Popping pimples can be very tempting, but this is considered a bad idea by most dermatologists. Picking at your blemishes can spread infection and ultimately worsen your acne. It can also permanently scar your face. If you do insist on getting rid of the pimples, there are more hygienic and safe methods you should use — never do it with your bare hands, that’s for sure.
How pimples form
It helps the discussion if we first learn what causes blemishes. It all starts in the hair follicles which contain the oil-secreting sebaceous glands. These glands are found the most on the face and scalp compared to other parts of the body, and there’s no coincidence why these areas are the most prone to pimples.
The glands’ function is to secrete oil to lubricate the hair, but when hair or skin dies the pores the oil oozes through are blocked. This creates an excess of oil in the pores which are forced by physics to expand under the skin in the shape of a water balloon. By this time, the skin looks red, puffy and infected.
When you squeeze a pimple, there’s a high risk of forcing debris of bacteria and dead skin deeper straight to the follicle. The follicle wall might rupture then and spill infected material into the dermis, which is the innermost layer of the skin. Even if you pull out a lot of that nasty goo, chances are infected material tunneled the dermis from below because of the pressure you exerted.
Popping pimples can lead to:
Scarring. This is quite rare and happens when you pick a pimple so deeply so that you would get a hole. It can still happen though when some people get carried overboard.
Scabs. A big white head pimple can ruin your morning, especially if a meeting is due but living with it may be better than the alternative: a nasty, crusty scab. This happens because the skin thickens or darkens to protect itself from injury. Unfortunately, brown spots or hyperpigmentation is harder to clear up than a pimple itself and can take months to get rid of.
Infection. In some cases, medical attention may be required.
Pain. Especially the big ones — those hurt like hell.
New pimples. The good from a squeezed pimple can block other pores and lead to the formation of new pimples.
A hands-off approach when it comes to your skin may be for the best, even though it might seem socially awkward not to.
How to pop a pimple the right way
Whiteheads will come away by themselves in about a week, which might seem like an eternity to a teenager. If you really insist, there are some safe methods you can use to get rid of some pimples.
Use two cotton swabs instead of your fingers, or better yet a sterilized needle. Wait for the pimple to come to a head, then squeeze with the cotton swabs. Stop squeezing when you see blood and then spot-treat the pimple by applying a tiny bit of hydrocortisone. Make sure you apply it only on the zit.
Before attempting anything, it’s important you thoroughly wash your hands and rub alcohol on your fingers to sterilize them. Always apply pressure gently so you don’t push debris down the follicle.
If you have a nuclear meltdown on your face, then you could visit a dermatologist. The doctor will use special tools like a cortisone shot or even lasers to extract your whiteheads and blackheads or drain a cyst.
If it’s a blind pimple — big red bumps under the skin– then there’s nothing you can do. Attempting to pop it will only make it worse as you can get the skin injured. Wait for it.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.