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How to get rid of pimples

Learn about the many options available to treat pimples.

Clear up that complexion! [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Clear up that complexion!

Many people have dealt with pimples at some point in their lives. Whether you suffer from severe acne or just from the occasional zit, pimples can be a painful nuisance that damages your self-confidence. Luckily, you don't have to resign yourself to the scarring and embarrassment that persistent pimples can cause. This article provides useful information on how to get rid of pimples.

Pimples Overview

A pimple is simply the result of a blocked skin pore. Pores are tiny holes in the surface of the skin that secrete sebum, an oily substance that acts as a skin lubricant and protectant. If a pore becomes blocked, the resulting buildup of sebum and growth of bacteria living in the pore can result in a pimple.

Many people may develop random pimples, as occasional pore blockages are normal. Others, however, may suffer from acne, a persistent skin disease that can cause outbreaks of pimples for years if left untreated. Though the precise cause of acne is still not understood, it's most common during the teens and early 20s. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases estimates that approximately 80 percent of people between the ages of 11 and 30 experience acne outbreaks, though the condition can last well into one's 40s and 50s. Hormonal changes that affect the skin are believed to play a role in its onset. These changes can lead to an increase in sebum production, for example, causing clogged pores and pimple outbreaks. Other factors like stress, pregnancy, certain drugs and greasy make-up are also believed to contribute to acne.

Types of Pimples

Pimples can take on different forms. Two of the most common are whiteheads and blackheads. Whiteheads, which are plugged pores, or closed comedos, gestate under the surface of the skin, often becoming painful and eventually bursting. Blackheads (open comedos) rise to the surface and appear as small dark spots.

Other varieties of pimples include papules, pustules, nodules and cysts. Papules usually appear as small, pink bumps, while pustules are topped with pus. Nodules occur under the skin as painful, solid bumps. Cysts are potentially the most cosmetically severe acne symptom, as they can grow into large, deep lesions that can cause permanent scarring.

Pimples commonly occur on the face but also can affect areas like the back, chest, shoulders and upper arms.

Acne and Pimple Treatments

Though there's no cure for acne, a basic knowledge of what pimples are and how they're formed can help treat the condition. Treatments range from over-the-counter products to prescription medications.

Face Cleanser

The first and simplest step to get rid of pimples is to cleanse the skin properly. Gently clean the affected areas once or twice a day, taking care not to scrub, as this can aggravate acne. Also avoid excessively touching the affected areas, wearing oily make-up and using products that may further irritate the skin. Further treatment beyond these simple guidelines will depend on the individual case.

Topical Products

Many topical products are available to reduce and prevent acne outbreaks. Though they may have drastically different names, labeling and pricing, most over-the-counter topical anti-pimple products contain the active ingredients benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which are time-tested pimple-fighting medications. Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria and removes excess oil and dead skin cells, preventing pores from clogging. Salicylic acid can break down whiteheads and blackheads and also prevents skin cells from clogging pores.


For persistent cases of acne, prescription topical medications are also available. Antibiotic creams can be used to fight the bacteria itself.  A class of compounds called retinoids are also used in a variety of topical preparations to treat inflammatory acne, which include brand names like Retin-A (tretinoin), Differin (adapalene) and Tazorac (tazarotene). Oral prescription drugs are also sometimes used to combat acne. These are usually antibiotics or oral isotretinoin and are often combined with topical treatments. Consult with a physician before attempting to treat any medical condition.

Other Treatments

If creams, prescriptions and lifestyle changes still haven't cured your bothersome pimples, further measures are available. A chemical peel can be used to remove the skin's outermost layer, taking with it blackheads and bumps. Phototherapy uses lasers to kill acne-causing bacteria, and surgery may be required to remove the most serious cysts and lesions. Consult with a dermatologist before seriously considering any invasive procedure.

For more information on pimples and acne, and for guidance with finding a dermatologist, visit the American Academy of Dermatology.

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