Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/19/2021
Waking up with a big pimple can be a day ruiner, even if acne is common. So common, in fact, that 85 percent of 12- to 24-year-olds experience at least some type of minor acne.
But even if most people experience acne, it doesn’t change the fact that you will likely want it gone. So here are some quick dos and don’ts for getting rid of big pimples.
Before you get rid of your big pimple, you first need to understand what kind of pimple you’re dealing with so you can fight it with the proper acne treatment.
Big pimples could be various types of breakouts, each of which require different types of acne treatment.
Papules. These are typically small (so may not be what you have, depending on size) acne, and can typically be treated at home.
Whiteheads and blackheads. This acne is pretty common when you have clogged pores. You’ll recognize this acne because as it forms, the head of the pimple is either white or a black dot. These are also typically smaller in size. Depending on the severity, your acne treatment may be simple as an at-home treatment or may require the support and guidance of a dermatology practitioner.
Nodules or cysts. This is more severe acne, as it’s typically large and deep pimples. Nodules can often be a painful pimple to experience. A dermatology professional should treat nodules and cysts to avoid acne scars.
Depending on the level of acne you have and the severity of the acne you’re experiencing, your treatment plan will vary.
If you’re worried you have cystic acne (medical speak for pervasive acne), you’ll want to see a dermatology practitioner.
Cystic acne can be painful, embarrassing and cause long-term issues — to your body (like scarring), and your mind (like self-esteem).
However, with a dermatology practitioner’s help, you can find an effective treatment.
Acne of any kind is typically brought on by specific risk factors. Unfortunately, those specific risk factors vary greatly — from certain lifestyle choices to hormonal imbalances. Specifically, those causes include:
Experiencing acne during your teenage years (adolescence) is quite common, but it’s also likely to get better as you age.
Some studies have shown that if your parents had severe acne, it’s more likely that you will experience severe acne.
For example, dairy may influence acne, but specifically the consumption of milk may worsen some people's acne.
And while low glycemic diets have shown favorable results for some people, they’ve shown mixed results for others.
As far as vegan and keto diets go, the jury is still out, and more research needs to be conducted.
Given that diet does influence your skin, you may want to talk with a dermatology professional about your current diet and what changes — if any — make sense.
You’re dealing with big pimples, but you’re not necessarily ready to enlist the expertise of a dermatology professional. We get it.
There’re tons of effective treatments on the shelf at your local pharmacy, and plenty of things you can do (or don’t do) to treat your big pimples from the comfort of your home.
Here are some recommended tips from the American Academy of Dermatology Association for getting rid of big pimples or, at the very least, starting the process.
Wash your skin. Use a mild cleanser and wash your skin before you try treating it. This will help clean away any dirt and bacteria.
Use an ice cube. If you feel a pimple forming on your skin, or if it feels early on in the pimple process (aka as soon as you notice it), you can apply an ice cube to help with irritation and redness. It's recommended to apply it to the skin for 5-10 minutes, then have a 10-minute break, and repeat that twice.
Try an acne spot treatment. You can try an acne spot cream (specifically a 2 percent benzoyl peroxide). Just use benzoyl peroxide sparingly, as less is usually more.
Enlist the help of salicylic acid. Using a cleanser that contains salicylic acid has been shown to help clear pores. However salicylic acid might cause some skin irritation or dry out your skin. If this is the case, you’ll want to switch to a different cleanser.
Apply warmth if you see a whitehead. If you’re beginning to see any puss, apply a warm compress. For example, you can soak a washcloth with warm water and compress the pimple for 10 to 15 minutes, up to three to four times a day.
Similarly, the American dermatology professional academy recommends you don’t try these things, as it might make things worse or even lead to acne scarring.
Pop, squeeze or pick. We know we know. It’s so tempting! But seriously, trying to pop, squeeze or pick your acne may make it worse, cause discoloration, or worse, cause scarring.
Apply toothpaste. This is just a myth and does not actually work. In fact, the ingredients in toothpaste may irritate your skin.
If your acne has persisted or you’re worried, contact a dermatology professional about getting a specific plan and guidance.
A board-certified dermatology professional has extensive knowledge on skin types, level of acne and type and customizing treatment plans to each patient.
They’ll likely look at each of these factors, as well as your age (if it’s adult acne or pubescent, for example) and the treatment options you’ve used in the past.
They may also suggest the following treatments:
Oral medications. For cystic acne or nodular acne, dermatology professionals may recommend oral antibiotics. Or, for women, they may recommend an additional hormonal therapy (often in the form of a birth control pill).
Prescription cream. For more mild acne, such as papules or whiteheads and blackheads, a dermatology professional may prescribe an antibiotic cream to be used in addition to benzoyl peroxide.
Cortisone injections. For big pimples that are really painful, a dermatology professional might recommend a cortisone injection. This can reduce the pain and size of breakout. Although just note this is typically reserved for the most severe breakouts.
Other Options to Consider
If you're still looking for options to control or get rid of that big pimple, you may want to consider something else like,
Tea tree oil has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, both of which may help acne.
In one small study done in 2015, researchers found that this was the case and that tea tree oil was complimentary for people with acne.
In another small study in 2017, participants saw an improvement in their skin using tea tree oil.
However, it’s important to note that these were very small studies and not statistically significant to make claims on tea tree’s impact on acne.
Glycolic acid works as a peel, and with antibacterial and antioxidant properties it can help improve your skin.
However, it’s an intense peel and may not be the best for everyone. Some researchers recommend it while others point to the allergic reactions, or hyperpigmentation as cause for concern.
Your best bet is to ask a dermatology professional about this option.
Want to get rid of your big pimples once and for all? Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news.
The bad news is that adult acne and adolescent acne of any kind are super common and sometimes unavoidable.
But the good news is the treatment options are vast. You have the option to try at-home treatments to quickly get rid of acne.
While there’re also longer term life habits you can change to prevent acne over time. If you're feeling frustrated and acne seems persistent, you may want to see a dermatology professional.
So if you're staring at the mirror right now with a big pimple… relax. Don’t pick at it. Try a home remedy, or an over the counter cream, or call up a dermatology professional to help you treat it and come up with a plan for next time.