Let’s just admit it now: We all pop our pimples. Yes, it’s kinda gross. Yes, it makes our dermatologists cringe. Yes, we still do it (and sometimes even like it).
When you wake up with a big one on your chin before a big meeting or a handful of little ones around your lips after trying a new gloss, what else are you supposed to do?! Just sit there all day, knowing it’s growing and could burst at any time? No, thank you.
Pimples are totally natural and common, but that doesn’t make popping them any less tempting.
If you’re an avid pimple popper, you’re not alone. Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) has 6.2 million YouTube subscribers. Clearly popping pimples is something that a lot of people do — and enjoy watching.
Don’t expect to get a gold star from your derm if you go the DIY route, though. Tempted as you might be, “dermatologists do not recommend that you pop your own pimple,” says Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist based in Manhattan. “Doing it incorrectly can lead to permanent scarring and make you prone to infection.”
She adds: “If the pimple contains infected pus, this can spread bacteria into other pores, causing further breakouts. Another risk of trying to pop pimples — and failing to do so — is that it can cause severe inflammation and clog the pores even deeper.”
She knows you’re probably going to ignore all that advice and do it anyway. Let’s at least learn to do it safely!
So you want to pop your pimple, do you? First up, know which ones you can and can’t pop. The most common types of breakouts are blackheads, whiteheads, and pustules, says Green.
Here’s the difference:
- Blackheads are “open pores clogged by dead skin cells and oil,” she says. You might get these along the sides of your nose, your chin, or on your forehead. They don’t “pop,” but they can be removed.
- Whiteheads are “covered by your skin,” she explains. These are tempting (and sometimes easy) to pop.
- Pustules are “the deeper type of acne, which are really hard to get rid of on your own,” she says. “They’re normally red and inflamed and some can be painful to the touch.” Don’t try to pop them — read below for some DIY options or make an appointment with your dermatologist, especially if you’re counting down to a major event.
“Some patients still have the temptation to pop their pimples,” admits Green. “If you have blackheads or whiteheads, then you can try to pop them with the right technique.”
Here are the steps you should follow:
- Wash your hands to keep from spreading bacteria.
- Use a warm compress on the affected area for about 15 minutes.
- Use a clean cotton swab (not your fingers or any sharp tools) to apply pressure onto both sides of the pimple. This should cause the blackhead or whitehead to pop out.
- Marvel at your success!
- If that doesn’t work, stop trying. You could inflame the area or clog your pores even more. (See below for other tips.)
- Follow up with a gentle toner, if desired, and proceed with the rest of your skin care routine.
If you have a pimple that just won’t pop, don’t give up hope. You have plenty of other options, says Green.
Follow these dos and don’ts to give acne the boot.
- Don’t try toothpaste on your zit. Green cautions, “Although toothpaste has a drying effect, it can cause irritation, redness, and peeling.” Those could end up causing more of an issue than the pimple itself!
- Don’t try baking soda and lemon juice, either. “Both ingredients can cause severe irritation and sensitivity,” she warns. Baking soda is highly alkaline, while lemon juice is acidic, so your skin will thank you for choosing gentler ingredients.
- Do try apple cider vinegar. “It can help remove bacteria and exfoliate the skin,” says Green. “However, it’s important to be very cautious when using apple cider vinegar as it’s an acid, so be sure to dilute it with water.” Moisten a cotton or bamboo round, then dampen with a splash of the vinegar. Swipe across the affected area.
- Do try tea tree oil. “Tea tree oil works wonders as well,” she says. “It has antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties, making it an effective spot treatment for acne.” Tea tree oil is potent, so never use it without diluting it first. Look for a toner that already contains it or add a few drops to your favorite brand.
- Do cover it up and forget about it. We’re so lucky to live during the time of acne patches. Pop one of these hydrocolloid bandages on a painful pimple overnight and let it soak up all the grossness. In the morning, take a peek at what’s on the bandage — it’s almost as nasty/awesome as popping a pimple!
Green and her colleagues prefer that you leave pimple popping to the pros. They’re highly trained in keeping your skin healthy. However, life happens, and we often take matters into our own hands.
Here are two times when that’s definitely not recommended — and when you should call in the experts instead.
- If you have deep acne. You won’t be able to see a “head” with these pimples, so there’s nothing to pop. “It’s highly advised to not touch them at all, especially if they’re painful,” Green explains.
- If you have painful cystic acne or frequent breakouts. “It’s best to see a dermatologist, as they can help you find the best treatment option,” Green advises. You might need to change up your skin care routine or call in the big dogs with prescription treatments.
As fans of Dr. Pimple Popper know, dermatologists have many ways of dealing with major breakouts, no matter the size. Don’t try her techniques at home — especially if you’re tempted to use any sharp object.
Keep this in mind: Pimples happen. We all get them — they’re no big deal. Chances are, no one else is going to notice the one on your nose or your chin — even if you feel it throbbing like a red siren on your face!