The dreaded pimple. Chances are you’ve had a pimple sometime in your life and probably have taken extreme measures to get rid of it. Whether it was in a dimly lit bathroom, in the car mirror on your way to a job interview, or in the bathroom on a first date, you’ve touched, squeezed, pierced, and poked in hopes of eliminating your dreaded blemish. We regret to inform you you’ve been doing it all wrong—but not to worry, that’s where we come in. We chatted with two New York City dermatologists Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group and Dr. Carlos A. Charles of Derma di Colore to learn more about how to pop a pimple correctly and safely.
Dr. Charles, MD, is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. In 2012, Dr. Charles founded Derma di Colore, a comprehensive dermatology practice that addresses the treatment of dermatologic problems of all skin types with an interest in the treatment of darker skin tones. Dr. Nazarian has written a number of articles in medical journals as well as widely respected dermatology textbooks. Dr. Nazarian also serves as a faculty member at Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology. Safe to say, we’re working with two people who know their way around a zit.
Before we get into it, it’s important to note that both dermatologists advised against popping pimples at home unless you were feeling major discomfort or embarrassment due to its appearance. With that disclaimer behind us, if you must pop a pimple at home, please read on.
What are the pros and cons of popping a pimple?
“The risks nearly always outweigh the benefits since most pimples will resolve on their own, and the ones that are more persistent require professional intervention,” says Dr. Nazarian. Plus, if you incorrectly pop the pimple you can cause further damage. “If a pimple is manipulated too aggressively when it is popped, this can cause damage to the surrounding skin and lead to true scarring. Also, excessive manipulation of pimples can potentially introduce other bacteria to the area causing local skin infections,” says Dr. Charles.
This isn’t to say you can’t pop a pimple and reap a few benefits. Removal can rid your skin of excessive pus and make it easier to conceal. Additionally, popping a pimple can help to minimize the discomfort and duration of the pimple.
What types of pimples should you pop?
The best pimples to pop are small whiteheads, blackheads, and pustules (looks like a whitehead, but the skin around is red and inflamed). Whiteheads appear when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria are trapped in your pores. Blackheads are similar in that they are caused by a clogged pore, but the fundamental difference is that with whiteheads, the pore remains closed as compared to blackheads in which the pore is open. Pustules are small bumps on the skin that contain pus or fluid. “The safest type to extract at home are the ones which have collected a small amount of pus or keratin in the middle and are very close to the surface of skin, and those that are not very red or deep: these are usually simple blackheads, whiteheads, or pustules,” says Dr. Nazarian.
It’s also important to note that you should never touch deep cysts. “While it may be very tempting to pop deep cysts, these should ideally be reserved to professionals as they can be difficult to treat due to the depth of the active lesion,” says Dr. Charles. ”Sometimes when patients attempt to pop these on their own, it leads to more destruction to the surrounding skin.”
So you’ve decided to pop your pimple, when should you do it?
It’s smart to pop at night to give your skin time to recover.. “The evening would be the most ideal time along with the nighttime skin cleaning routine,” says Dr. Charles. “This allows the inflammation from the manipulated pimple to subside overnight.”.
It’s even better is to pop a pimple after taking a shower. “When your skin is clean, and the heat has helped to loosen and soften the skin,” Dr. Nazarian explains.
How can you prepare to pop a pimple? Should you use tools?
Starting with a fresh and clean face is vital. “The most important thing is to use clean hands and to make sure your skin is cleaned well to minimize risk of transferring bacteria and causing a skin infection,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Remove all makeup using a wipe, then rinse again with a gentle cleanser and water. Pat dry.”
Tools are not a necessity. Both dermatologists stressed the importance of clean hands, clean skin, and a clean mirror, though. “I typically advise against my patients using tools and extractors, as they will commonly create more damage to the surrounding skin,” says Dr. Carlos.
Are you ready? Here’s how to pop a pimple *correctly*.
“Gently pull the surrounding skin away from the pimple, and push down with light pressure—don’t press down on the middle white/black part—the central white core or black core should drain out easily,” says Dr. Nazarian. “If not, leave it alone. It’s not ready.”
You’ve popped your pimple, congrats! Now what?
After-care is important to make sure you don’t cause any more irritation to the skin. Too much irritation can lead to inflammation and possible scarring. Both dermatologists suggest a gentle cleanser to keep the skin clean. “The key is to avoid any additional irritation or inflammation of the skin so don’t just apply a dab of regular acne medicine on your pimple,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Those are not formulated to be used as spot treatment and will cause a lot of irritation and potential scarring of your skin.”
An extra note for people of color from Dr. Charles:
“With darker skin, any form of trauma or inflammation can lead to hyperpigmentation that sometimes is long-lasting,” he says, “Therefore, when approaching a pimple, those with darker skin have to be as gentle as possible so as to not exacerbate the skin further. Having said that, when seeing skin of color patients in my office I will often advocate for proactively removing the contents from active pimples to reduce inflammation as quickly as possible. I find that this minimizes hypopigmentation and scarring down the road.”
When in doubt, give your dermatologist a shout:
If you really cannot stand living with a pimple, the safest route is to see your dermatologist, Dr. Nazarian says. “Your dermatologist is your best friend. They can safely extract and pop your pimples and they can even inject the deep painful cysts for those with severe acne. Within hours you’ll see an improvement. I typically let patients walk-in or schedule same-day appointment for their acne injections because NO ONE wants to face the world with a face full of pimples” Undeniable.