How to pop a pimple properly when you just have to!
A derm weighs in on the right way to do a wrong thing.
When your first pimple appeared, someone undoubtedly told you to never, ever touch it. And you might have listened at first, slathering it with zit-zapping creams and hoping it would shrink before the next school day. But, impatience kicked in, along with that almost-primal desire to pick, and you found yourself squeezing it into oblivion. You might have been left with a bit of a bloody, inflamed mess, but the initial satisfaction was undeniable.
If that was you — and if that is also you in adulthood — you're not alone; there's a reason Dr. Pimple Popper has more than four million subscribers on YouTube. And no matter how much you've read about the nasty things picking can cause, like scarring and broken capillaries, you still might be hooked. To help mitigate the impending damage, we went to Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll for the low down on popping pimples the "right" way.
Before we get there though, we'd be remiss if we didn't remind you that popping pimples isn't always the best way to get rid of them. If you do see a bump forming on your skin and you feel like you can overcome the urge to pick, try icing it to bring down the inflammation, and then use topical treatments with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. If you're looking for something more natural, tea tree oil is a great alternative. If those methods aren't working or you have a big event coming up, a trip to the dermatologist might be the answer. "Dermatologists can use an old fashioned cortisone shot to shrink a pimple, and I often add laser to decrease bacteria and redness," says Dr. Carroll.
But, if you can't stop the pop, here's how to squeeze a pimple and do the least amount of damage.
Step one: Assess the pimple
Although Dr. Carroll doesn't condone popping, "if you must, only pop pimples with actual whiteheads," she says. That means the pimple's pus should be right at the surface of your skin, not underneath, like in the case of a cystic bump. Cystic pimples typically aren't ready to be popped, and attempting to pop them can cause your skin to break, allowing more bacteria in and likely worsening the problem. Try to be patient and give your spot time to reach the surface.
Step two: Prep the area
Cleanliness is key here, for the pimple, the skin around the pimple, and whatever you're going to use to extract it. Ideally, take a hot shower before you start or apply a warm compress, as this will help open your pores and soften the pimple. Thoroughly wash your hands, and then Dr. Carroll recommends disinfecting the area with rubbing alcohol.
Step three: Gather your tools
Since your fingers and your nails can be home to a lot of bacteria that could make the situation much worse, if you are going to use them, wrap them in clean tissue before making contact with your face. Or, opt for a different popping tool all together. Dr. Carroll suggests two cotton swabs, and proceeding with caution when it comes to looped blemish extractors. "In my experience, people tend to overuse and under clean these types of devices." So if you are going to go that route, clean your extractor thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, and be gentle as you're extracting.
Step four: Go in for the kill
Press at the edges of the pimple with your cotton swabs, and "if it doesn't pop, don't keep squeezing," adds Dr. Carroll. If you've applied pressure for five seconds and nothing is happening, your pimple isn't ready to be popped and you should back off. If it is popping but the pus has given way to blood, that's another indication that it's time to stop.
Step five: Treat and recover
Again, the key here is to limit the bacteria that could creep back into the pore you just emptied and give you a whole new problem to deal with. So apply rubbing alcohol again, and do your best to keep your hands away from the area until it has healed completely. If your skin is red and irritated and you need to apply concealer, try to leave as much time as possible between popping and makeup. The best time to take on your pimples is in the evening, right before bed, so your skin has all night to recover.
Tara MacInnis is a Toronto-based writer and editor with a deep love for lipstick, jumpsuits and dogs. Follow her on Instagram @tara_macinnis.