by Emily Laurence
What is it about pimples that make them pop up in the most inconvenient times, like the night before a family photoshoot or big work presentation? (One possible reason is the very real connection between stress and breakouts.) Regardless of what caused your pimple to take up real estate on your face, you likely want it gone—ASAP. But can you really get rid of a pimple overnight?
Dermatologists say there absolutely are ways to make a pimple much less visible when you wake up the next morning and, fortunately, they aren’t stingy about sharing the steps of their disappearing act.
How To Make a Pimple Disappear Overnight, According to Dermatologists
Step 1: Wash your face
The first step in treating your pimple is washing your face, getting off all your makeup and anything else that could clog your pores and aggravate your pimple even more. Dr. Suzanne Friedler, MD, FAAD, a board-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, recommends using a medicated cleanser that contains salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or sodium sulfacetamide. (She suggests using a cleanser like this daily, not just when you have a pimple.) “These are all great cleaner [ingredients] because they’re antibacterial and antimicrobial,” she says.
Dr. Aanand Geria, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Verona, New Jersey, recommends washing your face with an exfoliating cleanser and, like Dr. Friedler, he says to look for one with salicylic acid. “This will help unclog the pores and treat the pimples while proactively preventing them from reoccurring,” he says.
When you’re washing your face, Dr. Kristen Miller, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at Spectrum Skin and Laser, says to avoid vigorously scrubbing your face with an exfoliating cleanser or wash cloth. “This can further inflame and worsen existing pimples,” she says.
Step 2: Ice the pimple
Next, Dr. Geria recommends putting an ice cube directly on the pimple for five minutes. This will help reduce the inflammation, which will then make it shrink in size.
Step 3: Apply a face mask
After icing your pimple, Dr. Geria says that it’s time for a face mask. He recommends using one made with charcoal, Aztec clay or sulfur clay, which will absorb the oil from the pimple.
Step 4: Moisturize
Applying a facial moisturizer is important to prevent dryness and to protect the skin barrier from irritation, but if you have a pimple, Dr. Friedler says it’s important to use a moisturizer that’s oil-free because oils can cause breakouts.
Step 5: Pop on a pimple patch
All three dermatologists say that applying a pimple patch or spot and treating the pimple with a targeted cream meant to serve this purpose can help reduce its size. Dr. Gercia says that spot treatments with tea tree oil or cortisone cream can help while Dr. Friedler says that pimple patches with drying agents like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can also work.
“Pimple patches are made with hydrocolloid, a wound-healing gel. The gel absorbs any drainage of the pimple while simultaneously blocking someone from being able to itch or pick at the site to avoid more trauma,” says Dr. Geria. While using a pimple patch can help decrease inflammation, Dr. Miller says it won’t make the pimple disappear entirely.
Step 6: Avoid going the DIY route
Maybe you’ve heard that dabbing lemon juice, rubbing alcohol or toothpaste on the pimple can make it disappear. All three dermatologists warn against it. “I do not recommend applying toothpaste to a pimple. Toothpastes contain irritants that can actually inflame skin and could further irritate acne,” Dr. Miller says. Dr. Friedler adds that if you’re someone with sensitive skin or with a darker skin tone, it can create inflammation, which can cause pigmentary deposition.
Dr. Geria agrees, adding, “These [methods] dry out acne and might remove excess oil but at the cost of disrupting the skin barrier and further irritating the skin. You don’t want to do anything that strips the skin of its natural oils needed for protection.”
Step 7: If you’re desperate, see your dermatologist
There is a shortcut to making a pimple disappear: seeing your dermatologist. “I see patients every day with a pimple to make it go away,” Dr. Friedler says. “If you have a big event, absolutely come to your dermatologist who will give you a little injection of cortisone with a super-fine needle.” She explains that this anti-inflammatory agent shrinks the pimple quickly.
If you get pimples regularly, Dr. Friedler recommends reworking your skincare routine. (This is another time seeing a dermatologist can be helpful.) “Good skin is created three to four months ahead of time, not overnight,” she says. But for the odd one-off pimple, these steps are a good routine to follow. Consider that pesky pimple zapped.