If you have to pop a pimple, here’s the safer way to do it
There are three cardinal rules of skincare that we all know by heart: Wash your face every night, always apply SPF, and for the love of all things holy, do not pop your pimples. And while the first two are pretty easy to follow, for some reason we can’t stop poking and prodding our blemishes. There’s just something so cathartic about the act—you can see and feel the gunk leaving your pores. Gross, but accurate.
Unfortunately, messing with those bumps can actually lead to some scary results. In addition to possibly making the pimple worse by inadvertently pushing the inflammation into the skin, you can also cause everything from infection to permanent damage. “When you pop a pimple incorrectly, you can actually end up increasing hyperpigmentation of the skin and even scarring it,” explains Amanda Doyle, MD, of Russak Dermatology Clinic in New York City. “Popping a pimple without the proper care can hurt and do more damage to the skin than good.”
While we don’t advocate popping, we do acknowledge you’re going to do it at some point in your life. And, we’d rather you did it safely, so with that in mind, we asked celebrity aesthetician and pimple-shrinking pro Renée Rouleau to school us on her blemish clearing ways. Here, her five-step guide for the proper way to pop.
"My general rule is three strikes and you’re out."
1. Make Sure It’s Ready
“It’s only safe to pop a pimple if a visible whitehead appears on the very surface of the skin. Just because you feel something underneath, that does not mean it’s ready to be removed. My general rule is three strikes and you’re out. Meaning, if it doesn’t come out after three tries, don’t do it any longer—or you’ll be making it worse for yourself.”
2. Prep Before You Pop
“For the best results, I recommend extracting immediately after a shower. The skin is clean and the heat from the shower will soften the top layer of the skin for a gentle extraction. You can also cleanse the area and apply a warm washcloth for several minutes if [you don’t feel like showering].”
3. Make A (Tiny!) Hole
“Create an easy opening for the infection to pop out. The harder it is to pop out, the more scarring you will get. The most effective way to do this is to use sterile lancet and poke a tiny hole into the middle of the whitehead. The skin tissue is very thin and is stretched over the opening of the whitehead, so if the skin is softened from the heat, it’s fairly easy to do.”
4. Go For The Big Squeeze
“Once the skin is pierced, wrap a tissue around each forefinger and use the sides of them (not your nails!) to gently squeeze and release the infection. Widen the space between your fingers out a bit so that the infection will be extracted easier from the deeper level of the skin. You’ll want to position your fingers at various angles, making sure not to repeat the same one. Think of the pimple like a clock: First, you might do 3:00 and 9:00, then move to 5:00 and 10:00, then try 12:00 and 6:00.”
5. Practice Post-Popping Care
“When you’ve finished extracting, wipe the skin with an alcohol-free toner and then apply a cooling, anti-bacterial gel mask like my Rapid Response Detox Masque to reduce any redness and clear out the pores further.
If you don’t have a soothing mask, then you want to use a spot treatment to help close up the opening while delivering ingredients to dry out any remaining infection that is in the pore.”
The Hands-Off Approach
If you somehow have the super-human willpower to not pop, Dr. Doyle says there are a few ways to minimize the pimple and make it disappear faster. She advises a warm compress over the pimple, which will soothe irritation and inflammation, as well as help the blemish come to a head quicker.
Another trick to get rid of that blemish quick? “Create an at-home salicylic acid treatment by applying a small amount of over-the-counter acne spot cream and putting a bandage over the pimple. Leave it on for no more than ten minutes, then take off and expose to fresh air.” Our go-to spot treatments are Kate Somerville EradiKate Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment and Indie Lee Blemish Stick. Or, try a pre-medicated pimple sticker like Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots. It already has the treatment serum infused within and are perfectly sized to cover even the most monster zit.
And to help keep your spots in a very “out of sight, out of mind” place, grab a cover-up like It Cosmetics Bye Bye Breakout treatment concealer, which is has blemish-banishing witch hazel, kaolin clay, sulfur, and exfoliating acids to heal as it conceals.
The next time you have the urge to pop, take a beat to ask yourself if it’s worth the risk of potential skin damage. If that answer is yes, then make good choices by using the guide above.
Written by Megan McIntyre | Illustrated by @thecovetco