Like any other night, I go to the bathroom and begin my skincare routine. Next thing I know, I’m leaning over the sink with my face up against the mirror, picking and prodding my face, not realizing that 30 minutes have passed. As soon as I break my trance-like state and see my red, splotchy skin, the shame sets in. Because the thing is, my skin is generally good. I mean, I get a few blemishes around my period, when I eat poorly, or if I’m stressed (and 2020 has been stressful, people!), but I’m the one who makes matters worse by squeezing the tiny bumps that no one can see, turning them into big red marks that can last for weeks to months and are always worse than the damn blemish itself. “Picking at acne scabs will make them worse and delay healing,” says Michele Farber, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. “It results in a cyclical process that causes progression of marks or scars.”
Now, I know there’s no magic wand that can fix a scar or spot overnight, but there are a few things you can do immediately after a skin-picking episode: “I recommend that patients very gently clean their skin to remove any surface bacteria and decrease the chance of infection and then apply a very small amount of hydrocortisone cream followed by a layer of a petroleum ointment such as Aquaphor or Vaseline,” explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, at Mount Sinai’s Department of Dermatology. “This combination decreases the chance of infection, decreases inflammation, and accelerates wound healing.” Another tip, “Try using ice or cold compresses for a few minutes on the inflamed spot to calm down the swelling and inflammation,” says Yunyoung Claire Chang, MD, at Union Square Laser Dermatology.
For long-term damage control, there are specific ingredients to look for in products that can help treat, prevent, lighten, and brighten marks over the course of time. And since I’ve dealt with some form of skin picking since I was a teenager, I’ve got a handful of personal and expert-recommended products in my arsenal.