Know Your Face: Spot Treatments

Installment #7 of Know Your Face. Today, we discuss those pesky blemishes and how to zap them using spot treatments.

You know what was frustrating? When I reached my mid-20s and realized that acne isn’t reserved for teenagers. But also, realizing that grown-up zits were different beasts than the ones that bespotted my adolescent face. This means, of course, that the products that worked on my teenage blemishes are only moderately effective at best on my adult self. Thankfully, I’ve discovered a regimen that has proven mostly effective. (100% effective would mean no zits, not ever, but I haven’t been that lucky yet…) Here are my go-to spot treatment products:


Anti-Cyst Treatment | Renee Rouleau

I think the biggest difference I’ve noted between adolescence and adulthood, blemish-wise, is the greater prevalence of cystic acne – meaning, the blemishes and sore bumps that live just below the surface of the skin. You’re not supposed to extract ANY blemishes, but these are particularly tricky devils. If you try to go after them, you’ll get a bigger zit at best, and bruising and scabbing at worst.

Renee Rouleau’s anti-cyst treatment is the best spot treatment I’ve found for these beneath-the-surface blemishes. It contains a healthy dose of purified lactic acid to exfoliate, with carboxymethyl cellulose to penetrate deep within the skin. It works best if, after cleansing, toning, serum-ing, and moisturizing, you use a cotton swab to clean off just the area to be treated and apply it directly on top. It takes a few days, but since my cystic blemishes can stick around weeks if left untreated, I consider that to be a huge win.

drying lotion

Drying Lotion | Mario Badescu

Anybody who ever got Seventeen magazine in the 1990s recognizes this product, which was constantly advertised in the back of the magazine along with products promising to make your hair “longer, thicker, stronger” (Daft Punk released their song in 2001; perhaps they were inspired by these ads?) and recruitment for Barbizon. Unlike those, however, the Mario Badescu product DELIVERS.

The way it works is that, despite there being sediment at the bottom and liquid at the top, you do not shake it before use. Rather, you dip a cotton swab through the liquid and into the sediment and dab the subsequent layered material onto your blemish. The reason this works is because the liquid is isopropyl alcohol, which cleans off the spot and prepares it for the sediment, which is a mixture of a number of ingredients including sulfur, zinc oxide, salicylic acid, and camphor – all of which do wonders on a blemish. (Note: if your face is sensitive, think twice about this stuff, because it’s pretty harsh. For me, that’s glorious, but it may be more trouble than it’s worth for you.)

If I put this on a visible zit at night, I’ll wake up in the morning and it’ll be 100% at the surface, ready for extraction. One hot compress later, and it’s gone. Magic.


Aquaphor Healing Ointment | Eucerin

So, you know how you’re not supposed to extract your own blemishes? Yeah, give me a break. Everyone does it, despite the recorded proof that it’s basically the worst thing you can do after smoking and avoiding sunscreen. What makes things even worse is that it NEVER ENDS WELL. I always think, “This time I’ll be gentle! This time I’ll have restraint!” – only to end up with a horrifying landscape on my face.

A few years ago, I was healing a tattoo, and realized that there wasn’t much of a difference between the wounds from my new ink and the wounds from my zit extractions. It occurred to me that, if Aquaphor worked on my tats, it should do a similar good job for my blemishes (and reminders thereof) – and it does! It provides intensive moisture on the spot to keep it from scabbing (the worst, when it comes to putting on makeup) and speeds up the healing process as well. Definite winner.

N.B. that if you have any residual marks from previously extracted blemishes, your best bet is a brightening treatment. Generally this comes in the form of a toner or a serum; I love Renee Rouleau’s Vitamin C + E Treatment for this reason. Look for Vitamin C and/or glycolic acid to speed up the cell turnover.

Next week on Know Your Facecleansers!

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