The Best Way To Clear A Sudden Acne Breakout

The Best Way To Clear A Sudden Acne Breakout

Fran in LondonPhew! Thankfully I’ve recovered from my London skin breakout. I recently spent ten days in London and experienced the worst breakout I’ve had in six months.

I’m now convinced my breakout was due to the high levels of pollution in London because my bad skin coincided so perfectly with the time I arrived and the time I left London.

Fran in BrusselsAnd to prove my theory even more, my next stop after I left London was Brussels (the city of chocolate heaven), so the amount of Belgium chocolate I was eating in Brussels should have kept my skin bad or made it worse. But my skin began to clear up in Brussels despite the extra sugar I was consuming.

How to clear a sudden acne breakout

After clearing my skin so quickly after my breakout in London, I’m now confident that I’ve devised the best emergency plan for small breakouts.

These steps will work especially well if your skin is usually clear or your acne is only mild, and you experience a temperamental breakout like I did in London. Please keep in mind however that everyone’s skin is different, so even though I’m confident these steps will work well for most of us, there are always exceptions of course where the skin doesn’t respond in quite the same way.

This solution will also work the best for small pimples, clogged pores and inflammations. If you’ve had a sudden cystic acne breakout then you’re better off taking a more holistic approach. These steps will help, but are unlikely to clear your cystic acne as well as the milder forms of acne.

Step 1 – Don’t forget to wash your face twice a day

Weather or not your acne breakout is due to dirt or pollution, you still want to make sure you face and your pores are clean of toxins and pollutants. This means washing your face twice a day – morning and evening.

I’ve experimented with washing my face more or less than twice a day and heave learned that twice is just perfect. If you wash your face more than that, then you’re risking stressing and drying your skin out with over washing. Any less than that and the dirt and pollutants can build up.

It’s also important to use a gentle product when cleansing your face. Preferably something natural and preferably something that’s made for sensitive skin. Avoid anything with comedogenic ingredients and ingredients that you’re in any way allergic to (if you’re allergic to bees for example, avoid all products that contain honey and honey by-products).

My current favorite cleanser is Philosophies Purity Made Simple.

Step 2 – Use an anti-bacterial moisturizer

Even natural anti-bacterials can be drying to the skin, so I prefer to use a moisturizer that contains a natural anti-bacterial in the ingredients.

Applying some form of anti-bacterial is essential to clearing your breakout. An inflammation is an infection, so the anti-bacterial will help heal the infection on your skin. In step three we’ll be deep clearing out our pores, so the anti-bacterial is also essential to ensure no toxins and bacteria enter the pores as they’re being encouraged to purge out.

My current favorite moisturizer is Bee Yummy Skinfood, it contains honey as the anti-bacterial. If you’re allergic to honey, try Banalasta day hydrating cream that contains eucalyptus oil, or visit your local health store to see what’s locally available.

Step 3 – Use a deep pore exfoliator on your troubled areas

It’s not necessary to use the deep pore exfoliator over your entire face. I use it just on my troubled areas with great success. This also ensures minimal irritation to the skin, because salicylic acid products can be quite drying.

And I never use a deep pore exfoliant twice a day. The maximum I’ll use it is once a day – at night. Once a day is enough to clear my skin after a few days without causing any irritation.

I will use the exfoliant nightly until my skin has almost cleared. I’ll then skip a night to give my skin a break and see how it’s doing the next day. If my skin is still a bit spotty I’ll apply the exfoliant for a couple more days.

Just make sure you use the least amount possible. You want to support your skin to heal in its own time. You don’t want to rush and stress your skin out.

My current favorite deep pore exfoliant is Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Gel

Step 4 – Don’t pick!

I know I talk about this a lot and it’s difficult to change your habit on spot picking, but it’s SOOO important. Even just with this last breakout in London that I had, I couldn’t stop myself and picked two of them. Of course this made the spots stand out with a very red and irritated appearance. And they took a lot longer to heal than the others. The spots that were left alone healed a lot faster and left a much smaller hyperpigmentation scar.

Step 5 – Be patient with your hyperpigmentation scars

It’s easy to freak out once your pimples are healed and to start worrying about the little red or brown marks they leave behind. Please don’t. These marks are a natural healing process of the skin. Kind of like if you scratch yourself and it bleeds, it will leave a small red or brown mark on the skin after the scab falls off. Time will heal these scars and you must be patient! If you star mucking around with your skin too much to encourage the scars to heal faster, then you’re risking causing another breakout.

