The dilemma for icing pimples often begins from a place of desperation. Let’s face it: no matter how diligent you are about skin care, we’ve all been there. You wake up one morning, and—bam—there’s a tiny mountain on the side of your chin, cheek, or forehead.
Not only are zits distracting and unsightly, they can also be surprisingly painful. While a good blot of concealer may do the trick for the day, you’re still very much aware of the fact that your pimple is there. The #1 thing on your mind is: how do I get rid of this zit ASAP?
Some people turn immediately to popping; others turn to heat to “loosen” the pore before attempting to remove the build-up. Another popular method of dealing with breakouts is ice, which can help minimize redness and skin inflammation.
If you’re wondering if you should be icing your pimples to combat redness and swelling, you’ve come to the right place! Stay with us as we take a closer look at leveraging ice for fast pimple relief.
Should I ice my pimple?
The two primary ways of tackling zits are either with heat or with ice, and which method you choose will depend upon the type of pimple you have. For instance, a standard blemish will usually have a visible head, which indicates that it’s close enough to the surface to be gently prodded. Heat is the best treatment in this case, as heat and steam will act to dislodge bacteria from the pore.
Then there are more stubborn or complicated pimples, also known as blind pimples or even cystic acne, in some cases. These zits don’t typically come to a head, and instead lie flat or are just red against your skin. Such blemishes can be painful, which is due to a deep build-up of sebum (oil) and debris within a pore.
Dermatologist Dr. Ariel Ostad sheds further light on painful pimples by explaining that they are often the result of landing on or near a minor nerve ending. In these cases, treating with ice would be the best course of action, since ice reduces redness and swelling. The cold will also help numb a painful pimple, constricting blood vessels attached to the site of the blemish.
TL;DR: Use heat for pimples that have come to the surface, like whiteheads, blackheads, papules, and pustules. Use ice for deeper pimples, like cysts and nodules.
Are there any side effects to icing pimples?
While there are no known side effects from applying ice to a pimple, it’s not recommended that you keep ice directly on your skin for long periods of time. At a minimum, this can significantly dry out your skin; at worst, you can apply ice for so long that you experience symptoms of frostbite.
Wrap an ice cube in a clean cloth, and apply to skin for a few minutes at a time—just until you feel some pain relief and notice reduced swelling.
What are the benefits to icing pimples?
Icing pimples can definitely be an effective way to shrink and manage persistent breakouts. Also, it can play a regular role in any established skin care regimen to promote a healthy glow, sculpt the cheekbones, and minimize the appearance of under-eye shadows.
1. Ice creates (temporarily) glowing skin.
For starters, ice can create the illusion of glowing skin if applied as an extra step after cleansing. Wrapping an ice cube in a cotton handkerchief (or pillowcase will work) and massaging across skin will work to improve circulation, stimulating the capillaries to produce a healthy glow.
In addition, ice can even work to boost the hero ingredients in beauty products after application, allowing them to penetrate deeper into the skin.
2. Ice can create cheek-sculpting effects.
Ice can also create a cheek-sculpting effect, especially if combined with ingredients such as lactic acid and Vitamin A—both of which can be found in commercial whole milk.
Saturating a washcloth in a bowl of milk containing ice, then laying it across the face several times, can be a highly effective alternative to the popular face plunging technique. You can also freeze milk in an ice cube tray, then run the cube directly across the contours of your face for the same sculpting effect.
3. Ice helps with under-eye shadows.
Finally, ice is great for banishing those unsightly under-eye shadows, which can sometimes still feel visible even under a coating of concealer. Grab a cube, wrap in gauze, and gently massage the under-eye area from the corners of your eyes to below in a circular motion. This will help your body to drain excess fluid in the under-eye area, reducing the tired appearance that bags give.
After you’ve added this step to your beauty regimen, dab your normal concealer on the under-eye area and blend with a moist makeup sponge. The damp sponge will create a glowing effect, and prevent makeup from appearing caked-on.
