How to Flatten (and Treat) a Cystic Pimple Quickly

You know those horrible, under-the-skin pimples that take forever to heal? Usually our plan of attack involves slathering on whatever maximum-strength acne ointment we have and monitoring it obsessively for days. This, however, seems to do nothing but dry out the skin on top of the spot (creating even more of an eyesore). 

So after our last big breakout, we finally sought out help, and Dendy Engelman, MD, of Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York, shared a trick that we now want to shout from the rooftops.

What you need:

Your go-to acne spot treatment and a thick balm or ointment (like Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Skin Protectant or even good ol’ Aquaphor). 

What you do:

After washing your face, apply the treatment directly to the pimple as you normally would. Then seal it in with a thin layer of balm. Repeat this daily until the spot subsides (which, from our experience, typically happens within a couple days).

Why it works:

Rather than having the treatment just sit on the surface of your skin (exposed to air and germs), the balm on top acts like a medical occlusion that essentially forces the active ingredients to permeate, making it more effective. It also keeps the skin around the spot hydrated so you don’t get those aforementioned dry patches.

Can pimple patches help treat cystic acne? 

They're actually pretty effective as they have a similar function (i.e., create a barrier so the ingredients can absorb better and—perhaps just as important—so you keep your hands off the spot). Recently, we've been impressed with these patches from ZitSticka, which have tiny microneedles filled with salicylic acid, niacinamide, oligopeptide-76 and hyaluronic acid that dissolve into your skin to reduce swelling, while hydrating the surrounding area. All you have to do is stick one over a budding bump and remove it after a couple hours (though we tend to just leave them on overnight). 

OK, now spread the word for good skin karma.


Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...