Scientific Skincare - How long do pimples last
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How Long do Pimples Last? 11 Ingredients To Get Rid Of Them Fast.

Pimples. They always appear at the worst possible time. Important social event coming up? Pimple. Interview you’ve spent months preparing for? Pimple. They seem to pop up overnight but can hang around for days or even weeks – talk about outstaying their welcome! So how long do pimples last?

If you’ve got an event coming up and you want to know how to get rid of pimples fast and which skincare ingredients can heal pimples the quickest, you’ve come to the right place!

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What are Pimples?

Acne pimples are formed when a pore becomes clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and other debris.

These types of pimples are usually referred to as blackheads or whiteheads, depending on whether they are exposed to oxygen or not.

If bacteria are involved, then these pimples can become inflamed and fill with pus to form papules and pustules.

In severe cases, if the pimples are deep within the skin, they can be very painful and are more likely to leave scarring. These are generally referred to as cystic pimples.

When most people talk about pimples, they are usually referring to papules and pustules (the small red spots that are sometimes squeezable).

 

How Long do Pimples Last?

Pimples cause inflammation and damage to your pores which means that they follow a similar healing process to any other wound.

 

1. Blood vessels dilate to stop bleeding and an inflammatory reaction occurs. This step plays a role in the development of brown (PIH) or red (PIE) acne marks.

 

2. Damaged tissues (in this case your pore walls) are repaired and new collagen starts forming (beginning around 3 to 5 days after the wound is created).

 

3. Enzymes in your skin control the spreading of the newly formed collagen. The activity of these enzymes needs to be balanced otherwise too much collagen is formed (raised acne scars) or too little collagen is formed (pitted acne scars).

 

This process generally takes about 4 – 6 weeks. However, it may take longer if:

  • Your skin is dehydrated
  • Your pimple is infected (one of the risks of squeezing or popping)
  • You’re a smoker
  • You’re malnourished (you do not have to be underweight to be malnourished)
  • You pick at your healing pimple and recreate a wound

 

Blackheads and whiteheads are not usually inflamed and are, therefore, less likely to follow this process. Instead, you may need to wait for your skin to go through a full skin cell turnover cycle (roughly 4 weeks) before they disappear.

Of course, if you have multiple pimples, you will feel like they last a lot longer as new pimples will be cropping up as you’re getting rid of existing ones. It may take 2 – 3 months to see a complete clearing of pimples.

 

How to Get Rid of Pimples Fast

Some skincare products may help shorten how long your pimples last but bear in mind that any ingredient that increases skin cell turnover can cause an initial ‘purging’ which can make any pimples lurking under your skin come to the surface quicker.

 

Purging vs Breaking Out

When you increase your skin cell turnover, any pimples that were lurking under your skin are brought to the surface faster and may appear all at once. This is known as ‘skin purging’ and is different from breakouts that may happen if a skincare product doesn’t agree with your skin.

So how can you tell the difference?

Breakouts due to skin purging:

  • Happen in the areas of your face where you would usually experience breakouts.
  • Clear up faster than usual, especially if you continue to use the product.

Breakouts due to a reaction:

  • Happen in the areas of your face where you wouldn’t usually experience breakouts.
  • Take longer to clear up and won’t clear up if you continue to use the product (stop using the product ASAP if you suspect you are experiencing a reaction rather than purging).

 

How Long Do Pimples Last with Different Treatments/Ingredients?

Here are some examples of skincare ingredients that can help get rid of pimples faster:

 

Ingredient: Retinoids (e.g. retinol, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, adapalene)

How it helps: Increases skin cell turnover, reduces inflammation, may reduce bacteria, may reduce oil production.

How long do pimples last: 4 – 12 weeks

Risk of purging: High

Product Recommendations: La Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1%, The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane.

 

Ingredient: Benzoyl Peroxide

How it helps: Increases skin cell turnover, reduces bacteria, may reduce oil production.

How long do pimples last: 2 – 12 weeks

Risk of purging: High

Product Recommendations: Replenix 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Wash, PCA Skin BPO 5% Cleanser.

 

Ingredient: AHAs (e.g. glycolic acid, lactic acid)

How it helps: Exfoliates by loosening and removing dead skin cells.

How long do pimples last: 7 weeks

Risk of purging: High

Product Recommendations: Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum, Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment.

 

Ingredient: BHAs (e.g. salicylic acid, lipohydroxy acid)

How it helps: Reduces inflammation, reduces bacteria, reduces oil production, exfoliates skin.

How long do pimples last: 2 – 12 weeks

Risk of purging: High

Product Recommendations: Replenix Solutions Exfoliating Acne Pads, Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Exfoliant.

 

Ingredient: Niacinamide (vitamin B3)

How it helps: Reduces inflammation, reduces oil production.