There are of course “safe” things you can do to help encourage your hyperpigmentation scars to heal faster. I have threads in my forum about this very topic, so if you’re interested take a look.

How long does it take for the skin to heal?

This plan always works for me within a week. Often it will only take 3-4 days to completely clear my skin. The hyperpigmentation scars of course take a lot longer to heal, averaging 1-4 weeks depending on the size of the pimple and whether or not I picked it.

This is my plan and I swear it works really well. If you’ve got a different plan that you think is just as good if not better, I’d love to hear about it :)

43 comments… add one

  • Hello fran, read ur post, hoping it will work for me to. I travelled out of my present state to another for my NYSC Orientation programme, dat lasted for 3wks. After dis programme, hav been nursing my breakouts, I guess d pollution and d stress I went thru is wat caused d breakout, just pray dat ur routine will work for me, cos I can’t wait to get my clear face bac!!

  • ERIN

    My skin has suddenly become full of huge painful red pimples. It started a few months ago and things quickly became worse everyday. The only thing that really worked was PAULAS CHOICE maximum strength acne system! I googled acne treatment and that’s what popped up. I asked for a free sample of the system and I swear on my life, it is the best product ever! I know I sound like a robotic ad, but I’m just saying what worked for me. The only down side was that even though it worked, I could not afford to buy the actual treatment system once I ran out of the free samples. It was a Weeks worth. Its super expensive! I hate that. Its like almost a hundred bucks. Omg, that’s outrageous. It’s well worth it I’m sure, and if I could afford it, believe me I would totally have bought it by now.

  • Marie

    Thank you so much for your advice. It’s true that picking can really hurt your skin more. I also like to use argile masks to make the healing process faster. Apply on washed and cleared skin it soothes the redness.

  • Lena

    Hi Fran, i’m only 13 but i get the worst breakouts! I’ve tried practically every skin care product out there and nothing seems to work! should i be concerned?

  • Your post answer my question straight away when one day I woke up with a few pimples on my face. I am a person who will rarely have breakout and even if I do, I will only have 1-2 acne only. But this morning I woke ip with panic of having 5-6 breakouts on my face, I feel like dying. Until I read your article and realise that I actually was in London 2 days ago for only 3 days. I guess the sucky weather plus the pollution and also the lack on sleep that contribute to the ugliness on my face. Anyway thanks a lot for the advice. Will try them now!!

  • Sarah

    Fran, what do I do for my 13 year old daughter with breakouts on her forehead?

  • Amy


    I have dry, sensitive acne prone skin. I pretty much only breakout on my forehead. I usually only wash my face once a day, in the evening, to wash my makeup off. Should I be washing twice a day regularly, or just during a particularly bad breakout? I dont want to over do it!

    Thank you

  • Michelle

    I agree with the “calcium in the water” idea. I’ve been living in Paris for a month now and my skin has been just awful. I’m getting spots in places I never had them before, and my normally oily skin has been incredibly dry–which has never, ever happened in my life. I ended up buying a pearl and caviar oil treatment by Institut Arnaud that I add to my lotion every night before bed… sounds like a rip-off, I know, but within two days the dryness went away. And when I stopped using it, it came back, so now I make sure to use it every night.

    However I’m still getting acne like never before, and it makes sense that the difference is the water. After washing clothes, even with fabric softener, they’re still incredibly stiff, and little white deposits show up on silverware a day or two after washing it in the sink. So I can only imagine what it is doing to my skin. I’m going to try buying distilled water to use when I wash because I can’t stand looking like this anymore.

    It suddenly makes sense why French women are known for their fashion… gotten have something to keep the boys from looking too closely at their skin!

  • Cassandra

    Just one question…Im oily skinned and I wear makeup…how the HECK can i get away with only washing my face a mere twuce a day? for me that’s not realistic.

  • Samantha

    Hey Fran, I was just wondering if you know what could possibly be wrong with my face. Lastnight I used Clean and clear sensitive skin foaming scrub. I woke up this morning with a sudden breakout. Now the weird part about it is, is that i NEVER get pimples/breakouts. ever. and i never really wash my face. But every time i do wash my face i breakout. do you have any suggestions ?

  • Melissa

    Hi there! I left a comment on 08.27.09 at 11:40 am.

    I just wanted to give an update. I am pretty convinced that the hard water may cause problems for some people. Using acid exfoliants helps, and washing my face in low calcium water helps, but what helps me most of all if DRINKING LOW CALCIUM WATER!!!

