While it can be tempting to pop a pimple, dermatologists strongly discourage this approach. Why? Popping a pimple incorrectly can increase your risk of infection and scarring.
Everyone gets pimples, and probably just about everyone has gotten the urge to pop one.
There is a proper way to extract a pimple, which we’ll cover in this article. But keep in mind that this procedure is best performed by a skin care professional in a sterile environment.
Most pimples form because the skin cells that surround your hair follicles stick together. This can create a hard plug that blocks your pores. Several things can trigger this reaction in your skin, including:
- allergic reactions
- naturally occurring oils
The result is a pore that gets clogged with oil, pus, or sebum, creating a bumpy, inflamed area of your skin. Here are three common types of blemishes:
- Blackheads are open pores clogged by oil and dead cells. The oil and cells that are covering your pores look dark when exposed to the air, giving blackheads their typical dark appearance.
- Whiteheads are similar to blackheads, but they’re covered by your skin. You can see a bump of skin covering the hard, white plug that’s clogging your pore.
- Pustules are deeper acne blemishes that are harder to extract. They’re typically red and inflamed. Pustules can be caused by allergies, hormones, bacteria, or other skin conditions.
When a pore becomes clogged or a pimple forms under your skin, your hair follicles can fill up with pus or sebum (oil). Eventually, the hair follicle can burst, breaking the clog away from your pore and beginning the healing process.
This is your body’s natural mechanism for dealing with clogged pores and acne. When you pop a pimple yourself, you may be triggering this healing process and getting rid of the pimple while you’re at it. But there are also risks involved.
As a general rule, you should never attempt to pop your pimple yourself.
If you attempt to pop a pimple and end up breaking your skin barrier, you risk permanent acne scarring. If your pimple contains infected pus, popping a pimple can spread bacteria into other pores and hair follicles, creating a bigger acne outbreak.
Popping a pimple can also delay your body’s natural healing process, meaning what is meant to be a “quick fix” ends up giving you a blemish that lasts even longer.
If you try to pop a pimple and aren’t able to, you may push the contents of your pimple further underneath your skin layer. This can clog your pores even more, make acne more noticeable, or trigger inflammation under your skin.
With all that being said, some people are unable to resist the temptation of popping a pimple as soon as they see a whitehead appear. If you’re going to pop a pimple once in a while, follow these steps.
The technique for popping a pimple safely differs slightly depending on which type of blemish you have.
How to get rid of blackheads
Over-the-counter (OTC) topical medication such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can be applied to your blackhead to loosen the plug before you try to pop it.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, then apply pressure to both sides of the clogged pore using your fingers. With a little pressure, the blackhead should pop out.
How to get rid of whiteheads
Sterilize a needle with
After using an OTC astringent or acne medication and washing your hands thoroughly, apply pressure to both sides of the clogged pore to extract the plug.
How to get rid of pustules
Pustules are deep underneath the layers of your skin and are difficult to extract. Using a warm compress, you can try to open your pores and get the irritant/clog closer to your skin’s surface. OTC treatments might also work.
Overall, though, it’s best not to try to pop a pustule yourself.
Popping your pimples isn’t the only way to clear your skin. Here are some other options:
- OTC remedies that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can be used daily to clear up breakouts and clarify pores.
- A cold compress or ice can be used to relieve pain and swelling from cysts, nodules, and pustules.
- Warm compresses can also be applied to loosen dirt and bacteria and speed the healing of clogged pores.
- Natural clarifiers, such as diluted alcohol and tea tree oil, can work as astringent agents to dry out and remove clogs caused by sebum.
Find the best acne treatments according to dermatologists.
There are lots of things you can do to prevent future breakouts. Here are a few:
- Stick to your acne treatment regimen.
- Let your skin heal naturally as often as you can.
- Use a mild cleanser to wash your face twice per day.
- Always cleanse your body and face with antibacterial soap after workouts.
- Keep your hands away from your face, especially when using shared surfaces like those in school, at work, and on public transportation.
- If you were assigned female at birth, talk with your doctor about using hormonal birth control. Some people use hormonal birth control to help control acne that is caused by fluctuating hormones.
- Consider managing and preventing breakouts with topical retinoids and oral isotretinoin (Accutane).
If you have frequent outbreaks, painful cystic acne, or acne that never seems to go away, you should see your skin care professional.
Acne that leaves scars on your skin, doesn’t go away with OTC remedies, or makes you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious should be treated by a dermatologist.
They may prescribe a topical or oral treatment, an in-office therapy, dietary or lifestyle changes, or a combination of all, depending on the severity of your acne.
It’s never a great idea to pop your own pimples. The risk of infection, scarring, and delaying healing is much higher when you take matters into your own hands.
If you do occasionally feel like you have to treat a pimple by popping it, make sure you follow the proper technique.
Be sure to clean your hands and sterilize any instruments you plan to use to pop your pimple. If you keep getting outbreaks, speak with your doctor about prescription medication and other treatments for your acne.