First, what is a pimple? www.nationwidechildrens.org gives the following definition:
A pimple starts when a pore (an opening in
the skin) gets plugged up. The pore has a tiny
hair in it and oil glands at its base (Picture 1).
The cells which line the pores are so small that
they can only be seen with a microscope.
During adolescence these cells are shed
quickly. In some people the cells and oil stick
together and form sebum which plugs the
pore. If the pore is open, the result is a
blackhead. If the pore is closed, a whitehead is
The whitehead is the beginning of a pimple.
It forms when the sebum escapes from the
pore wall and gets under the skin. The body
tries to clean out the sebum and brings in the
white blood cells to do the work. The result is
a pimple. When the sebum gets deeper under
the skin, a cyst can form. A cyst is a deep and
uncomfortable swelling of the skin.
Unless they are squeezed, blackheads do not
usually cause pimples. Blackheads are not
black from dirt, but from certain skin
pigments (coloring) in the cells of the pores
In other words, there are skin cells inside your pores that shed. They get stuck with the oil your skin creates and gunks up the pore. If the pore doesn't have a lid, you get a whitehead. Your bod tries to clear out the gunk with white blood cells that turn it white. If the pore doesn't have a lid on it, you get a blackhead. The dark stuff isn't dirt, it's the pigment from your skin. I've also read that they turn dark due to oxidation, like an apple turning brown when you cut it open.
Okay, now we know what it is, how to deal with the buggers?
My first bit of advice is to stop smoking if you do. I recently gave them up (yes, again. I know, I know. But it's something I'm going to struggle with my entire life I'm afraid) because they were making my skin gross.
And, it's been said it's a myth, but drinking plenty of water really helps. When I was consuming a gallon a day my skin looked outrageously good.
You'll want to be careful with how much you wash your face. Twice a day is good. Make sure you get all your make-up off and change your pillowcase regularly. A woman on Oprah once said you didn't need to wash your face in the morning because you hadn't done anything to make it dirty. Uh, do you know how gross your pillow case gets? Damn right my face is dirty! Wash it!
If you wash too much, you'll damage the inner wall of your pores, which is where the cells that plug things up come from. That'll make the cells break off and muck things up more. And, washing too often will dry things up and make your oil glands freak out and go into overtime production trying to get things back to where they think the oil level should be.
One of the things that's hard for me is to not pick at my face. I love to squeeze 'em. There's very little in the world more satisfying that popping a zit. There's even a website dedicated to videos of popping called "Pop That Zit". I'll let you google it. :) However, it'll just make things worse, give you scabs that will scar and make your gorgeous self unattractive. If you can't keep your hands off your face and you do get a scab, use an anti-bacterial cream on it at night and a drying treatment during the day. This can be a horrid process because the cream blocks your pores and can cause a zit under there which means you have to top it off with the spot treatment stuff. Meanwhile, you have this pimple you want to squeeze. And the world goes 'round and 'round.
You're going to have to experiment with cleansers and such until you find one that works for you. Go to the library and get a copy of Don't Go To the Cosmetics Counter Without Me by Paula Begoun. She reviews a huge number of products and has a nice list in the back with the ones she finds to be the best for treating acne and stuff.
Start with Cetaphil. You can get it in the drugstore or the supermarket and it's cheap for how much you get. Use the one for all skin types first as I've found the one for oily skin can be too drying. Combine the Cetaphil with an exfoliating technique twice a week. You can use a washcloth (I prefer a baby washcloth), baking soda or the Olay cleansing brush that runs on batteries that I'm in love with right now. Make sure to be gentle and not scrub. Be nice to your skin!
If that's not working, move on to something inexpensive. Clean and Clear products are quite good and not much money. Stay away from Noxema and cold cream, they just clog up the pores and make things worse. Not the goal.
In regards to benzoyl peroxide, I like the stuff. Only use it on the pimple itself, not on your whole face. It will dry things out and that can make things go in reverse.
You can also talk to your doctor if you've tried everything and it's not working. My cousin has had great success by using a birth control pill to level out her hormones that were causing the breakouts. There are topical treatments that can be prescribed as well. I will warn you that these are not always covered by health insurance and they can be pricey, but, if you can afford them they can be very beneficial.
Wash your face with a cleanser that works for you twice a day
Exfoliate gently twice a week
Don't pick at it!
Use drying treatments only on the spots and not all over
See your doc if you're not finding relief on your own.
Since today was just one big beauty tip I'll give you a household hint:
To keep your drains flowing treat them with baking soda and vinegar down the drain followed by a kettle full of boiling water. Always try this on clogs before you break out the Liquid Plumber.