How long do pimples last: 8 weeks

Risk of purging: Low

Product Recommendations: Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3, Paula’s Choice BOOST 10% Niacinamide Booster.

 

Ingredient: Azelaic acid

How it helps: Reduces inflammation, reduces bacteria.

How long do pimples last: 16 weeks

Risk of purging: Low

Product Recommendations: Paula’s Choice BOOST Azelaic Acid Booster.

 

Ingredient: Vitamin C (in the form of sodium ascorbyl phosphate)

How it helps: Reduces inflammation

How long do pimples last: 8 – 12 weeks

Risk of Purging: Low

Product Recommendations: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum.

 

Ingredient: Green tea (EGCG)

How it helps: Reduces inflammation, reduces oil production, may reduce bacteria.

How long do pimples last: 2 – 8 weeks

Risk of purging: Low

Product Recommendations: Replenix RetinolForte with Green Tea and Caffeine, Replenix Power of Three Serum.

 

Ingredient: Centella Asiatica

How it helps: Improves wound healing, my reduce oil production, may reduce bacteria.

How long do pimples last: 12 weeks

Risk of purging: Low

Product Recommendations: COSRX Centella Blemish Cream.  

 

Ingredient: Tea Tree Oil

How it helps: Reduces bacteria, reduces inflammation.

How long do pimples last: 6 weeks

Risk of purging: Low

Product Recommendations: Tea Tree Clear Skin Serum.

 

Ingredient: Resveratrol

How it helps: Reduces inflammation, improves wound healing, reduces bacteria.

How long do pimples last: 8 weeks

Risk of purging: Low

Product Recommendations: Replenix Power of Three Serum.

 

Note: This information is based on research studies that found significant results. You may see results sooner. This information is limited by the study evaluation periods (i.e. results may have been seen sooner if the evaluation periods were earlier). These timelines should only be used as a rough guide.

 

When to See a Specialist

Patience is the key to getting rid of pimples. However, if you have a spot or pimple that refuses to go away, or are experiencing cystic pimples that are leaving scars, it’s time to see a specialist.

Why?

  • A single spot or pimple that won’t go away can be a sign of skin cancer (see a dermatologist).
  • Multiple pimples, particularly cystic pimples, that won’t go away may be a sign of an underlying hormone imbalance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Skincare alone will not be sufficient to treat these types of pimples and oral medication may be required (see a dermatologist or endocrinologist).
  • Cystic pimples, or any pimples, that are severe enough to be leaving scars should be evaluated by a specialist as acne scars can be a lot trickier and more expensive to treat. Plus, the best treatment for acne scars is effective prevention and prescription medications may be needed (see a dermatologist).

Other Tips for How to Get Rid of Pimples

Moisturize every day – dehydrated skin can overproduce oil and increase your risk of pimples and breakouts.

Wear sunscreen every day – not only is sun-damage the number one cause of wrinkles, but it can lead to overactive oil glands. Some research also suggests that a component in your skin’s natural oils can clog your pores when exposed to UV radiation from the sun.

Change your pillowcases regularly – dirt, oil, bacteria, and any other debris from your face can transfer to your pillow when you sleep, and, after a while, it can build up and clog pores leading to pimples.

Opt for pH balanced cleansers with a pH level of around 5.5 – pimples are associated with an increased skin surface ph.

Consider consuming probiotic drinks or supplements – these have been shown to improve some inflammatory skin conditions.

Always remove make-up at the end of the day – this ensures that all the dirt and debris that builds up on your face throughout the day are washed away and unable to clog your pores and cause pimples.

 

Summary – How Long do Pimples Last?

Pimples follow a similar healing process to any other type of wound which means that they may last for 4 – 6 weeks.

If your pimples aren’t inflamed (blackheads and whiteheads) then they may only last for one 4-week skin cell turnover cycle.

There are a number of factors that may mean that pimples last for longer, particularly if you pick or squeeze them and they get infected.

Some skincare products and ingredients may help you to get rid of pimples faster but patience is key.

If your pimples are not going away, its always best to consult a specialist to make sure there aren’t any underlying issues.

 

References:

  1. Fabbrocini, G. et al. (2010). ‘Acne Scars: Pathogenesis, Classification and Treatment’, Dermatol Res Pract., 893080, Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958495/
  2. Wallace, A., Basehore, B. & Zito, P. (2020). ‘Wound Healing Phases’, Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470443/
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Laura is a skincare addict and sunscreen enthusiast with more than 10 years of experience working in healthcare and over 5 years of experience working as a nurse. She has experience in plastic and reconstructive surgery, dermatology, and aesthetics and has received training in laser treatments. Laura is currently working in healthcare education and writes for ScienceBecomesHer in her spare time. Read More.

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