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How to Get Rid of Sudden Breakouts, According to a Dermatologist

One day, you glance in the mirror and proudly notice that your skin is close to clear. But then it happens: You have a stressful paper to write, or you overindulge on late-night pizza, and boom! Acne. I've been there and it’s frustrating, to say the least. Wasn’t acne supposed to end when you graduated high school? Thankfully, there are plenty of simple solutions to this common problem. Although no one can ever completely get rid of those annoying red spots, the following tips will definitely help.

What causes sudden breakouts?


It’s no secret: Stress has detrimental consequences on your health, and your skin is no exception. Dr. Kenneth Mark, a dermatologist based in New York City, explains that being worked up is one of the most common causes of sudden breakouts, especially in such a fast-paced environment as a college campus. Stress leads to the overproduction of sebum and the clogging of pores; these two things combined are the reason pimples appear. So when you’re stressing about that paper or your love life, you’re more likely to get those evil little spots.


According to Dr. Mark, your hormonal cycle is one of the other leading causes of unexpected breakouts. Acne is common during PMS, because levels of the progesterone hormone spike. In combination with testosterone, this hormone leads to the production of sebum and works to tighten pores, which is why people break out at this time of the month. 

Greasy food

A healthy diet is crucial to your beauty routine and will leave your skin feeling (and looking) as clear as ever. Conversely, go too hard on late-night munchies or ice cream pints and you might find yourself with a nasty pimple. “While traditionally we were taught that diet did not influence acne, there is a newer school of thought implying that indeed what we eat could also be playing a role,” Dr. Mark says. “It makes sense; we are what we eat.” 


Whether you wore a hat that day, you stayed on the phone too long or you didn’t wash your face after working out, leaving sweat on your face will inevitably lead to a breakout. This happens because sweat “is a physical irritant that can clog the pores,” according to Dr. Mark. 

How can you prevent sudden breakouts?

Exfoliate regularly

You know to wash and moisturize our faces every day, but you don’t always think to exfoliate. According to Dr. Mark, this is super important. “All acne starts with clogged pores,” he says. “Using a daily exfoliant is key. Something as simple as Neutrogena acne wash with 2 percent salicylic acid once or twice a day can accomplish this.” There are also some less harsh at-home products for sensitive skin.

Get a prescription

This is definitely not the easiest solution, but heading to the dermatologist can often be the most effective way to prevent acne. “There are also topical prescription medications and, for those with severe enough acne, oral medications such as antibiotics or even birth control pills,” Dr. Mark says. Since these treatments aren’t available over the counter, you need to consult an expert if you think they could be right for you. 

Get a monthly chemical peel

If you are able to see a dermatologist but don’t want to take a drug on a regular basis, “another great preventive method is monthly in-office chemical peels,” Dr. Mark suggests. “These are ‘superficial’ peels where an acid or combo of acids is applied to the skin, that serves to exfoliate the dead layer of skin cells and unclog the pores.” Can’t make it to your derm (or find it too costly)? Try an at-home peel to gently remove impurities and leave skin clean and blemish-free.


It’s probably easier said than done, but taking a breather can really go a long way when it comes to clear skin. So talk to a friend, online shop, do some yoga, or walk around the block. Your skin will thank you!

How should you treat a sudden breakout?

Try an over-the-counter cream or gel

One of the easiest ways to treat a breakout is to head to your local drugstore and pick up a cream or gel that contains benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient is an antiseptic that kills bacteria associated with acne.

Another alternative to benzoyl peroxide is salicylic acid, an exfoliating ingredient that unclogs the pores. That being said, to figure out which one is best for you, you may need to consult an expert. But whatever product you use, make sure to hydrate your skin regularly, as these harsh chemicals can dry it out—leading your skin to produce even more oil and causing more breakouts.

Go to the dermatologist

“If you have access and time, the best way to nip a flaring zit in the bud is go to the dermatologist for an injection of medicine,” Dr. Mark says. “It usually will be gone or at least much decreased within 24 hours.”

Do not pick at your skin

You’ve probably been told never to pick a pimple, and with good reason. “You will only increase the inflammation, make it more noticeable, and even increase the risk of scarring,” Dr. Mark says. So keep your hands away from your face—at all costs.

Try a home remedy

There are many home ingredients that you can use to treat a pimple. Blot your pimple with toothpaste or a crushed-up aspirin (you can mix it with water to create a paste) that you leave on overnight, or by day, you can try putting a dab of lemon juice on your pimple.

Try an overnight treatment

If you’re not convinced DIY methods will work and can’t afford to see a dermatologist in a pinch, why not try an overnight treatment? Use a Q-Tip to apply Mario Badescu’s famous Drying Lotion, which uses a formula of salicylic acid, calamine and other ingredients to eliminate pimples overnight. 

Sudden breakouts are annoying to say the least, and between late-night munchies and all-night study sessions, they happen way too often in college. But with these tips and tricks, you should be well equipped to get rid of those evil little spots.

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