The first rule of facial extraction is to realize not all pores should be squeezed.
Yes, DIY extraction can be highly satisfying. But it isn’t always healthy for your skin.
You need to know which blemishes are ripe for popping and which ones should be left alone.
Most importantly, you need to know how to extract without leaving a red, raw mess behind.
Read on for all those answers and more.
Before getting into the juicy part, it’s crucial to recognize the signs that your skin won’t take too kindly to prodding and poking.
“When you squeeze the skin and ‘burst’ the pimple, you’re creating a tear in the skin, which then needs to heal and can leave a scar,” explains dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse.
While some blemishes can be safely extracted (more on those later), others can lead to inflammation and infection if squeezed by you or even a professional.
Avoid any deep or painful pimples, like cysts, completely. These tend to look red and lumpy with no visible head.
Not only is there nothing to extract from these kinds of breakouts, but attempting to pop them may result in longer lasting and more aggressive redness and swelling.
Plus, you’re likely to cause a dark mark or scab, which can be more noticeable than the original pimple.
If necessary, a dermatologist can drain a cyst.
“I don’t recommend attempting to extract any pimples other than blackheads,” says dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner.
“Blackheads are essentially dilated pores that are filled with sebum [the skin’s natural oil],” explains Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
He adds blackheads can be easily extracted at home because they usually have a wide opening to the surface.
Some people say it’s safe to extract whiteheads yourself, but Zeichner isn’t so sure.
According to Zeichner, whiteheads typically have a smaller surface opening. In many cases, this means the pore needs to be opened before you attempt to extract what’s inside.
It’s safer to leave them to a professional to avoid damaging the skin.
Dermatologists and aestheticians are generally uncomfortable with people trying facial extraction at home. But if you have to do it, do it the right way.
First things first: Don’t pick at your face right before bedtime, advises Zeichner. You’re more likely to accidentally damage your skin when you’re half asleep.
When you’re wide awake, gently cleanse and exfoliate to soften skin and make the entire process much easier.
Steaming skin is also essential to soften the contents of pores. Do this by taking a shower, applying a warm compress, or simply hanging your face over a bowl of hot water.
Next, wash your hands thoroughly. This helps prevent dirt and bacteria from being transferred back into your pores during extraction.
While you can use your bare fingers, a better bet is to wrap them in tissue, wear gloves, or use two Q-tips to press.
Instead of pressing in on either side of the blemish, gently press down, advises dermatologist Dr. Anna Guanche, founder of Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, California.
Ideally, you’ll only do this once. But it’s OK to try two or three times total, moving your fingers around the area.
If nothing comes out after three attempts, leave the blemish and move on. And if you see clear fluid or blood, stop pushing.
You may feel a little discomfort during the process, but you shouldn’t experience pain.
A blemish that has been properly extracted may look red at first, but it’ll begin to heal quicker without looking angry.
Particularly tough blemishes may require the help of a comedone extractor tool or even a needle — but these are best left to a trained professional.
You usually don’t have to do much after extracting, says Zeichner. Applying a mild, fragrance-free moisturizer is enough to hydrate and calm the skin.
You can also apply a topical antibiotic ointment if the area is open or raw. Avoid using thick, heavy-duty creams or products containing acids to prevent further irritation and clogging.
If in doubt, it’s best to leave your skin alone until the next day.
“When you place pressure onto a pimple, the pimple may not always pop in an outward fashion,” explains Guanche.
“Many times, the pimple will explode or pop inward, and when keratin is extruded where it isn’t supposed to be, inflammatory reaction and further damage can occur, including scarring.”
Although she believes all pimple popping should be left to the professionals, she recognizes that there are specific types that can truly only be treated successfully with expert help.
Inflammatory acne, such as pustules, is best extracted by a pro, as it may require a sharp tool to break the skin.
Trying this at home could spread bacteria to other parts of your face and worsen the existing pustule.
Similarly, you should never try to extract milia at home. These may look like whiteheads, but are harder and often need a blade-type tool for removal.
And if you have an event coming up, let a dermatologist or aesthetician handle your extraction to avoid unnecessary irritation.
Aestheticians will often perform extractions as part of facials.
If you can, try to find an aesthetician with a couple of years’ experience. You can also ask family and friends for recommendations.
If you prefer to see a dermatologist, make sure they’re board-certified via the American Board of Dermatology or American Academy of Dermatology.
Expect to pay a little more for an appointment with a qualified dermatologist. Fees of around $200 are common.
Aestheticians, on the other hand, tend to charge around $80 for a facial.
The process is pretty similar to the one you’d use at home.
If prescription-strength topicals or other treatments are a part of your skin care routine, your provider may advise you to discontinue use in the days leading up to your appointment.
Continued use may increase your risk of irritation.
It doesn’t matter too much if you arrive wearing makeup, as your skin will be cleansed and steamed before the extraction.
Gloves will be worn while extracting pores and metal tools may be used, meaning you could feel slight pain. Tell your provider if the pain becomes too much to handle.
Afterward, soothing, antibacterial products will be applied to the skin. Some clinics use technology such as light therapy to further calm the face.
If you’re having an extraction as part of a facial, your skin may break out a day or two after. This is an expected (and good!) reaction known as skin purging.
Overall, though, you shouldn’t experience redness for more than 24 hours, and extracted blemishes should begin to heal.
Extractions aren’t a one-off thing. Pores tend to clog up again, meaning you may need regular treatments.
Shainhouse, who practices at Beverly Hills’ SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care, advises limiting extractions to once or twice a month.
This allows the epidermis, or top layer of your skin, to heal and minimizes inflammation or trauma to the skin.
In the meantime, you can help soothe your skin by:
- sticking to noncomedogenic products, or those that won’t clog your pores
- moisturizing and exfoliating regularly
- using a clay or mud mask once a week.
Expert advice says to leave your skin alone and let the professionals handle extractions.
But if it isn’t possible to visit a clinic, sticking to the advice above will help reduce your risk of severe redness, swelling, and scarring.
Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.