vanquishing the zit beast
April 2, 2010 11:25 AM   Subscribe

A monster zit lurks beneath my skin – large enough that I can feel it when I wrinkle my nose. Is there any way to slay this beast before it shows its ugly head?
posted by dirk gently to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard warm moist compresses (like warm washcloths) can help draw the zit towards the surface. Just don't squeeze it when it's deep like that.
posted by egeanin at 11:27 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've also had success putting an alcohol wipe on the area, holding it there until the stinging stop, and repeating from time to time as the situation warrants. However, it tends to dry out the surrounding area and doesn't always work, particularly if I wait too late.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:27 AM on April 2, 2010

Try crushing an aspirin and mixing it in green tea and applying that over the area. And then, sigh, just wait for it to rear its ugly head. Unless you have a dermatologist willing to go in and do something, which they usually won't.
posted by anniecat at 11:29 AM on April 2, 2010

Actually, I just culled this comment from a related thread:

Assuming this is normal acne bacteria, you can kill them with a process known as 'heat shock'. You have to get them fairly hot... past a certain point, they will suddenly just die. The death point is below the level that will burn you.

Before I understood why it worked, I had noticed that heat would help with acne, and one trick I used was to turn on the (electric) stove burner and bathe my face in the column of heat for about 15 minutes. It's pretty boring, but I found it to be quite effective.

What you want is to get your skin very thoroughly warm, down to the bone, but it shouldn't actually hurt... it should just feel quite hot. You'll know when you're gonna burn.... don't do that, it's too much heat. Edge of uncomfortable is okay, actual pain is not.

I never tried it, but a hairdryer pointed at the spot, held some distance away, might also work.

If it works properly, the lump will just go away. No residual scarring, no pop... it just disappears.

Another way to hit these is with a big dollop of benzoyl peroxide. I hadn't thought of using a bandaid like awesomebrad suggests, but that certainly couldn't hurt. It takes some time for the peroxide to soak into your skin and kill the bacteria, so this is a slower-but-safer approach. Absolutely no chance of burning yourself, though you may peel if your skin doesn't like the peroxide.
posted by Malor at 1:43 AM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite +] [!]

I've never tried this, but I am definitely going to when another monster comes my way.
posted by anniecat at 11:32 AM on April 2, 2010

I've always sort of wondered what would happen if you stuck a big ole' syringe in there and tried to suck the pus out. Never tried it, though. I imagine it would be rather painful.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:34 AM on April 2, 2010

There are a couple of zit zappers available that are based on the heating principle. Our local pharmacy sells the Zeno.

I always use clindamycin gel. Pretty effective, but it requires a prescription.
posted by Ery at 11:40 AM on April 2, 2010

For me, hot compresses, like everyone suggests suggests and LEAVE IT ALONE!

It took all my self control, but I've found if I don't pick at them or even touch them, they just sorta disappear without ever emerging. I always took consolation in the fact that, while the subterranean zits really hurt, at least no one else could see them if I left them alone.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:43 AM on April 2, 2010

My derm told me the zit zappers like Zeno do work, but cheaper and just as effective is the q-tip + hot water method. And yes, do not pick. It will go from painful and unnoticeable to painful, bright red and gigantic.
posted by 8dot3 at 11:47 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

From my experience with cystic acne, you can't pop it yet. there's nothing to pop -- the infection hasn't organized well enough to have a central pus pocket.

I've done well with an alternation of Neosporin applied topically and very hot compresses to get the thing to organize to the point of drainability in a couple of hours, but I'm intrigued by the heat-death method listed above.
posted by KathrynT at 11:52 AM on April 2, 2010

Best answer: Take a very very hot shower. As hot as you can stand it without feeling like you're being burned. Once your pores feel like they're open and begging for air, and while in the shower, wash your face with a gentle cleanser - cetaphil, burt's bees, etc. Take a washcloth, and run it under the shower, and put immediately to the zit. Hold for about 10 seconds. Let it breathe for a few seconds, then repeat a couple of more times. Wash face with gentle cleanser again.

Exit shower, splash face with cool water. Not icy cold, but a little cooler than room temperature. Wait a few minutes, then cleanse zit zone with an astringent. I really like these tea tree and witch hazel pads, which you can get at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, other natural foods places, and lately I've seen them at CVS. Do not use these every day or they will dry out your face. Use them every other day at most, but they along with the steamy showers and hot washcloth should speed up the process, and help kill the bacteria.

Don't force pop it, or force it to surface. You might break a capillary or something and cause a little bit of bleeding under the skin, in addition to a lot of pain. And the zit still won't surface. Not worth it. No popping until it looks super ripe!
posted by raztaj at 11:56 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I put clay mask on an individual zit overnight and it dries it up and never emerges. (I personally use a lancome clay mask, but I'm sure there are others out there that work.)
posted by Kimberly at 12:07 PM on April 2, 2010

Before I understood why it worked, I had noticed that heat would help with acne, and one trick I used was to turn on the (electric) stove burner and bathe my face in the column of heat for about 15 minutes. It's pretty boring, but I found it to be quite effective.

Do not set yourself on fire.

It's always worth saying.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

I have had success putting a little dab of (non-gel) toothpaste on the zit overnight, but this doesn't work for everyone.
posted by cottonswab at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If I can catch them when they're at the tingly/itchy stage, where they're just becoming inflamed but haven't yet organized into a well-defined cyst, then holding an ice cube to them will make them miraculously disappear. Just *poof*! I wish I had known this when I was younger.
posted by HotToddy at 12:25 PM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've heard that a dermatologist can inject a tiny bit of cortisone at the location to prevent its developing. I haven't ever tried this because it seemed like I'd always be going to the dermatologist, and I think I've heard that too many doses of cortisone can lead to unpleasant effects, but if you're bothering to ask it must be more rare for you. Might be worth a phone call, at least.

