Can You Really Use Ice To Treat Acne?

Is the beauty urban legend legit?

Waking up with a zit on any day is annoying, but if you’ve got an engagement for which you want to look your best, an uninvited breakout can send you into a tailspin. If you deal with pimples in the reg, you’re probably well acquainted with how frustrating it can be figuring out how to treat acne.

Besides the thousands of acne-busting products on the shelves (er, products that claim to banish breakouts, at least), there are also plenty of home remedies that circulate on the Internet. You know, the old wives’ tales of the beauty world. One such acne urban legend is that putting ice on acne can help get rid of unwanted spots. Could it really be true that the pimple-quashing solution has been in your freezer — costing zero dollars — all along? Bustle called on board-certified dermatologists Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., and Dr. Ryan Turner, M.D., for the final word on whether ice can be used to treat acne. Scroll on for the expert intel.

Does Ice Help Acne Go Away?

Here’s the deal: Both derms agree that, in a pinch, ice can be effective at reducing the pain, swelling, and redness associated with inflammatory acne. Exciting stuff. That said, think of it as more of a band-aid rather than a one-and-done treatment that’ll keep zits at bay for good. “Ice doesn’t help to treat the root cause of acne in any way,” Liu explains. So that means ice won’t help to unclog pores, eliminate acne-causing bacteria, or reduce and control oil production in the skin.

It’s also worth noting that ice won’t have any effect on breakouts that aren’t inflammatory in nature, i.e. blackheads, whiteheads, and severe cystic acne, which could be caused by hormonal changes. For the latter variant, Turner notes that ice may, however, help relieve the discomfort caused by cystic acne, which is often painful to the touch. Basically, if you’re looking for some relief from a red, swollen, or painful zit, then go hit up your freezer if you want — but know that you’re not actually “treating” your acne or preventing it from returning. Bummer.

How To Use Ice On Acne

If you are going to reach for ice to help subdue acne pain and reduce the size and redness of a pimple, you’ve got Liu’s seal of approval. For a more effective solution, though, Liu recommends pairing the home remedy with proper, proven acne treatments like topical benzoyl peroxide, a salicylic acid spot treatment, or an acne patch. Turner doesn’t recommend ice be used to treat acne at all. He thinks the risks outweigh the rewards. But if you’re determined, he says, “It is very crucial to apply ice in short intervals to avoid getting frostbite,” and you should use something like a thin washcloth as a barrier between your skin and the ice. Liu agrees that you should be super careful with severely cold temperatures on your skin, as it can damage the skin barrier; that’s even more likely if your skin is sensitive, BTW.

TL;DR? If you use it carefully, ice for acne can be a “quick, temporary trick” to calm irritating zits, “but that’s pretty much it,” says Liu.


Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., Minneapolis-based board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Ryan Turner, M.D., New York City-based board-certified dermatologist