As anyone who constantly misplaces their keys, phone, or wallet knows, forgetfulness is a huge hassle. Having a good memory can help avoid a lot of frustration caused by not recalling names, dates, or that guy — you know, the one that was in that movie about that thing. However, there is one place having total recall is actually a detriment: your face.
As it turns out, while your brain might have some issues remembering details, your skin never forgets, specifically when it comes to pimples. “The body naturally attacks a pimple — that is exactly why it forms a zit,” says Dr. Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist at Marmur Medical® in NYC and founder of Marmur Metamorphosis® skincare. “The whitehead is full of neutrophils, which are trained to attack the acne bacteria. This is an immuno-inflammatory response that in turn learns to recognize the bacteria and attack it faster and better in the future — called immune cell memory.” Basically, your skin “learns” from each pimple in order to fight it faster.
That’s all fine and dandy, provided you can keep your hands off your skin. According to Dr. Marmur, the problem comes when you pick at, pop, or repeatedly touch a pimple. “When you damage a pore, it results in a [decreased] ability of the pore to keep out oil and infections,” she explains. “Pores need time to recover from a pimple.”
She notes that there can be other causes behind recurring breakouts. This can range from your skin reacting to stress and hormone fluctuations to blemishes still being under the skin, even after the whitehead seems to be gone. However, popping a pimple is a surefire way to make it a repeat offender. Not to mention the fact that popping a pimple “[can push] the pimple down into the skin where it will destroy the collagen and create another problem — like a long-lasting red bump or a scar,” she notes. Fun.
Besides the obvious hands-off approach, there are a few preventative steps you can take to make your skin “forget” its past trauma. The first and best method is to see a board-certified dermatologist. You can bring him or her all of your skincare and makeup products to see if they are the culprits. Dr. Marmur notes that you could also share a calendar of when you tend to get your acne relative to other issues in your life — like your period, exams, or stress. This will help you identify when you are most likely to break out, how long they usually last, and how severe they are, allowing you to prep your skin to minimize the pimple as much as possible.
Dr. Marmur also recommends regular use of a product with salicylic acid in your breakout-prone areas along with benzoyl peroxide treatments as needed. She’s a fan of her own MMBalance™ Face Mask ($22 each) — which is made for those with redness, rosacea, and acne-prone skin — as a weekly treatment. It’s infused with pre- and probiotics to calm inflammation, plus Canadian willow herb to help minimize redness and inhibit the bacteria that causes acne. For a targeted fix, she suggests the Murad® Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment ($22), a potent formula with salicylic acid that reduces the size and severity of a blemish within 4 hours. The theory is it will reduce the urge to pop a blemish if it starts to heal on its own in a timely fashion.
If you’re someone who has already succumbed to the pimple-memory cycle, Dr. Marmur says your best bet is to cease any and all touching of said breakouts and to apply a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment at the first sign that a breakout is brewing. A popular one to try is the Proactiv® Emergency Blemish Relief ($20), which features a whopping five percent of the acne fighter. The sooner you kill the bacteria, the less intense the blemishes will be — and the better your chances of stopping a repeat offender.
“Acne is still a mystery even to dermatologists,” explains Dr. Marmur. “There’s no specific timeline as to when these pimples will return and no way to tell if you will definitely get a pimple from popping or picking. The cycle depends on how often you are touching your face and how much you are popping those whiteheads.”
Now if only you could train your pores to help you find where you left your keys instead.
Dr. Ellen Marmur is a paid Allergan® consultant.
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