    I’ve been drinking low calcium bottled water (10-20 mg/L) for 3 weeks now and my face is behaving as it does when I am outside of London. I suggested this to someone else who commented on a Fran page and she has been drinking boiled water (temporarily removes some calcium) for roughly 2 weeks now. She has seen an improvement as well.

    For me, the improvement was drastic. I still get the occasional pimple, but that was the situation before I moved to London. I know this won’t be everyone’s solution, but if you find that your face is much worse in one country/city than in another, try drinking low calcium water.

    Make sure you buy the low calcium bottled water or boil your water (but only some calcium is removed). Brita’s only removes some of the calcium. I really don’t know how much, you can experiment.

    Best wishes,

  • Zoe

    Hi Fran, Thank you so much for suggesting Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Gel is a miracle gel it really is. I love it.

    I have had the worst breakout I think that I have ever had and this is really making a difference and I can see my skin improving every day and I have only been using it for 3 days.

    Thank you again

  • siddhi

    hi, fran!! just came back from london last month. had the worst breakout. i, too, blame the pollution for ruining my skin. also eating unhealthy food like waffles, fish ‘n’ chips, cornish pastries, etc, contributed to it!! i got spots on my forehead. i picked at two of them. so, i got this amasing tea tree blemish fading night lotion from the body shop. trust me! my blemishes have all gone!!

  • Miathecake

    Fran,Ive got some breakouts between my nose and cheeks which I always get.Im 18 now is that still due to puberty?Thank you.

  • Kathreen

    i’m using dove soap bar, i guess my skin just got irritated from all the products i had used. Acne scars are the only one’s left right now. Hopefully they’ll go away soon.

  • noclue46

    Kathreen what kind of soap do u use for ur face?
    Thanks for the advice

  • Kathreen

    I had stopped all the products i’ve been using for a week…meaning i only use soap for my face. I don’t cleanse, tone or moisturize, i just wash my face before i sleep.

    and guess what? the breakouts stopped. only scars were left.

    so for those who haven’t been using anything on their face and have rare to moderate acne,i suggest that don’t fuss about it, it will just go away. Just wait and leave it there.

  • Noclue

    Hi Fran
    I’ve never had acne problems but this past year and half I’m getting acne on my cheeks. Other than that my forehead, nose and chin is clear. I have tried many products such as: proactiv, Clearasil, burts bee acne solution, jurlique, lush products, and bosica. I can’t find the right face cleanser!!! I was thinking if someone had similar problems can they let me know if any product worked for them.

  • Kathreen

    Hi Fran! Please help me!

    I am the type of person who would have an acne or two a month but recently my face wouldn’t stop from breaking out. When the last batch (3 to 4 acne) is about to be healed another batch would come again.

    It all started last summer when I started using Eskinol Pimple fighting facial cleanser, but i would only have 2 acnes a month. So I wasn’t contented and started using Clean and Clear Pimple Clearing Facial Cleanser.

    Then last September, when I wasn’t able to use Clean and Clear, 3 of the biggest acne appeared on the right side of my face. So i stopped using C&C

    So I used Ponds Clear Solutions, with Ponds acne cleanser too but that made matters worse, I started having white heads all over my face and more acne (on the right side only).

    The left side of my face would have 1 or two a month. Then they would go away but now! after using Mediherb Anti Acne and Pimples the scar woulds go away the acne just dried out.

    and now i decided to stop everything! but aparrently i have read something on the internet.

    Check this out

    I haven’t tried it because i don’t know the complete details but i guess my lack of sleep is the cause.

  • Melissa

    Hi Fran!
    I don’t know if you are willing to do this, but PLEASE consider researching and writing an article about how the HARD WATER in London could be causing some people to have acne.

    My story sounds similar to Laura’s, Natasha’s, Courtney’s, and yours. I moved to London 3 years ago and although I have always been acne prone, I had more breakouts than usual. At first I thought it could be changing hormones, food, humidity, temperature, wind, exercise, my regimen, pollution…etc, but I now believe it is the water.

    I kept trying different things, but regardless of my regimen or habits, the acne only improved when I went to certain cities. Since I’m a scientist (although not a dermatologist), I want to give you the data:

    London-bad acne-hard water (search google images for “UK hard water”)
    Washington DC-cleared up-soft water (search google images for “US hard water”)
    Dublin and Galway-very bad acne-hard water (search google images for “Ireland hard water”)
    Paris-cleared up-don’t know what the water is like
    Greece-Very clear-pollution in Athens didn’t matter. Swimming in salt water helped tremendously.

