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When you catch sight of a pimple under the surface of your skin, it’s incredibly tempting to pop it. After all, waiting for a pimple to heal on its own takes days, when squeezing a pimple would seem to resolve the discomfort in seconds.
As much as you might want to, it’s really best not to pop a pimple. When you do, you’re interfering with your skin’s natural healing mechanism. You’re putting yourself at a higher risk for scarring and infection, which is worse than a temporarily visible skin blemish. Any doctor or dermatologist will tell you that popping a pimple is a last resort, something that you should avoid whenever possible.
Certain types of pimples and pustules should never be popped yourself, no matter what. If you have a whitehead or blackhead that you feel you’ve got to get rid of quickly, we will go over a few tips to minimize the risks involved.
Before you take your pimple to task by popping it, consider these alternatives:
- Go to your dermatologist for an extraction. A dermatologist can remove a pimple using special tools in a sterile environment. This method reduces your risk of reinfecting your skin with other bacteria.
- Apply a hot compress. A hot compress can soothe the pain of a pimple that’s inflamed. Once pores are opened by applying heat, your pimple may be able to open and release on its own.
- Use an over-the-counter spot treatment. There are treatment options available that might speed the healing of your pimple. Salicylic acid, sulfur, and benzoyl peroxide are the active ingredients in many of these products. The Mayo Clinic recommends starting with a product that has a low concentration of benzoyl peroxide as its active ingredient.
- Try an at-home spot treatment. Anecdotally, people swear by a few topical treatments for painful, inflamed pimples:
- baking soda
- tea tree oil
- charcoal masks
- hydrogen peroxide
The safest way to get rid of a pimple is to wait it out. Pimples surround bacteria that’s become trapped in the layers of your skin. Popping a pimple releases that bacteria onto your face. Your skin knows how to heal a pimple better than you do.
If you’re going to pop your pimple, follow some guidelines that will be safer for your skin.
How to extract a whitehead
These instructions apply to large whitehead pimples — meaning you can see white pus inside of a trapped pore. You might want to try an over-the-counter medication that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid before you try to pop a whitehead, as those ingredients decrease inflammation and might make the process easier.
- Start by washing your hands thoroughly, so you don’t cross-infect your pimple with bacteria on your hands.
- Sterilize a sewing needle with rubbing alcohol. Carefully insert the pin at an angle into the widest part of your pimple. You shouldn’t feel any pain or draw blood when you do this.
- Using a cotton ball or gauze strip, drain your pimple. Instead of trying to push the bacteria and pus out of it, hold your skin taut so that the other layers of skin drain the pimple for you. This can keep you from pushing bacteria back down into your skin.
- Sterilize the area of your pimple using an antimicrobial drying agent, like witch hazel.
How to extract a blackhead
When the pus and bacteria inside of a blackhead are exposed to the air, they turn black and create pustules called blackheads. Since the pore is already open, a blackhead may be easier to extract than a whitehead.
- Start by applying a product with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to the site of your blackhead. This can loosen any trapped dirt or pus that you’re about to remove.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Using cotton swabs, gently apply pressure on both side of the blackhead. Be mindful not to press down on the blackhead itself. The clog in your pore should pop out easily. If it doesn’t, don’t keep applying pressure.
- Use an astringent like witch hazel or rubbing alcohol to sterilize the area of the blackhead and prevent more from developing.
There are certain types of blemishes that you shouldn’t ever try to pop. They include boils, cystic acne, and pimples deep under the surface of your skin. If you can’t see a visible whitehead or blackhead on a pimple, chances are you won’t be able to pop it, anyway.
In your attempt to pop a pimple that’s not ready to be opened, you risk exposing the inner layers of your skin to bacteria and other irritants. This can make it take longer for your pimple to heal, resulting in other pimples and even permanent scarring on your face.
Popping a pimple once in a while will probably be fine, as long as you follow best practices to prevent infection. You shouldn’t make a habit out of popping pimples, and always be mindful of doing it in a sterile environment.
Don’t pop your pimples because you’re stressed and in a hurry, and don’t apply makeup over a pimple right after you’ve popped it — this could trap or reintroduce bacteria on your skin.
If you have frequent breakouts, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist who can work with you on a treatment plan. Prescription medication, dietary changes, and skin care products can all help you live with less frequent acne flare-ups.