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We’ve all been there—you wake up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to seize the day but…there it is, rearing its ugly head and taunting you, a huge-ass pimple. Okay, more like, you roll out of bed, check your phone, then look in the mirror just to face the same inevitable truth: a huge-ass pimple on your face. Your first urge is to pop it, but you know you shouldn’t. Then you look at the five million products you’ve collected over the years and have to decide which one to use today. But will any of them even work?? They all claim to, but every f*ckboy I’ve ever dated has also claimed he would never hurt me. So, yeah. Men and acne medications are why I have trust issues.

To figure out the best practice for dealing with blemishes, I consulted with Dr. Jill C. Fichtel MD of Transformative Dermatology in Nashville. She told me how to deal with pimples (don’t pop them) and what products actually work to treat or minimize them. She also shares her best tips for preventing them in the first place. These are her favorite over-the-counter products to treat acne.

1. Differin Adapalene Gel Acne Treatment

This treatment was previously available only by prescription, but thankfully, is now sold as an over-the-counter product with the prescription-strength acne-fighting retinoid, Adapalene. According to Dr. Fichtel, “It prevents Comedonal acne—the kind that causes blackheads, whiteheads and bumpy skin rather than inflamed pimples—by normalizing pores so they don’t clog.” She adds that it also has anti-aging properties, which are an added bonus for anyone trying to keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay. Get you an acne treatment that does both.

2. PanOxyl Acne Wash

This benzoyl peroxide wash also used to only be available by prescription. THANK GOD all these companies got with it enough to switch them to over-the-counter for all of us peasants who can’t afford monthly dermatologist appointments. Dr. Fichtel said that, while benzoyl peroxide has been used as an antibacterial in acne treatments for many years, it remains an important acne fighter. She says, “This is because it fights acne-causing P. acnes bacteria but does not cause bacterial resistance, even with long-term use.” Propionibacterium acnes bacteria (P. acnes) lives in hair follicles in our skin. According to Dr. Fichtel, “PanOxyl also includes anti-Comedone and anti-inflammatory properties and minimizes irritation in part because it is a wash-off product instead of one that you leave on.”

3. Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

Dr. Fichtel says, “This product uses Azelaic acid, the same ingredient used in higher concentrations in prescription products like Azelex and Finacea for acne and acne rosacea.” She adds, “Its blend of Azelaic and salicylic acid has pore-normalizing effects that prevent whiteheads and blackheads, decreases the hyperpigmentation that acne marks leave behind.” Because, not only do we have to worry about treating pimples, we also have to worry about the potential scarring they leave behind. F*ck you, pimples. Also note, Dr. Fichtel says this product is good for sensitive skin!

4. CLn Acne Cleanser

According to Dr. Fichtel, this product is a great preventative for acne-prone skin. She says, “It combines salicylic acid and sodium hypochlorite, which helps to eliminate clogged pores and kill acne-causing bacteria. It’s also free of steroids, antibiotics, parabens and triclosan and is good for all skin types and ages, including tweens, teens and those with hormonal changes.” So if you know any angsty teens out there with skin issues, let them know this is definitely a great option for them. But it’s just as great for adults who never got acne in middle school and suddenly get huge pimples on a regular basis in their late 20s. Speaking hypothetically, of course.

5. Dr. Fichtel’s Go-To Concoction

Lastly, Dr. Fichtel shared her own go-to treatment for pimples. She said, “Mix benzoyl peroxide-based Persa-Gel 10 Acne Medication with over-the-counter hydrocortisone, let it dry, and put an adhesive bandage over it.” Alternatively, she recommends using a baking soda toothpaste with no color, flavor or mouthwash ingredients, again with a bandage.

Now, for preventing pimples in the first place, Dr. Fichtel shares six key tips:

  1. Wash your face every morning and night.
  2. Only use makeup, sunscreen and other skin care products that say “noncomedogenic” on the label. That means they don’t cause blocked pores that lead to acne. If that is missing from the label, you’re an acne magnet.
  3. Clean your makeup brushes and sponges regularly. Otherwise, they will develop bacteria that you will be rubbing directly onto your face.
  4. Don’t use old makeup or skin care products. Once the preservatives that prevent the formation of bacteria and fungus break down, applying those products is like inviting a pimple invasion.
  5. If you’re doing everything right and you still have outbreaks, try using hormone-free milk and dairy products. The hormones in milk can cause acne.
  6. Not all pimples can be prevented. If OTC products and good skin care still leave you struggling to keep your skin clear, speak to your dermatologist for prescription solutions.

So there you have it, straight from a dermatologist! Pimples suck, but fortunately there are methods to preventing them and products to treat them.

Images: Judeus Samson / Unsplash; Target (2); Dermstore; Amazon

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