    Why I don’t think it’s pollution:
    -Athens is polluted, but my face improved
    -A friend from Bangkok, Thailand has acne in London, but London has less pollution than Bangkok

    Why I think it’s the water:
    -started rinsing my face with distilled water after the Paris trip (my husband’s idea). In a few weeks, I could feel that there were fewer bumps under my skin. I had fewer surface pimples and fewer cystic pimples.
    -After the Greece trip, I started using salt water before the distilled water (just started this a few weeks ago). This really helps clear my skin. surface pimples are smaller and come to a head sooner. cystic pimples are less inflamed. Skin sloughs off easier. old scars/discoloration heal faster.

    I’m sorry if I’ve been verbose. I just really hope this can help other people. Like I said earlier, I’ve always had acne, but in London I felt self-conscious and embarrassed to leave the house. Now, my morning face routine has gone from 2 hours down to 15 minutes.

    My regimen:
    Morning- massage salt water then gentle cleanser on face. leave it for a few moments, then rinse with tap water. sometimes use a wash cloth to rub off dead skin. Rinse with distilled water. Vaseline. Sunscreen. done.

    Evening- wash the same way as morning. sometimes use some tea tree oil. vaseline. spot treat with salicylic or glycolic acid products.

    Please please leave a response folks, if you want to discuss it together and compare skin types. I know we are all different, but I think this info might help some. Also, read Leslie Baumann’s book on skin types to learn more about your skin, but take her product recommendations with a grain of salt (no pun intended :) ). I have no ulterior motive. I just have info from 3 years of experimentation with my face to share with you.

    Melissa Loh

  • lisa

    I think its really nice when people share …especially iimportant things like health even nice when woman help one another…thanks for sharing it was a huge help to my daughter and myself. Thank you

  • Hi Brianna, it’s normal for a breakout to happen after facial hair removal, which includes threading.

    By anti-bacterial moisturizers I mean anything that contains a natural anti-bacterial, like tea tree oil, manuka honey etc.

  • Courtney

    Fran! After reading your article I felt a million times better about what had been happening with my skin. I recently returned from a European vacation and I TOO had the worst breakout of my LIFE while in London (our first stop). Although I am still dealing with a few pimples here and there — I am doing much better. I as still working to clear my skin up completely, I had not had acne before the trip. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Brianna

    by the way, i’m 16. i don’t know if age matters?

  • Brianna

    Hi Fran!
    So when I get my eyebrows threaded my forehead/t-zone has this reaction to the threading. It makes me breakout the next day around my forehead. I’m wondering if these steps will help with my breakout because this is the only time I really breakout and I normally have clear to some acne.

    I also wanted to know what you mean by anti-bacterial moisturizers and what kind of ingredients should I look for in these moisturizers?

  • Mike

    that is to say, “free of pollutants” means very low levels. the EPA (environmental protection agency) does toxicology studies, finds the lowest toxic dose, and then sets the standard way below that! Granted, there are some pollutants that are contentious, so there is criticism of some of their limits, but they are all very low, on the level of parts per million (maybe 300 molecules of pollutant X for every million molecules of H2O Water). Some are parts per billion!

  • mike

    London water has been treated in a water treatment plant to remove pollutants. You can be assured that the water is as free of pollutants as elsewhere. As an example, New York City is well known to have some of the best water.

  • Natasha

    Hi Fran, great site. I am really enjoying reading your articles.

    I moved to London 3 months ago and since then my skin has been terrible. Just a constant breakout of spots. Prior to that my skin was flawless, not a spot for years due to a 6 month course of Roacutane so I thought my skin was permanently fixed…silly me.

    I exfoliate in the morning and I cleanse at night using ‘Simple’ branded products but none of these have seemed to help. Do you think by washing my face it the London water is doing more harm than good? I was hoping my skin would just get better in time but I am not so sure anymore. If you have any other pollution based resolutions I would love to hear them.


  • Torie

    Hi, I’ve had a question thats been bugging me for quite some time. I’ve been using baking soda as an exfoliator once a day for a while now and I know you say to exfoliate only about 2-3 times a week, but I haven’t noticed any ill effects from doing it daily, so should I be concerned?

