, but there are better moments for the underground pimples to pop up—namely, when you have no plans other than sitting on your couch and watching Riverdale for a week. But that’s not the way the world works, and the painful eruption usually happens right before an event where you’d want a flawless complexion.
Another downside? These suckers usually take longer to heal than your average whitehead.
So how do you deflate that bump fast? We chatted with two skincare pros to give you a step-by-step, plus warnings on what you definitely shouldn’t do.
First, you need to know the difference between regular zits and cystic zits, and why treating them requires a different approach. “Cystic acne is a severe form of acne, in which deep pimples form underneath the skin,” explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner. “These ‘underground balloons’ are not attached to the surface of the skin and cannot be popped the way that blackheads can be. Cysts tend to be painful and they may heal leaving permanent scars.”
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If this is a regular occurrence and your products aren’t clearing it up, you should visit your dermatologist to get their professional opinion. Though, you can treat the random zit at home with these tricks.
Dr. Zeichner’s advice isn’t one miracle product, but a combo you can pat directly on top of the zit. “I recommend combining different over-the-counter at me medications that complement each other to get to the root of what causes acne,” he notes. In the palm of your hand, he says to combine 2.5% benzoyl peroxide with 2% percent salicylic acid and 1% over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment. Apply that mixture to your pimple.
He suggests Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment ($6; target.com), Clean and Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment ($6; target.com), and Cortaid ($4; walgreens.com).
Why this compilation? “Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria. Salicylic acid helps remove excess oil, actually it’s dead cells, and dries out the pimple itself. Hydrocortisone cream helps reduce inflammation in general.”
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While this might speed up the recovery, you also need to know that some cysts can last for a few weeks. “Because they are caused by a structural change under the skin—’balloon’ or at out-pouching from the oil gland that fills up with oil from your oil gland—cysts may come and go in the same location over years.”
You can also try using a compress. Dr. Zeichner recommends a cold pack to constrict the blood vessels and therefore reduce inflammation.
If redness is a big concern, celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas opts for yogurt or chamomile placed on top—two natural anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Finally, do not pick. It can make the situation worse—and we’re not just talking about scaring. “Never pick it or push on it. They can break under the skin and spread the infection to the entire area,” says Vargas.