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Spots: What They Are + How To Treat Them

Spots: What They Are + How To Treat Them
April 18, 2014 7 minute read

Spots. The reason for most of those self-pitying moments known to trigger “depression-induced-ice-cream-indulgence” (yes, of course it’s a thing). But what do you really know about them? Do you just slather any old acne treatment on your face and hope for the best? I used to. Until I realized that there’s a plethora of different spots that all require particular ingredients to lead to their ultimate destruction.

Before we even start to discuss how to treat the spot, we must know what the spot is. Acne is, by definition, a term for the over production of oil, which results in plugged pores and outbreaks of lesions called pimples or zits, whiteheads, blackheads, nodules or cysts. Some people are lucky and get it out of the way before they turn twenty. Then there are those poor unfortunate souls who suffer from adult acne. Either way, acne is bound to make an appearance in your life and it is certainly NOT welcome. So here’s how to go about identifying and treating your spots.



What They Are

A firm white bump that pops up on the surface of your skin as a result of clogged pores. These usually aren’t painful and are the easiest to extract.

How To Banish Them

Warning: my solution requires a sewing needle and very steady hands. As for all extractions, if you are not comfortable doing them, go to a professional. Because if you’re going to go extraction crazy and start picking at everything BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN (scarring, bleeding, shouting). Know when to give up control.

1. Apply a warm face compress to open up pores. Using a clean damp facecloth. Let sit for 5-10 minutes and reheat with warm water as needed.

2. Once pores are softened, use a sanitized/sharp sewing needle to poke a tiny hole in the head.

3. Using two q-tips or your pointer fingers wrapped in Kleenex, gently pull (while applying some pressure) until the stuff comes out.

4. If after two tries it’s not budging, it’s time to give this round to your skin. Wait until tomorrow and try again. Just apply Paula’s Choice Resist BHA 9, $40 (my go-to cure-all for blackheads to whiteheads to pimples) or a similar BHA  to the spot overnight and you’ll either wake up with it gone or it’ll be ready to give up in the evening. This product is one of my must haves, it claims (successfully) to be “a first-of-its-kind spot treatment specially formulated to address your most stubborn skin imperfections. The technology behind BHA 9 is indeed unique, allowing for a controlled, sustained release of salicylic acid without diminishing any of its effectiveness. In fact, you will have enhanced results without dryness or irritation! BHA 9 for Stubborn Imperfections has a pH range of 3.2-3.5.”


Supplementary information (because this used to confuse me): BHA vs AHA. Beta hydroxy acid (aka salicylic acid) is lipid (oil) soluble and can get deep into your sebum filled pore to exfoliate any built up gunk inside. A good BHA will help significantly with healing whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples because it increases cell turnover rate. Alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid and lactic acid) is water-soluble, so they only exfoliate the surface of skin. It’s super beneficial for improving the overall texture and moisture level of the skin, but not what you need for a targeted pimple treatment.



What They Are

A nightmare for a person with OCD. They’re darkened duct openings that are plugged with dead cells and bacteria.

How To Banish Them

1. Apply Glamglow Supermud Clearing Treatment, $69 (this is my go-to blackhead banisher). Follow the directions and hope for the best. Another good clay treatment product would be Fresh’s Umbrian Clay Mattifying Mask, $49. If this doesn’t get them all, move on to steps 2-4.

2. Apply a warm/damp facecloth to your skin to open up the pores. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, and reheat when necessary.

3. Take two q-tips, or wrap Kleenex around the tips of your pointer fingers, and gentle squeeze (the only time I’ll tell you do squeeze something on your face).

4. If something comes out, great. If after two tries nothing comes out, leave it alone. You need to continue on with the proper face cleansing methods (here) and incorporate some skin-balancing exfoliating acids into your routine. Then in a couple days try again, following steps 1-3.

Pimples (pastule)

What They Are

Pimples start out as red bumps on your face. Sometimes they’re sore, sometimes they’re not, but they usually don’t have a head yet.

How To Banish Them

1. You don’t. Don’t pick at them, DON’T squeeze them, don’t compress them. Just let that little red spot be. If one comes up, apply an overnight spot treatment (like Paula’s Choice BHA 9) and cross your fingers (there’s really no one product that will work, but as long as they have the right ingredients you have a good fighting chance).


Tip: try to stay away from skin drying treatments, like harsh benzoyl peroxide or sulfur. I used to use sulfur based spot treatments but found that it mostly calmed big angry spots; it didn’t effectively get rid of them like a BHA or AHA combination. Because you really can’t dry out a spot (since it’s mostly oil, dead skin and bacteria) and you’ll only be drying out the skin around it. That being said, I do like Kate Somerville’s EradiKate Acne Treatment, $22 to help reduce swelling and calm redness.


Big, angry pimples (pustule)

What They Are

The next phase of the small pimple. These usually come if you have tried to fiddle with a small pimple.

How To Banish Them

1. Again, there’s no immediate fix for these unfortunately. But to speed up the process, try a light warm compress to see if you can open up the pore at all. If nothing, continue on with your proper skin care routine, exfoliate gently, and apply a spot treatment to clear out the pore. Be patient, and it’ll heal far faster than if you try and poke it.


What They Are

These are the worst. They’re deep and sore and red and nothing manual will fix them. “The skin’s oil glands become hypersensitive to excess male hormones (women have male hormones that trigger acne), and react by overproducing sebum—so much, in fact, that the oil gland itself becomes engorged, swollen, and hardened with the excess. Unable to push almost any of the extra oil to the surface, the gland bursts underneath the skin, creating the large swollen mass (called a nodule or cyst) below the skin’s surface. Once that occurs you are in the throes of this terribly painful and unsightly type of acne.” (source)

How To Banish Them

1. Stick to non-foaming cleansers, exfoliating (with products like Biologique Recherche’s P50 Lotion, $57), and moisturizing regularly (yes, even moisturize the spots).

2. I have never had cystic acne, but I would recommend alternating between spot treatments. Using a BHA spot treatment and a sulfur or benzoyl peroxide treatment (yes I know I said to avoid those for pimples, by cysts need a more intensive treatment).

3. Take a SERIOUS look at your diet.

4. See a dermatologist if all else fails.

At the end of the day, spots are your body’s way of telling you that something has to change. Something in your life is not working. That might mean diet, skin care products or lack of exercise. I can’t tell you exactly what to change, but don’t go changing everything at once. Start with trying to eat cleaner. The least amount of hands that have touched your food before it reaches you the better. Give up processed granola bars, deli wraps, and baked goods. Turn to raw bars (like Lara Bars), homemade sandwiches (with sprouted, whole grain bread), and pure dark chocolate (no sugar or dairy added). Then look at your skin care routine and check your ingredients! Avoid sulfates, parabens, and oil. Go for non-foaming, skin-mimicking, and fragrance free products. Above all, be patient and relax!


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