It’s a moment everyone dreads. You peek in the mirror thinking how good your complexion is looking, just in time for that special birthday/wedding/date, and then – wham! – you see it. A red bump. You reach out to touch it, and your worst fears are confirmed … a new pimple is rearing its ugly head.
Should you try to pop it immediately? Apply a medicated cream? Would an ice pack help? Or is it a heat pack? What works the fastest – heat or ice on pimples?
The stress of not knowing what to do can be as bad as the pimple itself.
And, of course, pimples come in so many varieties – deep, cystic acne should definitely be treated differently than a small, white pustule.
If you’ve heard of using heat or ice on pimples, it’s a legitimate concept (much like you might assist a pulled muscle with both ice and heat). But does it really work? And which method works best?
Let’s take a closer look.
When To Use Ice on a Pimple
Ice is great for helping to calm inflammation. That’s why physical therapists recommend you use it immediately if you sprain or pull a muscle.
An inflamed pimple is often red and swollen and even a little sore to touch. Ice is able to help reduce blood blow to the area, which may help to reduce that redness and swelling. This can make a swollen pimple appear smaller and less noticeable. Ice can likewise reduce pain in the area by numbing the nerve endings, which is especially necessary for deep (and often painful) cystic acne.1
Cold also has the benefit of being able to shrink pores. So, ice can help make pores appear smaller while helping to keep more irritants out.
You’re going to want to use ice on your pimple when it’s:
- Brand new
- Red and swollen
How to ice a pimple:
Knowing how to ice a pimple is just as important as knowing when to ice a pimple. Ice can easily burn your skin, leaving it more red and irritated than when you started. Here’s how to keep that from happening:
- Wrap an ice cube in a thin washcloth.
- Place the washcloth on your pimple.
- Hold it there for as long as you can take it (no longer than a couple of minutes, at most).
- Remove ice, wait around 5 minutes, and then ice again.
- Try icing your pimple three times an hour like this.
When To Use Heat on a Pimple
Now that you know ice can help shrink pores and reduce redness and swelling, it would seem that heat would have the opposite effect. So, why would you want to use heat on a pimple? Well, just like with a muscle strain, heat can be beneficial, if it’s used at the right time.
Heat’s trick is that it helps open up your pores. Traditionally, heat has been used as a home remedy to speed up drainage from painful boils and abscesses. Heat opens up and increases the pressure in an infected pore (i.e. a swollen pimple), and it helps to draw the pus up to the skin’s surface to create a “head.”2
Heat, like cold, can also soothe any pain.
When is the best time to use heat on a pimple, so it doesn’t become more of an eyesore?
Use heat on a pimple when:
- It’s very deep and painful, with no head.
- When you’re not just about to go out to a special event.
- If you’re hoping to bring a pimple to a head quickly.
Once a pimple comes to a head, it’ll eventually begin to heal. This is, of course, the stage where many people are tempted to pop it. Let’s talk about popping pimples for a moment.
Even though you know that popping pimples can lead to even bigger issues, you still want to do it. Why? Because it feels like a quick fix to an unsightly problem.
But squeezing pimples almost always:
- Creates a worse scar
- Increases inflammation and swelling
- Spreads bacteria, both across the skin and back into the same pimple.
However, if your pimple has a clear head and looks ready to go on its own, you can carefully use a hot compress to help the process along.
How to use heat on a pimple:
- Soak a washcloth, or the corner of a towel, in the hottest water you can stand – but not so hot that it’ll burn you.
- Apply the cloth to the pimple and hold gently for 10-15 minutes. Don’t apply pressure, just hold the cloth on the pimple.
- Repeat this routine three to four times a day, until the pimple comes to a head.
- Gently dry the area.
- IF you are at a stage where the pimple is a clear “pustule” and is about to give, you can use a little tissue (never your fingernails!) to gently apply pressure to it. If it gives under pressure and the pus is released, you’ve done your job. If it doesn’t give immediately – leave it alone.
- Apply a dab of medicated spot treatment, or apply ice to help close up the pore and reduce any inflammation.
More Help For Pimples
If pimples are getting you down, here’s a few more ideas for attacking them smartly:
- Dab on a little diluted tea tree oil – clinical trials have shown that tea tree oil truly is a natural antibacterial that could be effective on pimples.3
- Try a “pimple sticker” – a tiny clear dot that contains salicylic acid (or a similar blemish fighter) and that’s placed over a pimple. This keeps the pimple clean while medicating it, and helps to draw out excess oils and reduce redness.
- A topical salicylic acid cream can unblock pores by removing those built-up layers of dead skin cells. And, it’s great at reducing inflammation.4
- Dab on some aloe vera. Did you know that aloe vera contains salicylic acid? It also contains sulfur, both of which are used to fight pimples.5
- Honey has been shown to inhibit the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, which causes pimples. Manuka honey is a perfect weapon for fighting pimples, because of its high antimicrobial activity.6,7Try a Manuka honey mask by applying a very thin layer of honey to your face. Cover your face with a warm washcloth for about 30 minutes.
A Touch of Frost
So, the next time you’re facing down a new pimple explosion, rather than trying to pop it, exfoliate it off, or overly medicate it – get to the freezer and start with some ice first.
A little icing and a dab of concealer may be all you need to disguise that red, swollen pimple and continue on out the door with confidence.
The best part? Using heat or ice on pimples is free, and readily at your disposal.