Blisters might be small, but they’re a real bitch. Seriously, it’s ridiculous that a tiny fluid-filled sac can hurt so much. So, if you’re dealing with one that’s sucking the joy out of your day, should you just pop it?
Not so fast.
Popping might seem like the best way to get rid of a blister so you can start feeling better ASAP. But that nagging voice telling you not to do it is right on the money.
Why, though? Is popping a blister really that bad? And is it ever OK to just do it anyway?
Here are the answers to all your burning blister Qs.
The urge to pop a big, bad blister can be strong. But you should try your hardest to resist.
Popping a hole in a blister creates an opening for bacteria, which can up your risk of infection. Plus, the fluids in a blister are protective and can help promote healing. (Who knew, right?)
Leaving your blister alone will help it go away faster. If you’re dealing with a run-of-the-mill blister caused by friction, it’ll probably disappear in just a few days. (Those that are infected can take longer — like weeks or even months — but popping is likely to prolong the misery even more.)
Speaking of friction blisters, how can you tell whether you have one of those or something a little more serious? Here’s a quick review for you.
These are soft pockets filled with clear fluid that form when the top layer of skin gets irritated and damaged, like when you wear ill-fitting shoes for too long. After a few days, the fluid drains on its own and the blistered skin peels away.
These are friction blisters taken to the next level. Friction that’s bad enough can damage small blood vessels just beneath your skin, causing a blister to fill with blood instead of clear fluid. Blood blisters are usually more painful too.
Minor burns, including sunburns, can cause blisters. These blisters are filled with fluid and usually accompanied by red, painful skin.
Burn blisters help protect your damaged skin from infection, so you don’t want to pop them. Like friction blisters, blisters caused by minor burns will heal on their own if you let them.
Contact dermatitis — a reaction that happens when your skin comes in contact with an allergen or irritant — can cause allergy blisters. They’re often accompanied by a rash, itching, and burning. Again, you’re better off letting them heal than trying to pop them.
Fever blisters (and other blisters caused by infections)
These blisters are a little different from the rest. Caused by bacteria or viruses, they can vary in size and shape and might be crusty or pus-filled. (Cold sores, which can form around your mouth, are sometimes called fever blisters.)
Popping infected blisters will probably make the problem worse. For instance, you might end up spreading the germs from the blister to the surrounding skin. If the blister hasn’t cleared up after several days or it seems to be getting worse, call your doc.
All right — you’ve been warned that popping a blister is a bad idea. At best it’ll slow the healing process, and at worst it could lead to an infection. But if you really need to pop, at least make sure you’re doing it in the safest way possible. Here’s how:
1. Wash your hands and the blister. Plain old soap and water is fine — just be sure to wash well.
2. Rub the blister with iodine. This will help get the area even cleaner to reduce the risk of infection. (FYI, never rub iodine on an open or popped blister. It should be used only on blisters that are fully closed.)
3. Sterilize your popping tool. A sharp needle — like a sewing needle or the needle end of a safety pin — is your best bet. Give the needle a good wipe with rubbing alcohol.
4. Puncture the blister and let it drain. Make a bunch of small pops around the edge of the blister and let the fluid flow out, gently pressing on the area. Try to keep the blister skin from tearing. If you do end up with a flap, don’t rip it off — just try to smooth the flap back over the skin underneath.
5. Bandage it up. Apply a layer of petroleum jelly to the blister and cover it with nonstick gauze. This will protect the area and help prevent infections. If a rash starts to form, stop using the petroleum jelly.
6. Keep an eye on it. Change the gauze every day and any time it gets wet or dirty. It’s OK to remove the gauze at night to give the blister some time to air out.
As your blister heals, be on the lookout for any signs of infection — like redness, swelling, pus, or increasing pain. If you notice any of these issues, give your doc a call to get the blister checked out.
Your best bet for handling a blister is to keep it from forming in the first place. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to do that.
Friction and sweat set the stage for blisters, but socks solve both those problems. If your feet tend to get really sweaty or you mostly get blisters from exercising, wear moisture-wicking socks designed to keep your feet extra dry.
Keep moisture at bay
You can manage really stubborn foot sweat with drying agents like aluminum chloride. Apply it before putting on socks in the morning, before you exercise, and as needed throughout the day.
Make sure your shoes fit
This goes for street shoes and the ones you wear exclusively for exercise. Footwear that’s too loose or too tight causes more friction and makes you more prone to blisters.
Pro tip: Try on new shoes in the afternoon, when your feet tend to be a little more swollen. And break them in at home before wearing them out all day or starting a long workout.
Protect your hands
Wear gloves or palm-protecting grips when you’re doing yard work or lifting weights. They’ll help reduce friction on your hands.
Blisters may be painful and annoying, but they’re best left untouched. In just a few days, nature will run its course and your fluid-filled bubble should be gone.
If you must pop, do it safely. Wash your hands and the blister, sanitize your popping tool, and cleanly bandage the drained sac.
You can help prevent blisters by wearing properly fitting shoes and moisture-wicking socks, protecting your hands with gloves during heavy-duty tasks, and applying a product to keep moisture in check during sweaty activities.