HotToddy - how long do you have to use the ice cube?
posted by amtho at 12:42 PM on April 2, 2010

Do not set yourself on fire.

Nth-ing this, because I should have added it when reposting Malor's advice.
posted by anniecat at 12:46 PM on April 2, 2010

My Zeno worked quite well, but it might be already too late in your case. It is important to catch the infection very early on.
posted by halogen at 12:48 PM on April 2, 2010

For future reference, stievamycin gel (by prescription). When I apply it to emerging cystic acne I don't ever end up breaking out.
posted by meerkatty at 1:13 PM on April 2, 2010

Are you sure that what you're sensing is actually a monster zit, and not a nosehair on a fantastic voyage?
posted by de void at 1:22 PM on April 2, 2010

I am really sorry that the nose hair thread is closed. it is fascinating. My husband had a nose hair that worked its way out through the top of is nose. It was cool in a gross way.

Anyway, from experience I suggest: Put benzoyl peroxide gel on the nascent zit at night and salicylic acid gel during the day. This works for me. Try not to mess with the baby zit too much, it makes them angry. A dermatologist can inject it with cortisone, which will make it go away.
posted by fifilaru at 1:59 PM on April 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips, guys. I've started with the ice cube, which if nothing else dulled the pain. I also picked up some of those tea tree and witch hazel pads, so that's the next step.
posted by dirk gently at 2:00 PM on April 2, 2010

I don't mess around... I get a needle and fix it right away. I haven't noticed this causing any scars.
posted by meepmeow at 2:41 PM on April 2, 2010

A tip regarding ice: using an ordinary ice cube is a pain, because you wind up freezing your fingertips as well. Try using a small Dixie cup (I like the 5-oz size) to make your ice. Once it's frozen solid, peel down the side in strips, like the petals of a flower. Gather the strips together at the bottom of the cup and you can use them as a handle to hold while you run the ice over your face.

The skin-care routine my specialist recommends includes icing one's face for two minutes twice a day. It's not so bad in the summer, but in winter — brr freaking brr!
posted by Lexica at 2:49 PM on April 2, 2010

Zit cream (benzoic acid, among others, but that's the most effective for me) works on deep "pre-head" zits for me. AFAICT it's absorbed through the skin.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:16 PM on April 2, 2010

Nthing the ice cube trick.
posted by tomwheeler at 4:00 PM on April 2, 2010

All of the above suggestions will at best irritate your skin, and at worst cause tissue damage.

The one exception is a cortisone injection from a dermatologist. While you're there, you can get proper advice on care and treatment for (what sounds like) cystic acne. If that's what you're getting you need to treat it aggressively right away.

Please don't attempt to burn, freeze, puncture, chemically corrode, fold, bend, spindle, mutilate, or tear your face. You'll regret it.
posted by tel3path at 4:06 PM on April 2, 2010

I agree with tel3path. After a lifetime of dealing with deep zips I have found the best course is to avoid messing with it at all. Figure out what your triggers are and avoid them until the zit goes away on its own. When I feel a deep one coming in and I do this I can usually avoid the worst of it. Trying to treat it usually just makes it worse for me; the skin gets irritated etc.

For me the triggers are: concentrated sugars especially candy and desserts; and milkfat like whole milk (skim milk, lowfat or nonfat yogurt, and cottage cheese are fine though); ice cream is especially bad.
posted by jockc at 5:39 PM on April 2, 2010

1) Sorry for the delay in responding--I use the ice cube for about 20 minutes. Take it off for a minute if it starts to hurt.

2) Regarding cortisone--I recently let a dermatologist inject a cyst with cortisone and it miraculously dissolved the cyst. Unfortunately it also caused by far the worst scar I've ever had in my many years of dealing with cystic acne. I mean it is really bad, and it's going to take some kind of serious procedure to fix it, if in fact it can be fixed. It's very upsetting. I have no idea why this happened but please be aware that it can.
posted by HotToddy at 8:22 PM on April 2, 2010

Mint Julep clay masque is great for drying up these suckers and it's really cheap at drugstores. 3 bucks for "32% more!" meaning you can use the rest of the very green gunk to dress up like Frankenstein or something.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 9:03 PM on April 2, 2010

"For me the triggers are: concentrated sugars especially candy and desserts; and milkfat like whole milk (skim milk, lowfat or nonfat yogurt, and cottage cheese are fine though); ice cream is especially bad."

Interesting. I believe (no I haven't done a literature review lately) that all of these have some scientific evidence to support them: refined carbohydrates, which means not just sugar but white flour etc; and some dairy products. Skim milk is supposedly worse than whole milk though IIRC. The only other foods with evidence to support them are shellfish and red wine in large quantities. I hear good things about the low GI diet, but again, can't swear to that.

Please be cautious if you're going to try to use diet to control your acne. There's a lot of mythmaking about the causes and treatment of acne, and a lot of the cultural association with diet IMO is really a matter of purity codes and what foods/activities are seen as "clean" or "unclean" at the time. Dermatologist, you needz one.
posted by tel3path at 8:41 AM on April 3, 2010

Response by poster: UPDATE: Much to my surprise the monster seems to be going away without surfacing.

I used the ice – probably five minutes total – and then those tea tree oil pads.

tel3path, you're absolutely correct: I do need a dermatologist. That's next.

Thanks for the help, MeFi!
posted by dirk gently at 10:35 AM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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