Icing Pimples: Advice from Dermatologists & Aestheticians
More than just spot-treating a pimple with ice, there are other effective methods that skin care professionals recommend for treatment. For instance, celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau recommends alternating heat and ice on stubborn blemishes.
She explains that the temperature changes result in gentle stimulation, which encourages increased circulation. For best results, Rouleau recommends alternating warm and cold compresses on zits for six cycles.
Building on this treatment, Dr. Francesca Fusco of New York City dissolves an aspirin into warm water, then freezes this water into an ice cube for spot application. The compounds from the aspirin help to dry out the pimple. You could also opt to create a paste out of crushed aspirin with one tablespoon of warm water, and apply it to the site of the blemish with a cool washcloth.
The biggest, most significant piece of dermatologist advice? Do not attempt to pop a cystic pimple (i.e. a painful pimple embedded beneath the skin). Doing so will only lead to further exacerbation, causing increased redness, swelling, and even the possibility of scarring.
Alternatives to Icing Pimples for Pimples
In addition to, or in lieu of, icing pimples, there are several other treatments you can try that are proven to shrink zits. Whether you’re into holistic treatments or over-the-counter alternatives, here are some great options to consider!
The Holistic Approach
- Apple Cider Vinegar: ACV is widely-touted for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Composed of citric acid, this type of vinegar is thought to kill stubborn bacteria-causing acne. For treatment, dilute vinegar with 3x the amount of water to ACV, and dab site of infection with a cotton ball for up to 20 seconds. Rinse and pat dry.
- Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil is known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. In fact, some studies show that this natural oil is more powerful and effective for eliminating acne than some medicinal treatments. After diluting with water, dab tea tree oil on pimples for no more than a few seconds. Rinse and dry.
- Witch Hazel: Hailing from the North American witch hazel shrub, this oily substance contains tannins that fight acne-causing bacteria. It’s important to note that commercially-available witch hazel may not contain tannins, as most products undergo a distillation process that filters them out. For optimal results, boil 1 tablespoon of witch hazel bark and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Apply to pimple upon cooling.
- Green Tea: Apply green tea – a superfood – topically to fight acne. This is due to its high polyphenol content, which works to reduce inflammation and bacteria. To apply, simply steep green tea in hot water, and wait till cooling to dab your pimple with a submersed cotton ball.
The Medicinal Approach
- Salicylic Acid: salicylic acid is a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) that penetrates pores and works to unclog them. You can spot-treat a pimple with pure salicylic acid, which is typically just a liquid exfoliant, or you can begin using a facial cleanser that contains salicylic acid. A few good options include La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser, and Murad Clarifying Cleanser. We’re also big fans of the Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliant, which we reviewed after two weeks of use.
- Benzoyl Peroxide: benzoyl peroxide is a great complementary treatment to salicylic acid; the two may be used in conjunction with each other to combat zits. Benzoyl peroxide is a naturally-occuring chemical compound that works to oxidize skin activity to treat acne. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties. To maximize benefits, spot-treat with a skin care product that contains benzoyl peroxide, such as My Clarins Clear-Out.
- Crushed Aspirin: we briefly discussed the drying properties of crushed, diluted aspirin above. Use it as a paste or as part of a liquid solution to target stubborn or inflamed zits. Don’t feel like playing chemist? This handy pimple paste saves you the trouble of making your own formula.
- 1% Hydrocortisone Cream: as a spot treatment, 1% hydrocortisone cream can significantly reduce pimple redness and swelling. It’s important to only use this solution as a spot treatment for under-the-skin blemishes; it’s not effective or recommended for whiteheads or blackheads. Some studies show that hydrocortisone is even more effective when paired with benzoyl peroxide than either of the two treatments are on their own. Try this budget-friendly cream for easy, fast results.
Conclusion: Does icing pimples help?
Ultimately, your goal for reducing and/or removing pimples should be to do so in the most non-irritating way possible. Aim to avoid pressing or popping, and never attempt to pop a deeply-embedded or cystic pimple. Icing pimples is a quick and easy way to bring down inflammation and discourage redness; combined with other holistic or medicinal treatments, you’ll be well on your way back to a clear complexion!