The Many Stages of a Pimple
Now that we understand what triggers breakouts, we can look at the stages of a pimple.
In the first stage, the pimple forms deep under the skin. "All of our pores contain a hair follicle and a sebaceous gland that empties into it producing sebum, our skin's natural oil," said Dr. Lee. "The body is constantly regenerating and shedding dead cells, but when those dead skin cells get trapped within the pores of our skin, they combine with sebum and oil to clog the pores, creating noninflammatory acne like blackheads and whiteheads." It's that mix of dead skin cells and oil that clogs the pore and causes an infection or pimple on the skin.
If it's a cystic pimple, you may feel it before you see it; if it's a whitehead, you might not notice it until it comes to a head. This stage can last up to a few days, but you can help speed up how soon an undergrounder comes to the surface by placing a hot, damp cloth on the area in 10-minute intervals until it comes to a head. This brings us to stage two.
In the second phase, a zit comes to the surface — whether its in a whitehead or a big, red cystic pimple. The latter can last up to a week, which is why you'll want to act fast the moment you spot it. You can help alleviate inflammation by placing an ice cube to the skin, on and off, for 30 seconds. Then, this is when it's time to attack it with a spot treatment. "The best way to speed up the healing process of a pimple is applying a spot treatment with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide," said Dr. Lee. "This will keep the area clean and prevent any dirt or bacteria from making the pimple worse." Treating your pimple during phase two with a spot treatment can help it heal faster in the long run.
In phase three, your pimple will start to heal and shrink in size. But for really stubborn, angry pimples that just won't seem to quit, Dr. Lee recommended applying a "mini pimple mask" to the area. "If you apply a dollop of spot treatment on a particularly angry pimple, it helps treat the pimple, but it also helps to remind you not to disturb the area, which is just as important as treating the pimple in the first place."
Whatever you do, just don't pick at it. Picking or popping your pimple at home can push the clogged pore deeper and lead to scarring.