Blemish Busting Tip: Spot Treat with a Strong AHA

The great thing about having acne-prone skin is that I have plenty of chances to try new things and few major ramifications if a new [well-conceived] experiment fails. What’s going to happen? Bad skin? Oh, wait, already have that, joke’s on you, bird poo mask!

spot treat with a strong AHA
No, but I haven’t actually used a bird poo mask for anything other than a punchline.

The most useful thing to recently come out of my tests is the realization that the right AHA can be the best spot treatment possible for blemishes. I mentioned this in my review of the Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA, but I want to pull this point out again because I’m hearing such amazing feedback from people who have successfully tried this technique.

The problem with most spot treatments

The problem with most things marketed as spot treatments meant to hasten the demise of a pimple is that they’re loaded with simple alcohol. Alcohol is great for quickly drying skin, but it can result in a few problems: dried out skin clinging to the surface of your skin, not all of the pus and/or serum escaping the blemish, and the plug that caused the blemish being trapped within a bunch of dead skin–never emerging and serving as the root for yet another blemish in the future. Given that many blemishes are caused by dead skin forming a plug in one’s pore when mixed with your natural oils it makes sense to not deliberately create more dead skin.

Where AHAs fit into blemish treatment

AHAs work to exfoliate your skin by chemical means.

"Blausen 0811 SkinPores" by BruceBlaus. When using this image in external sources it can be cited staff. "Blausen gallery 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons -
credit: “Blausen 0811 SkinPores” by BruceBlaus. When using this image in external sources it can be cited staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons –

This means that the skin once covering a blemish is removed by the acid, pus and serum from within the blemish have a better chance of escaping without squeezing or needles, and the hastened exfoliation gives the plug that caused the blemish a better chance of escaping and enjoying a new life (ideally in the coldest recesses of hell).

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How to do it

I use my regular once-per-week 10% Paula’s Choice AHA and dab it on any current or emerging blemishes using a finger (rinsing my hands well afterwards, obviously). I leave it on the blemish for 30 minutes to exfoliate effectively in peace and then continue with my routine as usual.

I can do this up to twice per day, and I’ve found that it helps bring to a head and open blemishes that would otherwise remain stalled out in painful/annoying/large/hot/pink/red phase–with minimal irritation–much much faster than any other method I’ve used.

Do it A++ style

  1. Use a pH-adjusting toner (pH level between 4.0 and 5.5) to prepare your skin before spot treating, if you’ve just cleansed. I like Pixi Glow Tonic.
  2. When it’s nighttime and your blemish is 90% of the way to forming a pus-filled whitehead, is in whitehead stage, or after it has opened to allow pus and serum to escape from within the blemish: wait 30 minutes after applying the AHA spot treatment, finish your skincare routine, and apply a blemish patch to each pimple. I love the CosRx Acne Pimple Master Patches.
  3. Use an AHA that’s strong enough that you can really only use it once or twice per week on your whole face. To make this work, you need something with a bit of snap to it, but not something so strong that it causes your blemish to frost over (that commonly happens with very strong acids). 10% is exactly right for me, but you have to figure out what’s right for your skin.

Learn more about this tip, blemish care, and AHAs

I’m not the only one in love with using an AHA as a spot treatment; it turns out that actually recommends AHA spot treatment–I learned that while writing this post! I suspect that other skincare fans have been doing this, too–share your ideas with fellow blemish sufferers in the comments, if you’d like–every bit helps.

For more on acne and AHAs see my review of Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA.

For more on acne in general check out my Acne Care posts.

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