How the "Do Nothing" Regimen Can Help Your Acne

The best pimple protocol might be—surprise!—to do nothing at all.
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Michelle Villett
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The best pimple protocol might be—surprise!—to do nothing at all.
Tezuk Spring 2014

Love your skin and it'll love you back.

If you follow the Beauty Editor Instagram, then you might've noticed I got some R&R in California last week (that is, in between riding glider planes... that part was stressful!).

So guess what always happens BEFORE a vacation?

I get a pimple. Without fail. 

Maybe it's from working longer hours leading up to a trip so I'm able to take time off. Maybe it's because I don't get enough sleep the night before I leave. Or maybe it's the travelling process itself—my skin probably doesn't like airplane food nor airplane air. 

But you know what I did about the couple of spots that emerged at the end of travel day?

Nothing. I didn't try to dry them out. I didn't use any topical spot treatments. I didn't examine them in a magnifying mirror. And I certainly didn't pick at them. I just threw on some concealer (Make Up For Ever Full Cover is the BEST for zits) and went about my business.

And then they went away as quickly as they came.

This is the method—or lack thereof!—that I've been following for probably a couple years now, whenever I do get plagued with a blemish. Whereas I used to feel compelled to micro-manage my skin, now I'm totally hands-off. And I've found that the less I do, the better.

Some call it the "do nothing" regimen. (And some go so far as advocating a "caveman" approach, though I don't actually recommend that.) 

Allow me to explain why I think a "let it be" attitude to your skin could help you out A LOT:

Picking is the Worst

Hands off

Keep your hands on your hips, not your face.

You know this. I know this. But we've all done it, in hopes that we'll make the situation better.

Usually, it backfires. Now, I'm not 100 percent against picking (er, popping) a pimple. I'm just against it when the pimple isn't ready, which is the case more often than not.

How do you know when it's safe to have at it? This is gonna be graphic—but it's when it's filled with soft pus and sits above the surface of your skin. In other words, don't touch anything hard, blind, cystic or under the skin. If your pimple IS ripe and ready, then the pus can easily be extracted with a sterilized needle. But basically, that process should be effortless... not a murder scene on your chin.

Unfortunately, I can't count how many times I've been wrong on the "readiness" estimation, attacking a pimple prematurely and ending up with inflammation, redness—heck, even weeping wounds. Try covering those with concealer. You can't. 

Instead, the trauma can set back the healing process by days or even weeks. A pimple actually keeps bacteria, debris and oil contained in its own little sac (ew). When you squeeze it, you're not only introducing bacteria and dirt from your fingers, but you're also releasing that gunk into the deeper layers of your skin, which could lead to more pimples, infection and swelling. 

Even when your skin heals after a pimple, picking and squeezing makes it more likely you'll be left with flat brown or red marks, otherwise known as post-inflammatory pigmentation. Although they're not technically scars, these stubborn marks can take months or even years to fade! Which in my mind, makes them even worse than the acne itself. 

Tweezerman Extraction Tool

Leave this tool for the pros.

What about those metal extractor things? I believe they're best left for the pros. There are two kinds; one is for acne (with a scary needle on one end) and the other is for blackheads and whiteheads (with two loops, as above). I own one of the latter, but it's SO easy to press too hard and damage your skin, for very little payoff. 

Have I convinced you yet that picking ain't worth it? Let's move on to topicals, then...

Acne Treatments Can Be Too Drying

Manning Cartell Spring 2010 beauty

Better to be dewy than flaky.

Another reason I've gone rogue and leave any pimples alone now, is because topicals have not been my friend.

Think about it. Many (or even most?) females, when we do get a blemish, experience the "hormonal," underground variety. When you put a spot treatment like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid on top, you can end up drying out the surface level of your skin instead of down deep, where you really need it. 

(The exception being Retin-A, which CAN be an effective topical for acne. But that's not a spot treatment type of thing, and it takes at least six weeks of consistent use to start seeing results. Read my posts on the benefits of Retin-A, and how to use it without drying out your skin.)

Personally, I'd much rather keep my skin well-moisturized and plump instead of using an acne treatment that makes my sensitive skin look dry, irritated and flaky... and may not significantly speed up my healing time anyway. Are we really any further ahead with a flaky-looking pimple instead of a regular one?

Harsh Cleansing Can Irritate

Gentle cleansing

Don't skip cleansing, but keep it gentle.

As you might've guessed by now, I'm not a fan of aggressive acne cleansers or scrubs either, unless you happen to have a very resilient, thick and oily skin type. They can strip away the skin's natural protective barrier, leaving it more vulnerable to infection and causing irritation. 

But I'm not exactly a fan of the "caveman" routine either—that's where you REALLY do nothing, i.e. not even washing your face. The reason I think people have success with that is because whatever they were cleansing with before was too harsh. Some people can't even tolerate their faces touching water.

If you don't wash, then dirt, pollution, oil and dead skin cells (not to mention makeup!) can build up, potentially clogging pores and at least making your skin seem more dull. So I still think it's a good idea to cleanse your skin once or twice a day with something very gentle. Personally, I am a massive Bioderma Sensibio H2O user and that product doesn't even require rinsing. 

If you do want to do more, then instead of scrubbing at your skin to exfoliate, I love gentle acid-based toners like Lotion P50, which is available in different versions depending on skin type. Lactic acid is gentle and moisturizing, but surprisingly excellent at helping keep acne under control by dissolving dead surface skin and speeding up cell turnover. And like I said, if you need a deeper exfoliation, Retin-A can be great IF used correctly.

Cortisone Shots Can Backfire

Cortisone injection

Cortisone shots are like playing Russian roulette with your skin.

We've all had those beauty emergency times when a pimple arises at the worst possible moment. High-maintenance person that I am, I've been known to run to the derm's office for a cortisone injection to quickly take down the inflammation.

Except the last time I did that, I was left with a crazy dent in my forehead—way uglier than the pimple ever could be. 

I had to go to another doctor, my regular derm (who often saves me from myself!) and he had to inject it with hyaluronic acid filler to hide the indentation. Thank goodness it had disappeared by the time the filler had dissolved, six months later, but sometimes these dents don't ever go away. 

So much for a quick fix, huh? 

Be Kind To Your Skin

Acne do nothing

Make "less is more" your skincare mantra.

Of course, if you've got a more serious acne problem than the occasional spot or two, then you'll want to work on the root causes (which I think are these). And don't get me wrong, I'm not against stronger dermatologist interventions when warranted—say, if you have the kind of acne that causes deep ice pick scars. That's not something you want to "let be". (Although my advice not to prematurely pick or otherwise hurt your skin still stands.)

But for everyone else, can we accept that the occasional pimple is normal? It's just life. 

Chances are, you notice your blemishes far more than anyone else around you does. I can't tell you how many friends have pointed out zits to me that I wouldn't have EVER detected.

Also? God made concealer for a reason. Let's use it. Check out my tips on how to cover a pimple with makeup. Then, just ride it out and let your skin do what it's meant to—heal itself.

Have Your Say

Do you follow the "do nothing" method? Have you ever been too aggressive with your skin?