You may have thought it was over, another chapter of adolescence that could be forgotten as easily as algebra or your high school gym teacher. But now, as you stare in the mirror at that huge red dot on your chin, you have more than memories to remind you of the bother of blemishes.
And you're not alone. Although considered to be primarily a torment of teenagers, blemishes continue to provide plenty of angst in adulthood, and they can occur in varying degrees of severity. Anyone with hormones can get blemishes-and of course, we've all got hormones.
"The severity of most blemishes is related to heredity, amount of oil secretion, hormones and, to some extent, stress," says Michael Ramsey, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. But here's how you can put a quick end to your own private Zit Parade.
Don't scrub. The biggest mistake by the acne-prone is thinking that washing with might is washing right. "In fact, the friction you create by overscrubbing can stir up new blemishes and aggravate existing ones," says dermatologist Edward Bondi, M.D., who treats the acne-ridden at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. "You shouldn't even wash with a washcloth. Instead, gently clean your face with your hands."
Use an over-the-counter medication with benzoyl peroxide. This active ingredient is "the first line of treatment and the best over-the-counter medication you can use," says Dr. Bondi. Oxy-5, Oxy-10, Fostex and Clearasil products are among those containing this active ingredient. But note that benzoyl peroxide is better at preventing new lesions than at getting rid of what you already have. "One common mistake is to dab it on the blemishes themselves," adds Dr. Bondi. "What's more effective is to spread it all over the face, especially in areas where acne is prone to be present."
In a pinch, try calamine. If you feel a blemish flourishing and you're all out of benzoyl peroxide, there's no need to run to the all-night minimart. Calamine lotion absorbs excess skin oil and can help nip that blotch in the bud, advises Thomas Goodman, Jr., M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in Memphis.
Chill out to avoid blemishes. Controlling the stress in your life is one of the best ways to control acne and other blemishes. "There's no question that stress plays a key role in the development of new blemishes and continuance of existing ones," says Dr. Bondi. If you're prone to acne, find a relaxation technique that works for you--such as exercise, meditation or listening to music--and practice it daily, particularly when you're stressed out.
Put on a cube--cosmetically. Placing an ice cube on blemishes for about 60 seconds after washing can help make them less noticeable, because cold reduces inflammation, adds Dr. Goodman.
Avoid the big squeeze. Sure, you may be lucky enough to remove that nasty pimple by squeezing it-but in the process, you'll probably cause several more to develop. "Although you may get one lesion to open and clear up quicker, there may be two or three smaller lesions beside it that you don't see that you can rupture from squeezing," says Dr. Bondi. "And if you squeeze the wrong way, you can get permanent scarring."
Get in the shade. Although sunshine tends to "camouflage" blemishes by tanning your hide, there's no scientific evidence that sunshine helps remedy pimples. And the sunlight may cause adverse skin reactions to some acne medications. If you notice your skin turning red and blotchy, "minimize exposure to sunlight, infrared heat lamps and even sunscreens," cautions Thomas Gossel, Ph.D., R.Ph., professor of pharmacology and toxicology and associate dean at Ohio Northern University College of Pharmacy in Ada and an expert on over-the-counter products.
Watch your diet. "Iodine has been associated with acne, so iodine-rich foods such as beef liver, clams, crabs and other shellfish should not be ingested in large quantities," says Dr. Ramsey. "And although scientific studies haven't shown that chocolate, sodas, greasy foods or milk aggravates acne, if you find that you break out after eating certain foods, then forget the studies and avoid those foods." Among the other likely suspects are cheeses, nuts and other high-fat foods, as well as caffeine.
Don't put too much hope in special soap. "Acne soaps tend to be very good at drying your skin, but many do nothing to treat acne," adds Dr. Bondi. "Rather than buying a special 'acne' soap, you're better off getting the right soap for your skin." That means a gentle soap like Dove if you have dry skin-especially in the winter-and maybe a stronger soap if your skin is excessively oily.
Read the labels on your cosmetics. Oil-based makeups have long been known to trigger blemishes, because the oil is usually a derivative of fatty acids more potent than your body's acids.
"If you're prone to blemishes, you're better off with a makeup that lists water as one of its main ingredients," says Michael Stein, a Hollywood makeup artist whose company has touched up famous movie faces. Specific ingredients too rich for blemish-prone skin include lanolins, isopropyl myristate, laureth-4 and sodium lauryl sulfate.