  • Wow Jacquelyn, that’s the best dermatologist experience I’ve heard of, thank you for sharing. I might do some research on this “pink shake up” because I think it’s worth learning more about!

  • jacquelyn

    my derm specially compounded a topical medication for me to apply every night when i have an active breakout, he calls it “pink shake up”. It is a combo of salicylic and lactic acid, the latter is found in milk which may be why many people treat acne and redness with cold milk on a cotton ball. Also in the medicine is calamine lotion which gives it the pink appearance. Calamine is tipically used on chicken pox spots to reduce itchiness and to calm and soothe inflamed wounds in the skin. It is very drying and smells like nail polish remover, it will even eat through the label! But it brought my severe acne down to about 25% and I get a facial with a glycolic peel every Wednesday which has completely turned my skin around in more ways than I can even describe here!!! I LOVE your site Fran and have a great day y’all!! I can say y’all I’m from Texas (the best state ever)!!

  • Anne- No, it’s a digital book so you buy it online and get to download and read it straight away :)

  • anne

    hi fran. is your book, eat away your acne sold at local bookstores?

  • Hi Zack, I always take a small bottle of moisturizer on the plane with me.

  • Zack

    Hi Fran! What do you do on the plane for your skin bacause mine gets so so so dry on the plane I mean cracked dry I want to put vaseline on because its so dry! but its gets dry everywhere on my body. Also what do you think about those water sprays they sell I tried the Vchy thermal water spray and I love it! My skin gets perfect when I use it. Do you think its all in the mind or is there something really special about these waters?

  • Laura- Agreed, everything is so ridiculously expensive in London! Unfortunately Banalasta is a very small business so it’s easiest to get if you’re in Australia. Have you tried doing a Google search for what’s available in London? I’m sure there are many small natural skin care brands in London trying to make a go of it.

    As for finding a good one, read the ingredients and follow your intuition. And of course, ask around and check out forums.

    I did make a moisturizer at home once, years ago (before I knew anything about ingredients). It was a very natural but very waxy mix. It made my skin beautiful and smooth but my pores looked huge after using it for a few days! If you go to one of the bigger bookstores you’ll find a few books on how to make your own natural skin care. Might be worth an investment :)

    And thanks for the tip on the transcripts, I’ll definitely do that from now on!

    Kevin- This question actually has a very complicated answer! With teenage skin there isn’t a lot you can do. Your hormones are going to be a little out of whack for a while so anything external like stress or pollution is going to aggravate it a little.

    Nico- These steps work best for a sudden breakout, or surface managing your skin. If you want to clear up persistent acne you’ll need more of a holistic approach in ADDITION to using this system. This means taking supplements, looking at your diet and considering exercise and relaxation techniques.

  • Nico

    I wish I would have any progress with these tips – I’ve been doing this for about 3 weeks now just my skin doesn’t seem to be effected at all!
    I guess in my case there must be another reason for my lasting breakout… (allergic test in progress)

  • kevin

    You’re so lucky! You’re like having your own journey around the world :) .Its looks as if you dyed your hair in the second pic. Instead of taking measures after we receive the breakout is there anything we can do to prepare our skin before we plan to change our usual environment?

  • Laura

    Hi Fran,

    I live in London and have congested skin, which I’m also CONVINCED is caused mainly by the city’s polluted atmosphere (I moved here 3 years ago from Cheshire in the north of the UK), so you’re not the only one! Did you know that they only grow plane trees in the city as they’re the only ones that will withstand the pollution levels, its that bad!! :-)

    While you were in London, did you find an equivalent to Banalasta? We can’t get it over here I don’t think (unless you know a stockist that imports it from Oz, like Wholefoods or something?)

    I’m also wondering (cos everything’s so expensive here) whether you know of an an oil-free yet really hydrating moisturiser recipe that you can make at home? My skin is so dry, but the OCM doesn’t work on me – same results as you (many small whiteheads) so I can’t use olive oil at home or whatever but don’t want to use a synthetic moisturiser.

    Thanks :-)

    PS : Great site – really, really useful! By the way, I’m a little hard of hearing so it really helps when you sometimes post a short written “transcript” of your videos (as some are pretty quiet, even when played at full volume). If you could do that for most (i.e. just the main points of your message), that would make this site truly fantastic!

  • Hi Melissa, I’m talking about BHAs and AHAs here, including salicylic acid and glycolic acid products. My current fav is Paula’s Choice 2% BHA –

  • Melissa

    Fran, what is a deep pore exfoliator and what kind do you use?

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