Zits happen

Monster zits still take us by surprise. God knows why, since studies have shown that more than 70 percent of women aged 25 to 49 had an acne attack in the past year - and that includes beauty editors like us who wake up to find an angry red bump between our eyes.

The first, and often biggest, challenge is to resist the urge to scrub and scrub the blemish without mercy. According to Yale University dermatologist Lisa Donofrio, women past the age of 20 require gentler products than teenagers and applying a treatment more than twice a day can break the skin, infect the surrounding area and eventually form a crust. This in turn slows healing and increases the chances of leaving a red mark that lasts for weeks. Charming.

Instead of caking on zit cream, start by washing your face twice daily with a cleanser containing up to 5 percent salicylic acid to unclog pores and reduce redness. Wait five minutes for skin to dry then dab the pimple just once in the morning and once at night with a speck of a 2 percent salicylic acid or 7 to 10 percent benzoyl peroxide ointment (you can also try a topical antibacterial lotion or mask containing sulfur). This should kill the bacteria that caused the mess in the first place. And forswear retinols on the area for a few days; while they do help prevent blemishes, they also exacerbate the redness in an existing zit.

If your breakouts are big, ugly and prolonged and don't respond to traditional lotions, ask a dermatologist to pull out the big guns. For some women, that's a prescription antibiotic or sulfur lotion; for others, it may be oral antibiotics, the Pill or in extreme cases, Accutane. Laser sessions, while expensive, have been proven quite effective in zapping away zits, scars and redness.

Whatever you do, remember not to poke, prod or pop. Ever. Adult pimples tend to start far underground and almost never come to a head so squeezing them will only make them bigger.

Here are our suggestions of gentle but effective deep cleansers:

  •  Dermalogica Clearing Skin Wash, US$49. Recommended for acne- and breakout-prone skin. This non-irritating, naturally-foaming cleanser is the perfect start to around-the-clock control of breakouts, comedones and excess surface oils. Salicylic Acid sloughs off dead skin cells to clear clogged follicles, helping to prevent future breakout activity.

  • Neutrogena Deep Clean Foaming Cleanser, US$9, refreshes your skin and awakens your senses with a super tingly foaming lather that deep cleans down to your pores. This ultra-exhilarating formula provides an invigorating surge of clean for a long-lasting fresh feeling.

  • Kiehl's Blue Herbal Gel Cleanser, US$34. Inspired by Kiehl's venerable and most enduring preparation, Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion, this purifying gel cleanser thoroughly cleans pores and removes traces of dirt, residue and oil which can lead to acne break-outs. Mild cleansing agents are used to formulate a completely oil-free but non-drying preparation which helps keep skin clear of new acne blemishes.

  •  Biotherm Biopur Pore Reducer Gentle Purifying Gel, US$24. Saponine water, Copper and Zinc (for oil-regulating) are combined into a purifying cleansing gel to deeply unclog pores and reveal clearer-looking skin. It eliminates excess sebum and allows skin to appear fresh and healthier looking throughout the day.

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