Eek, This Skin-Care Mistake Might Be Making Your Zits Last Longer

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There’s nothing like a red, angry zit to put us into skin-care overdrive. A blemish pops up and all of a sudden, we’re slapping on every spot treatment we can find in our makeup bag. But we just found out that we’ve all been making a huge mistake in our approach that’s actually making our breakouts worse. Don’t freak out—here’s why, plus what you can do to fix it. 

The mistake: You’re applying a drying spot treatment too early

Our usual M.O.: Have the slightest premonition of a zit, apply mounds of zit cream. But according to licensed aesthetician Renée Rouleau, this approach will likely backfire, and it’s all because you’re not giving that pimple a chance to heal on its own. The thing is, the brewing infection is already there, and it wants to work its way out of your pores. But if you’re applying a spot treatment too early, the spot never gets a chance to surface. Basically, you just dry out the top layer of skin and trap those bacteria inside where they linger for what feels like for-ev-er. Plus, the increased inflammation can make those annoying post-acne marks (like hyperpigmentation and scars) worse.

The fix: Treat pimples with non-drying ingredients…when they’re ready

If you’re going to successfully eradicate a zit, you’ve got two key strategies. First, know what’s in your arsenal. Avoid drying ingredients (like benzoyl peroxide, sulphur, alcohol and camphor), which can be helpful in small amounts but are majorly irritating and drying if overused. Instead, try treating impending acne with non-drying ingredients (like salicylic acid, tea tree oil and zinc oxide).

Second, spot treat at the right time. It’s actually better to let a zit come to a head before attacking it (as painful as that is) rather than drying out your skin and trapping in the gunk. If it looks ripe, it’s ready to treat. Or better yet, slap a pimple patch (a fancy hydrocolloid bandage) on the bump. Medical studies have shown that providing a moist environment for wounds—which is exactly what a pimple patch does for zits—can actually promote healing and lessen the likelihood for scarring.

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Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...