You know that technically it's not OK to pop a pimple. But there are few among us who haven't resorted to squeezing a blemish every now and again. So, if you're going to pop, at least know when it's OK to do so, the safest technique to use, and when to absolutely leave that blemish alone.
Why You Should Avoid Popping Pimples
Unquestionably, the safest thing for your skin is to keep a hands-off approach. Allow the pimple to heal naturally and try to avoid squeezing it. When you squeeze a pimple, you may be able to drain some pus. But as you're squeezing, that pus and the pimple's core (a plug of dead skin cells and sebum) isn't just pushing up and out of the skin—it's also being pushed down further into the pore.
The pressure can also cause the wall of the pore to burst, underneath the surface of your skin, allowing infected material to spread into the dermis. All of this causes more damage than just leaving the pimple alone to heal. Also, the more the skin is damaged, the higher the chances are of developing acne scarring.
That said, it's tough to sport a huge whitehead to work or school. In this case, you may be able to gently express the pus and allow the pimple to drain.
Solutions Without Popping
Popping isn't the only way to get that pimple to drain. Before you resort to popping, try these tricks first.
The best thing you can do is have a dermatologist or an esthetician drain the pimple or blackhead. The pros know how to carefully extract those blemishes without causing damage to the skin. Extractions work especially well for blackheads. Your therapist can get rid of most of the existing blackheads on your skin in just a few visits. Of course, it's not practical nor realistic (not to mention cost-effective) to run to the dermatologist's office or salon every time a blemish appears.
Apply a Warm Compress
If you have a pustule with a large, obvious white head, you can try to get it to drain with a warm compress. Soak a soft cloth in warm water and hold it over the pimple for several minutes. Rewarm the compress when it gets cold.
The warmth helps to loosen and "open" the pore and soften the head, allowing the pimple to drain naturally. Make sure, though, that the pustule is ready, with a large white head at the very surface of the skin. If you do this with a pimple before the white head has formed it can make the blemish more inflamed, making it look larger and more obvious.
This method won't work on blackheads. The core of a blackhead is much harder and stickier than the core of a pustule.
If you have a day or so to wait, over-the-counter spot treatments are another good option. Dab a small amount on the pimple and leave it alone. The spot treatment helps dry up the pimple.
You can get spot treatments in the skin care aisle of your local drug store. Products that contain benzoyl peroxide or sulfur tend to work best on pustules. Some people also have good results with products containing salicylic acid or tea tree oil. You may want to experiment with a few different brands to find the one that works best for your skin. Follow the directions on your chosen product. Don't be tempted to apply more often than recommended or you'll end up with a dry, red, peeling spot.
Safer Steps to Pop a Pimple
Ideally, you'll be able to take care of your pimple without squeezing. Popping pimples should always be a last resort.
If you feel like you must pop that whitehead, though, it's best that you do it safely. Remember, whenever you squeeze a blemish there is no guarantee that you won't cause damage to your skin. These steps will at least reduce the chance of that happening.
This only works for blemishes with large, obvious whiteheads that are close to the surface of the skin.
- Wash your hands well with soap and water.
- Sanitize a needle or pin with rubbing alcohol.
- Coming in at an angle parallel to the skin, gently prick the top of the whitehead with the tip of the needle. Don't go so deep that you draw blood. You just want to pierce the very surface of the whitehead. This shouldn't hurt; if it does you're poking too deeply or the blemish isn't ready to extract.
- Wrap your fingers in tissue or cotton. Place your fingers on either side of the blemish.
- Gently pull away from the blemish (the opposite of squeezing). This often drains the pimple with no squeezing. It minimizes the chance of pushing infected material deeper into the skin.
- If that works you can stop here, no need to squeeze at all. Cleanse the area with soap or facial wash, and apply a bit of toner or astringent.
If you still have the whitehead:
- Grab two cotton swabs and apply gentle pressure to the sides of the blemish. This is a gentler method than using your fingers.
- Work the cotton swabs around the blemish so you're not continually pushing from the same sides.
- Don't squeeze to the point of drawing blood—just enough to drain the whitehead.
- Once done, wash with cleanser and apply toner or astringent. You can also apply the tiniest dab of antibacterial ointment to the pimple remnant.
If the pimple doesn't drain easily, then it's not ready. Don't force it and it's best to leave it alone. Try an overnight spot treatment in the interim.
Never Pop a Deep Inflamed Blemish
While you can sometimes gently extract a whitehead, there are certain types of pimples you should never try to pop. Any red pimple without a white head (called papules) should not be squeezed. Those big, inflamed, deep blemishes (nodular breakouts and cysts) should never be squeezed, either.
With these blemishes, the core is too deep to safely bring to the surface. It's best to simply wait for these to heal on their own. A bit of spot treatment or acne treatment medications might help get them on their way.
Is your blemish especially large and very painful? You'll want to leave this blemish alone, too. It may not be a pimple at all but rather a boil.
How to Extract a Blackhead Safely
It's generally safer to extract a blackhead than an inflamed pimple because there's less risk of infection and scarring. This isn't a license to start digging away at your skin, though. You'll still need to treat your skin gently.
You may want to plan your extraction session for immediately after your shower or bath. The steam and warmth relaxes the pore openings and loosens and softens the blackhead plugs, making it easier to coax them from the pore.
- Wash your hands with soap.
- Wrap your fingers in cotton or tissue.
- Place gentle pressure on either side of the blackhead. Try to get down underneath the blackhead and push up carefully.
- Instead of steady pressure, use more of rocking or massaging motion to help loosen the plug. Continue this until the core is completely extracted. Remember, don't apply so much pressure that you draw blood or leave finger marks on your skin.
- Use a toner or astringent on all the areas that you've extracted.
Comedo extractors are small metal tools estheticians use to remove blackheads and they are another option. However, these can do more harm than good in unskilled hands. You can easily apply too much pressure and bruise your skin.
If you do use a comedo extractor, make sure you sanitize it first with rubbing alcohol. Position the loop of the extractor around the blackhead, with the blackhead in the middle. Apply gentle pressure straight down; don't use the extractor to dig at the blackhead. If you're leaving red marks on the skin, you're pushing too hard.
Some blackheads are stubborn and don't want to leave the pore. If you can't extract them, leave them alone for another day.
A Word From Honayst
Extracting individual blemishes on occasion isn't a big deal. But if you have a lot of breakouts, the best option is to stop them before they even appear. For that, you'll need an acne treatment that you'll use every day.
Over-the-counter (OTC) acne products can be helpful for blackheads and mild acne. If OTC treatments aren't doing the trick, there are plenty of prescription acne medications that will work on both inflammatory acne and blackheads. If you need help getting your blemishes under control, make an appointment with a dermatologist.
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