There's never a good time to see a big, red zit popping up on your face—especially right before your wedding. A major breakout a few days before the big day can seem like a total disaster. But, since stress can cause acne breakouts and wedding planning can be stressful, it isn't too uncommon. No one likes a last-minute guest, however (especially on their face!), so we asked dermatologists Joel Schlessinger, MD, and Michele Green, MD, for their intel on how to handle a dreaded pimple—depending on when it pops up.
Meet the Expert
Read on for expert advice on treating that unwelcome blemish for picture-perfect skin.
10 Days Before the Wedding
Keep Hands Off
If you get a zit 10 days before the big day, you have some options. "First of all, it's incredibly important to establish a hands-off policy," says Schlessinger. "You might think you're doing your skin a favor by popping a pimple, but you can force bacteria deeper into your skin and actually prolong the healing process from a few days to a few weeks." He also recommends making sure you wash off your makeup each night and to start using an exfoliator (more on that later).
Get Expert Advice
Green suggests consulting an expert: "If you get a breakout 10 days before your wedding, you should go see a board-certified dermatologist. You can be prescribed oral antibiotics and topical cream to help reduce the breakout." Professional intel is also helpful in diagnosing the blemish altogether. While the classic white head is easy enough to identify and treat at home, ingrown hairs, deep cysts, sores, or certain types of skin cancer can be visually misleading and even have a poor reaction to acne treatments.
Before diving into the skincare spiral that is acne remediation, start with the basics. As it turns out, pimples can't stand the heat so get ready to head to the kitchen. Apply warm (not hot!) compresses at regular intervals throughout the day to help drain the clog or bring it up to a head. If the blemish comes to a head resist the urge to pop it and spot-treat the area instead.
5 Days Before the Wedding
Streamline Product Usage
Avoid adding new products into your skincare routine since there isn't enough time to adjust or recover if your skin reacts badly to anything. Schlessinger suggests focusing on things you can change without worrying. "Replace your favorite makeup products for brand-new compacts, since makeup can often become contaminated, leading to breakouts. Also, cut out dairy products, since the hormones found in dairy products are known to make acne worse." And believe it or not, he says the same goes for protein supplements.
Exfoliate the Skin
Green recommends microdermabrasion as a great procedure to get in the days leading up to the wedding. "It exfoliates and removes the superficial layer of dry, dead skin cells (that can clog your pores) and entails no discomfort, downtime, or recovery," she says. You can also exfoliate at home with physical or chemical exfoliants to achieve similar results. Physical exfoliants include scrubs and brushes that buff and polish the skin. Chemical exfoliants include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like lactic or glycolic acids that remove the layers of dead skin on top of the dermis and leave a radiant glow. Side effects of exfoliation in any form include skin irritation like dryness, flaking, or redness, so we recommend going low and slow with the harshness of these products and building up as your skin allows.
Look for gentle scrubs with round exfoliating particles that won't damage the skin. Harsh scrubs with irregularly shaped particles, such as pits or shells, can cause micro-tears to the epidermis and increase inflammation.
Equally as annoying as the pimple itself is the dark marks it will unquestionably leave in its wake. While exfoliation will cater to any roughness or texture left behind, pesky pigmentation tends to linger for far longer than we'd like. L-ascorbic acid, or its street name Vitamin C, can diminish acne scars and marks as well as even out skin tone with its antioxidant and brightening properties.
2 Days Before the Wedding
Once again, go see your derm. "A cortisone shot helps reduce inflammation and flattens out those big blemishes, sometimes within a matter of hours," Green says. Ask your doctor about possible side effects like allergic reactions or visible marks and weigh those consequences before committing to the procedure.
If cortisone isn't an option, at-home spot treatments are available. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid are pore-cleaning powerhouses that can penetrate deeply into the skin and clear out any buildup that's causing the clog. They also fight bacteria to ensure any surface pollution won't get into the pore. Alternately, hydrocolloid bandages (or pimple patches) are Band-Aid-like stickers that act as a vacuum sucking out any excess oil or nasties within the pore. They also cover the blemish to both hide it from view and keep you from touching it—a triple threat if we ever heard one.
Use pimple patches with active ingredients like BHAs for an ultimate clean machine that won't give acne a fighting chance.
Day of the Wedding
Care For and Conceal
"Spot-treat [the night before], and then the day of, conceal the blemish with makeup," Schlessinger says. "Don't forget—your photographer can edit out any imperfections." Plus, your makeup artist knows all the tricks for hiding any blemishes. Whether getting a professional application or doing it yourself, use full-coverage comedogenic concealers with acne-fighting ingredients for a double-duty product that masks, treats, and prevents future breakouts. Long-wearing formulas with SPF will ensure minimal touch-ups are needed and protect the sensitive area from hyper-pigmentation.