How to Get Rid of Pimples Fast

Pimples always seem to pop up at the most inopportune times: just before prom night, the day before your wedding, or the morning of that important job interview. Breakouts are never welcomed, but it's times like these when you really want to get rid of pimples fast.

While they won't prevent acne from occurring, these quick fixes can help banish individual blemishes when you need to heal that pimple fast.


Use an Acne Spot Treatment

Girl applying acne medication in mirror

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Over-the-counter (OTC) acne spot treatments are a good go-to when you have an inconvenient blemish. They're inexpensive, and you can buy them any store in the skin care aisle.

Dab a small amount of spot treatment directly onto the pimple. Some spot treatments are made to be left on overnight. Others are incorporated into a makeup concealer or are tinted to help conceal the blemish while it heals.

The most effective spot treatments contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Experiment to find which works best for you.

If you'd rather go the all-natural route, try dabbing on a drop of tea tree essential oil once or twice a day, or buy a spot treatment that contains tea tree. Although it hasn't been proven, some research shows tea tree oil may help treat acne breakouts.

Some people are sensitive to tea tree oil. Be cautious until you know how your skin will react and stop using if your skin gets irritated.

No matter what type of spot treatment you use, read the directions for that particular product and follow them. Even though it's tempting, don't apply more often than recommended. You'll wind up with flaky, irritated skin.

Although things like toothpaste, cinnamon, lemon, or the like are sometimes recommended as home remedies for pimples, there is no evidence that they actually work. They can also cause contact dermatitis (a rash caused by skin-irritating substances), so it's wise to stay away from them especially if you have sensitive skin.

Spot treatments work best on minor blemishes. They are not effective for serious breakouts like acne nodules and acne cysts.


Apply a Sulfur Mask

Girl applying facial mask in bathroom

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If spot treatments aren't quite helping, you may have better luck with a sulfur mask. Sulfur helps unclog pores and reduce inflammation, so it can help that swollen pimple look smaller.

Sulfur has been used as an acne treatment for many years. Today's treatments don't have the unpleasant scent of those from years past, luckily.

You can apply the mask on just the offending pimple or over the entire face (this has the added benefit of making large pores appear smaller.) Facial masks containing sulfur can be found at the drug store, department stores, or salons.

Some products can be left on as spot overnight treatment for maximum effectiveness; others must be rinsed off after a few minutes. Make sure you follow the directions on your product, and never leave a mask on overnight unless it specifically says it's OK to do so.


Ice It Down

Stacked ice cube trays in a freezer
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Here's a trick often employed by estheticians. Apply an ice cube to inflamed blemishes to help reduce redness, swelling, and pain. This is also a cool fix for those blemishes you can't yet see but can feel as a sore lump under the skin.

You never want the ice cube directly touching your skin, so first wrap it in a soft cloth. Don't ice the pimple for too long (frostbite anyone?) Ice for 20 or 30 seconds, followed by a minute or so of rest, a few times per day or just before you go out.

Why icy cold and not hot? If you're trying to hide a pimple or reduce its size, the worst thing you could do is steam it or apply a hot compress just before you go out. Heat expands, so it will make ​the pimple look larger and redder.

This is one tip that you can use for both minor blemishes and more severe inflamed pimples, like nodules and acne cysts. Icing won't make the blemish heal faster, but it can definitely ease the pain of these swollen breakouts.


Get a Cortisone Injection

Syringe being filled
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For those incredibly deep, painful zits and cystic breakouts that don't want to heal, a cortisone injection may be an option for you. During this quick procedure, a diluted cortisone is injected into the blemish.

Within just a few hours, the swelling will recede and the pain will go away. The breakout completely flattens out within 48 hours generally.

Large, deep blemishes usually don't respond well to other treatments, so if you absolutely need that breakout gone quickly a cortisone shot is your best bet. Ideally, you'll want to talk to your healthcare provider about this option before you really need one.

Cortisone injections aren't meant to be used as a regular treatment for big zits, but they're helpful in some cases and when used judiciously.


Stop Breakouts Before They Start

young person using cleansing pad to clean face

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These tips are helpful for treating individual pimples, but if you're constantly battling acne the ultimate goal is to stop pimples from forming in the first place. For this, you'll need to use a good acne medication daily.

Over-the-counter products can work for mild acne. If your acne is inflamed, stubborn, and especially if you have severe acne or nodular breakouts, you'll need a prescription medication.

Don't hesitate to give your dermatologist a call. Your dermatologist can help devise an acne treatment plan to clear your skin.

A Word From Verywell

Everyone gets pimples, whether occasionally or on a more consistent basis. Although nothing can heal a pimple instantaneously, or even overnight, the above tips can help speed healing, or at least make the blemish look and feel better while it does.

If your pimple is especially large or painful or isn't healing, you should call your healthcare provider. Your blemish may need to be surgically excised (AKA acne surgery). It also may not be an acne pimple at all but possibly another acne-like skin condition, like a boil or epidermoid cyst.

The best way to treat acne is to stop them before they even start by using proven acne treatments regularly. See a dermatologist if you need help. They'll be happy to share their acne treatment secrets with you to get your blemishes under control.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Decker A, Graber EM. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A ReviewJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(5):32–40.

  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Tea Tree Oil.

  3. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(5):945-73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.