The Life Cycle of a Pimple

We say it all the time, but it’s technically not true: pimples don’t just “pop up.” By the time we notice a spot in the mirror — or feel a nodule coming on — that blemish has been brewing for a bit.

Every pimple goes through phases: but why are those stages important? Because when you’re trying to treat acne, understanding what’s happening to your skin is the first step toward a clearer complexion.

Here, acne expert Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) explains everything you need to know about the 3 stages of a pimple.

A pimple in the middle of its life cycle

4 minute read

How acne forms

Your skin contains countless pores (news flash) — but do you know what that actually means? Pores are tiny openings in the skin’s surface that contain a hair follicle and a sebaceous (oil) gland.

When skin is functioning optimally, pores release sebum to moisturize the skin. But if there’s a buildup of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells, it can become trapped inside the pore, leading to acne.

According to Dr. Lee, there are several factors that contribute to your chances of developing acne:

  • Hormones
  • Genetics
  • Lifestyle
  • Environment
Early stages of a pimple before treatment

The early stages of a pimple

Before you can even see what’s happening, microscopic amounts of dirt and debris can become trapped inside your pores. The result are microcomedones — undetectable to the naked eye — but essentially, baby blemishes.

The buildup of sebum and dead cells essentially forms a plug that blocks the pore opening, leading to even more buildup. At this point, the blemish becomes a full-fledged comedo:

      • Blackhead: comedones are open to the air, which causes oxidation and the characteristic dark color.
      • Whitehead: comedones are covered by a thin layer of skin and remain light in color.

The best way to treat a new pimple

Dr. Lee’s best advice for treating pimples? Prevent them from popping up in the first place. Regularly using exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid — found in SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser — will prevent the buildup of dirt, oil and dead cells that can clog pores.

To exfoliate and brighten (especially beneficial in the summer months!), try SLMD Resurfacing Acne Swipes — pads that come preloaded with a cocktail of glycolic, salicylic and lactic acids.

If you’ve already noticed some comedones coming on, try incorporating antimicrobial sulfur into your routine. SLMD Clear Out Purifying Treatment Mask contains both salicylic acid and sulfur to leave skin looking clearer and feeling smoother.

middle stages of a pimple


The middle stages of a pimple

When a clogged pore becomes infected and inflamed due to bacteria found naturally on your skin, it creates red bulges that may be painful. Thankfully, not every pimple makes it to this second stage — but when it does, there are several forms the pimple may take:

      • Papules: red, inflamed bumps
      • Pustules: red, inflamed bumps with a white, pus-filled center
      • Nodules: deep, hard bumps beneath the skin
      • Cysts: deep, pus-filled bumps beneath the skin

The best treatment for inflamed pimples

It’s time to bring out the big guns: Dr. Lee suggests using powerful, targeted acne fighters to treat inflammatory acne. SLMD Skincare BP Spot Treatment contains benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria, while Salicylic Acid Spot Treatment exfoliates and reduces redness and irritation.

If you’re noticing breakouts on a monthly basis, you may be dealing with hormonal acne. Regardless of the cause, keep acne in check with SLMD Acne System, a clinically-proven, 3-step regimen that keeps breakouts under control.

Final stages of a pimple

The final stages of a pimple

While it can seem like forever, most pimples start to heal and shrink within a week. Sometimes, healing pimples cause skin issues like itching, peeling or flaking — all natural symptoms of the surrounding skin repairing itself.

Oftentimes, a healing pimple will poke its way to the surface of your skin, tempting you to pick it — but don’t. Popping pimples that contain bacteria and pus can contaminate the surrounding skin, making a bunch of baby blemishes (yikes).

Spot Check Acne Patches with Salicylic Acid and Dark Spot Fix by SLMD Skincare

How to help a pimple heal

It’s worth saying again: don’t squeeze/pop/pick those pimples: you could push the infection down deeper, create more acne, or cause permanent scarring. Dr. Lee tells patients to keep blemishes covered with a spot treatment as a deterrent. SLMD Spot Check Acne Patches with salicylic acid protect and heal pimples with salicylic acid, soaking up pus and easing inflammation.

Even if you leave your pimple totally alone, there’s still a good chance you’ll experience some degree of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH): those pink, red, tan or brown spots that can linger for what feels like forever after a breakout. SLMD Dark Spot Fix is a highly-concentrated gel that improves the appearance of dark spots and helps prevent new areas of hyperpigmentation from forming.

Dr. Lee’s last word

Effectively controlling your acne means managing it at every stage — and preventing breakouts from the beginning. I created SLMD Acne System to give patients a simple, 3 step regimen that really works. When you combine that with powerful spot treatments to target pimples when they do pop up, clearer skin is truly possible.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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