Dr. Pimple Popper Reveals the 9 Acne-Fighting Rules Everyone Should Know

Updated: Nov. 29, 2019

Dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), might be famous for getting rid of zits, but her advice can keep them from creeping up at all.

If you must pop, do it right

Leave pimple popping to the pros. Doing it yourself could make the swelling worse or lead to scarring, says Sandra “Dr. Pimple Popper” Lee, MD, a dermatologist in Culver City, California. If you can’t resist popping it yourself, follow Dr. Lee’s mantra: “Know when to pop and know when to stop.” Messing with the red zits deep under the skin will only leave them even more inflamed. Wait until your pimple has come to a head, with a white center, or apply a warm compress to speed the process along, says Dr. Lee. When you’re ready to attack that sucker, start by washing your face and hands, and sterilize the pin with rubbing alcohol. Squeeze the pimple from all directions. The white and a bit of red will start to come out, but try not to overdo it, warns Dr. Lee. “The more you push, the more swelling you have,” she says. “But if you can, get all the pustules out.”

Woman cleaning a zit on her face with acne pads.

Keep your hands off

Even if you aren’t trying to pop a pimple, absentmindedly picking at it can be just as bad. If you tend to touch your face or scratch at your blemishes, try putting a small circle bandage over the spot to block your itchy fingers, suggests Dr. Lee. You could also add a dollop of a thick or tacky spot treatment, she says. Not only will it fight the pimple, but it will also remind you to keep your hands off.

Person applying spray tan sunscreen to her hands.

Use the right sunscreen

Some greasy sunscreens can clog pores, but you don’t want to leave your skin vulnerable to sun damage. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop some type of skin cancer by age 70. Luckily, you can find sunscreen that’s safe for acne-prone skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends looking for the words “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores” on the label to ensure you’re protecting your skin without making your acne worse.

Woman with acne on her chin and cheeks.

Know your acne type

All acne is not created equal, and what worked for your best friend might not work for you. Still, you might be able to figure out the right regimen without a dermatologist. “If you understand what kind of acne you have—more blackheads or whiteheads or pustules or cysts—and why you get it, a person can take control in their own hands,” says Dr. Lee. For instance, people with blackheads and whiteheads will probably have success with acne products that contain retinol or salicylic acid, she says. Over-the-counter topical products probably won’t go deep enough to address cystic acne, though, so you might need a derm to prescribe oral antibiotics or creams.

Woman opening a jar of moisturizer.

Don’t give up on moisturizer

You might think moisturizer is the last thing your oily skin needs, but even acne-prone people should keep it in their skincare regimen. After all, starting a new acne treatment could put you at the opposite extreme: dry, red, and flaky. “You will probably need more moisturizer because they’re designed to decrease oil on skin,” says Dr. Lee. “Moisturizer keeps skin hydrated, supple and looking good.” Just be sure to use the best moisturizers for your skin type

Woman applying moisturizer to her skin from a jar.

Stick with lotion moisturizers

Yes, you want to moisturize, but not any hydrating product will do. Some moisturizing creams are oil-based, which is not ideal for someone with acne-prone skin, says Dr. Lee. Look for a light, oil-free moisturizer. “Lotion is water-based, so it’s going to be lighter and not as occlusive,” she says.  She recommends dermatologist-approved products like Cetaphil, CeraVe, Aveeno, or Eucerin. Here are the 9 best acne products that really work.

Woman with short hair and bangs.
Anna Kraynova/Shutterstock

Push your bangs back

Oils from your hair can travel to your skin, clogging your pores and causing acne. “People have bangs that sweep their face, and you lift that up and see black heads or white heads,” says Dr. Lee. She recommends using a headband or clip to keep your hair off your face when you’re at home to give your skin a breather.

Woman applying hair product to her hands.
Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

Go light on the hair products

If you’re a hair product nut, you might end up with “pomade acne,” says Dr. Lee. Those heavy products get on your skin, clogging your pores. “Stay away from more heavy, greasy products like oils or gels,” she says. Instead, try something lighter, like mousse, she suggests.

A woman pulling a towelette out of a box.
Yevhen Prozhyrko/Shutterstock

Bring towelettes to the gym

A sweaty gym session is great for your body—but not so great for your acne. “When you sweat like that, you’re going to get clogging of pores,” says Dr. Lee. Even if you don’t have time for a full shower after your workout, you should still wash your face. Stash face towelettes in your gym bag so you can wipe your face and go, she says. Next, check out the 17 daily habits of people who never get acne.