Applying ice or a cold compress may relieve the symptoms of some kinds of pimples but not others.
Just about everyone develops a pimple from time to time. Although conventional treatments can clear up unwanted blemishes, many products contain harsh chemicals that can lead to skin irritation or dryness. As a result, some people rely on natural skincare remedies instead.
Ice is one home remedy that receives a lot of attention for its ease of use and versatility. The purported skincare benefits of ice range from banishing bags under the eyes to minimizing pores, but can it remove acne for good?
Read on to learn if ice can help with pimples.
A pimple usually forms when sebum and skin cells clog a hair follicle, trapping excess oil, cell debris, and bacteria under the skin.
The walls of the plugged hair follicle may rupture, spilling the contents into surrounding skin tissue. This can create more pimples and trigger inflammation.
Ice may help reduce redness, swelling, and pain in inflammatory-type pimples, including pustules and cysts.
While a cold compress can minimize inflammation and make pimples less noticeable or painful, it will not remove the contents inside a pimple.
Pimples can appear on any part of the body, including the face, back, chest, and scalp.
Although the same basic principles apply when icing a pimple on any part of the body, different icing techniques may work on some areas better than others.
Follow these general tips when icing a pimple on any part of the body:
- Wash the area thoroughly with a gentle cleanser and warm water.
- Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
- Wrap the ice cubes or ice pack in a clean cloth before placing on the skin.
- Apply ice in 30 seconds to 1-minute intervals.
- Do not fall asleep with a cold pack on.
Depending on the size and number of pimples, a person can apply a single ice cube to a pimple on their face.
After washing and gently drying the area, place a wrapped ice cube on the pimple at 1-minute intervals.
Make sure to wait a few minutes between applications. Doing this can help prevent tissue damage.
People can use ice cubes or ice packs on pimples during their morning and evening skincare routines. They can also ice severely inflamed pimples multiple times a day if they cleanse the skin beforehand.
People who do not have an ice pack or ice cubes to hand could use a bag of frozen vegetables instead.
Apply a wrapped ice cube to a single pimple on the chest at 1-minute intervals. For multiple pimples, consider making a bigger ice pack or use a commercial ice pack.
To make an ice pack, fill a plastic bag with ice cubes and water. Wrap the ice pack in a clean dishcloth or any thin fabric before placing it on the skin.
Some people may have difficulty reaching a pimple on the back, so consider using a larger ice pack or cold compress.
Hold the ice pack in place with the hands. If the spot is in an awkward position, consider laying down on the ice pack or securing it to the back with a compression wrap. Remove the icepack if the skin begins to feel numb or itchy.
While ice can help reduce symptoms of an inflamed pimple, heat works well on noninflamed, blind pimples. A blind pimple is a type of closed comedo that develops in the deep layers of the skin.
This type of acne occurs when a plug of sebum and dead skin cells trap oil, bacteria, and dirt deep within a hair follicle. The result is a painful lump under the skin that does not have a white head.
A warm compress or a steam facial can help treat blind pimples. The pores regulate body temperature.
When exposed to cold temperatures, the pores contract to conserve body heat.
A hot compress has the opposite effect. Pores relax or dilate in the presence of heat. Warmth and moisture help loosen the contents inside the pores and draw excess oil and dirt to the surface.
People can treat large, inflamed pimples by alternating hot and cold compresses.
To make a hot compress, soak a towel in hot water. The towel should be hot, but not scalding.
Remove the towel and apply a cold compress, such as an ice cube wrapped in a clean cloth, to the pimple. This will help reduce swelling, discomfort, and redness. Use this treatment daily until the pimple clears up.
While ice alone may not cure a pimple, it can decrease swelling and redness, making the pimple less noticeable.
Ice also has a numbing effect, which can offer temporary pain relief for severely inflamed pimples.
Icing a pimple does not carry any significant risks. However, people should avoid leaving ice on the skin for too long.
Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can result in frostbite, also known as freezing cold injury.
The blood vessels constrict and reduce blood flow to conserve heat in cold or freezing environments. Over time, this decrease in blood flow can damage the skin tissue.
Symptoms of frostbite include:
- numbness or a tingling sensation
- a portion of skin that appears unnaturally pale surrounded by red, swollen tissue
- peeling or blistering skin
- loss of deep layers of skin
People should avoid placing ice directly on their skin because this could lead to cold urticaria, a condition in which welts, hives, and swelling appear after exposing the skin to cold air or water. The skin rash usually appears within 2–5 minutes after exposure.
Ice may help clear pesky pimples, especially when combined with other natural or medicated treatments. Consider using the following treatments alone or alongside ice:
- over-the-counter (OTC) spot treatments
- tea tree oil
- witch hazel
- aloe vera gel or frozen aloe vera cubes
Pimples that develop in the deep layers of the skin can damage the surrounding tissue.
When the pimple clears up, the body produces collagen to heal the damaged skin. However, too much or too little collagen can result in a scar.
About 80–90% of acne scarring occurs when a pimple destroys collagen or when the body does not produce enough during the healing process.
An inadequate amount of collagen results in atrophic or depressed scars. Overproduction of collagen results in raised scars.
Cold skincare tools, such as cryorollers, may help reduce depressed or rolling acne scars when used alongside medical or surgical treatments.
In a 2014 study, researchers compared the effects of combining cryorolling or dermarolling with subcision, a minimally invasive surgical treatment for depressed acne scarring. A total of 30 people took part in the study.
The researchers found that cryorolling and subcision led to a 61% improvement in the participants’ acne scarring, while dermarolling and subcision improved scarring by only 45%.
Ice may help reduce specific acne symptoms. However, people cannot treat the underlying cause of acne with ice alone.
People who experience severe or persistent inflammatory acne may want to consider speaking with their doctor or a dermatologist, especially if they have already tried treating their acne at home.
A dermatologist can offer personalized treatment recommendations and prescribe topical or oral medications that help alleviate the root cause of acne.
Underlying causes can include hormone imbalances, overactive sebum glands, and bacteria overgrowth.
Icing a pimple may help reduce pain, redness, and swelling due to inflammatory acne. However, ice may provide little or no benefit for noninflammatory pimples.
People who decide to try icing a pimple should always wrap ice cubes and frozen gel packs in a clean cloth or plastic bag. Applying frozen objects directly to the skin or for long periods can lead to tissue damage and even frostbite.
People who experience severe or persistent acne that does not respond to home remedies or OTC spot treatments may want to consider seeing a dermatologist for more potent treatment options.