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How to Pop a Pimple the Right Way

No, you probably shouldn't squeeze your zits. But here's how to do it, if you must!

Pimples have a knack for showing up at the most inopportune moments.

Like just before a date, an important presentation or maybe even a wedding. Figures! There's nothing like an angry, swollen blemish to shake your confidence.

Now, you could go see a dermatologist for a cortisone injection to take the swelling down. But that can be expensive or too far to travel; often, you can't get a last-minute appointment, anyway. Plus, done wrong, it can leave a scar/indentation! (Happened to me once, although thankfully it went away after a few months.)

You could also just leave your pimple alone, a.k.a. the "do nothing" regimen. Non-cystic zits usually heal in a week or less on their own. 

But sometimes you have no other option but to take matters into your own hands—literally! I get it, I really do.

So if you must pop that pimple, read this first:

The Benefits of Popping a Pimple

Popping a pimple could get you clear skin faster. (Photo: Send me adrift.)

Everyone always says that you should never squeeze a zit. I've learned that you can never say never in beauty.

IF the pimple is ready, and IF you do it right, there are some clear benefits to extraction:

  • Healing faster: Draining a wound of pus definitely accelerates the healing process. The caveat is that the pimple must be "ripe," i.e. soft and sitting above the skin's surface.
  • Reducing the bump: Usually, what is annoying about pimples is that they're raised-up, noticeable bumps. Extracting the contents should reduce this swelling quickly.
  • Easier to cover: With the ugly white bump gone, it's far easier to camouflage a zit with concealer and powder.
  • No scarring: "If it's done properly, it shouldn't cause any damage," says Dr. Neal Schultz of DermTV.

Reasons Not to Pop a Pimple

Pop a pimple the wrong way and you could get a scar. (Photo: Sophie)

I would be amiss if I didn't also mention the pitfalls of popping pimples. These are some of the problems that might arise:

  • Slower healing: Poking at a pimple can push the bacteria even further into the pore, creating a deeper infection. You can also introduce new strains of bacteria from dirty fingers or tools. Either way, it can take even longer for your body to get rid of the infection.
  • Spreading the infection: When you rupture the sac of a pimple that holds oil, debris and bacteria, the material could land inside your other pores, increasing the chance of more acne.
  • Weeping, bruising and scarring: Injuring your skin in any way can not only leave you vulnerable to more bacteria getting in, but also puts you at risk for long-term discolourations and scarring. Plus, an oozing wet pimple is just about impossible to cover.
  • Brain abscess: Seriously. Popping is very dangerous in the "triangle of death," according to Dr. Mehmet Oz. If you create a deep infection in the zone from the corners of your mouth to the bridge of your nose, the bacteria have instant access to your brain. Scary!

How To Know When a Pimple is "Ready"

Okay, still want to do this thing? First, you need to evaluate the pimple:

Do consider popping a pimple when it has a soft white head. This means that the pus is close to the surface of the skin and is ready to be drained without much effort.

Don't try to pop a pimple that is blind or cystic. These are deep, infected bumps that are far below the skin's surface. They feel hard and are often painful to the touch.

The Tools You Need

Now it's time to assemble your tools. Make sure to have the following on hand before you perform this minor self-surgery:

The Honest Company Hand Soap.

Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser.

  • Exfoliator (optional): It's not a bad idea to remove dead skin cell build-up in order to create a clear path to the pore you want to extract. Any kind of acid exfoliating pad would be great, such as First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Blemish Patrol Pads.

First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Blemish Patrol Pads.

  • Clean towels: We've already talked about how fresh towels are CRITICAL.
  • Clean washcloth (optional): This is useful if you want to gently steam your face with hot water, to soften up the pimple. Alternatively, you could try extracting the pimple after a hot shower.
  • Comedone extractor (optional): This type of tool, such as the Sephora Collection 3-in-1 Extractor, usually comes with a loop on one end for delivering pressure to the sides of the pimple. Some people find this better than using their fingers, however, there is a risk of damaging your skin if you are too aggressive. The other end of the extractor is often a lancet for piercing the pimple. I actually don't like the lancets because the tip can easily become dull—so much easier to just use a fresh needle! 

Sephora Collection 3-in-1 Extractor.

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

  • Matches or lighter: This is to sterilize your needle and/or comedone extractor.
  • Rubbing alcohol: Also known as isopropyl alcohol, this gives you another element of disinfection (can't be too careful!). Use it for wiping down your tool, your fingers and also the pimple itself before and after the extraction. Any brand in the first aid aisle will do, such as Walgreens.

Walgreens 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.

  • Cotton balls/pads: You need these to put the rubbing alcohol on. I am a forever fan of Shiseido Facial Cotton.

Shiseido Facial Cotton.

  • Tissues or latex gloves: This is so your fingers don't have to touch (and possibly infect) the pimple, because bacteria can linger even after washing your hands. You can either wrap your fingers in clean tissues or wear powder-free latex gloves.
  • Drying lotion: This will help disinfect and dry out the pimple after the pus has been removed. Most acne spot treatments contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which are both great. I also like the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, which contains calamine, sulfur, salicylic acid, glycerin and zinc oxide. Antibiotic ointments such as Polysporin/Neosporin are also an option, but I don't really recommend them, as so many people are allergic (including me!).

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion.

How to Pop a Pimple the Right Way

Use sterilized needle in a parallel direction. (Photo: kait jarbeau)

Follow these steps for a successful home extraction:

1. Clean your hands. Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Dry with a clean towel.

2. Clean your face. Wash and gently exfoliate your face. You may want to do this in the shower to also let the hot steam soften the pus. (If not, you can also run a clean washcloth under hot water, wring it out, and drape it over your face for a few minutes.)

3. Sterilize your tools. Disinfect your needle and/or comedone extractor by passing it through a flame. Let it cool, and then wipe down with rubbing alcohol. 

4. Sterilize the pimple. Dab rubbing alcohol on the pimple itself and surrounding area. Wipe down your fingers and/or put on the latex gloves, if you are using them. 

5. Pierce the pimple. Hold the needle parallel to your skin, and then gently pierce the white part at the top in that same parallel direction. So you are piercing it ACROSS, not down. The reason you don't want to pierce down is because that encourages the bacteria to be pushed back into the pore.

6. Create a small tear. While the needle is still in the pimple, pull it upward to rip—yes, rip!—the skin. This creates a small, clean tear from which the pus can safely drain out. Since the white head is already dead skin, this should not cause any pain or damage to the skin.

Dr. Oz recently demonstrated this technique. Go to 1:00 to see it:

7. Release the pus. Now you can gently push down on the sides of the pimple to help get the pus out. Make sure you are wearing gloves or that you've wrapped your index fingers in clean tissues. You want to use a scooping motion, pushing down and under, so the material can come up and out through the pore. (Think: vertically, not horizontally!) Be conscious of using the pads of your fingertips to press, instead of your nails.

You can also use the side of your needle to apply pressure to the pimple. The loop on the comedone extractor is yet another option, but be extra-cautious not to press too hard!

If nothing is coming out, or the pimple starts bleeding or weeping, then definitely back off. 

8. Apply drying lotion. Dab the pimple with rubbing alcohol, and then your spot treatment of choice. Leave your skin alone for at least an hour before applying any makeup.

You did it! Congratulations on a (hopefully) successful home extraction session. Now you can cover up your pimple in its final stages of healing!