- Done right, you can help an unwanted zit heal faster because you’re draining a collection of trapped pus.
- Done wrong, you can turn that zit into a scar, or worse yet, a dangerous infection.
I admit that it's embarrassing to go out in public with a blemish in the middle of your face that screams “pop me.” If you absolutely can’t resist the urge to pop it, at least be cautious and do it in the manner that’s least likely to cause damage.
The procedure of popping a pimple is actually called "acne surgery" and there are rules for doing it right.
When we dermatologists pop pimples we use a sterile needle and extract the contents with an instrument called a comedone extractor. We wear gloves and clean the area with rubbing alcohol before and after. Follow these steps to pop a pimple like a pro.
How do you pop a pimple like a pro?
- Don’t pop a pimple before its time. Wait until your pimple has a firm white head, indicating that the white blood cells are grouped in the pore and ready to be “extracted.” Don’t try to pop a pimple that’s still just a hard red bump because it’s still solid, there is nothing to "extract" and you’ll do more harm than good.
Wash your fingers well with warm water, soap, and a fingernail brush before you begin.
- Sterilize a straight pin with a match or lighter. Let the pin cool and then wipe off the black carbon char with rubbing alcohol. Either pour some alcohol on your fingers (alcohol is flammable so keep it away from flames) or wrap them with clean Kleenex tissue as an extra precaution against introducing dirt or bacteria into the burst head of the pimple.
- Use the pin to gently pierce the head of the pimple. Approach the pimple parallel to your skin surface; pass the pin through the very tip of the white center, then lift up the skin with the pin to open a hole. This should not hurt if the pimple is ready.
Gently squeeze and press around the base of the pimple's white tip so the pus comes to the surface. Don’t press down on the zit; try to get underneath it so that the pus comes to the surface instead of going farther down into the pore or ruptures out of the pore into the deeper tissues of your skin. And, don’t scratch or gouge the skin because this leads to scarring.
- Finish by applying more rubbing alcohol (which will sting!) or a very small amount of bacitracin ointment to the now-deflated pimple.
What are the risks of popping a pimple wrong?
You may increase the risk of developing a scar.
This is especially true if the pimple is not ready to be popped or if you broadly damage the skin. Your attempt to pop it may create additional trauma to the skin. Many people scratch off the top of the skin overlying a pimple, effectively excavating a crater in their face. These wounds always scar.
The skin may become infected.
When you traumatize skin by creating an opening during your attempt to pop the pimple, bacteria can enter. This can lead to infection and a painful sore that heals with scarring. It can even lead to serious illness because opened wounds, such as popped pimples, are “portals of entry” for germs that cause impetigo, cellulitis, “flesh eating” necrotizing fasciitis, etc. It is important to be very hygienic when attempting to pop a pimple - and it is done at your own risk. Remember, pimple popping is technically a form of surgery.
Don’t pop a zit in the "Danger Triangle" of your face.
This includes the skin on and around your nose and upper lip up to the bridge of your nose and area around your mid brow.
The blood vessels in the Danger Triangle are connected directly with blood vessels in your brain.
If the pus of an infected zit goes down into your skin instead of coming out to the surface here, you could have a much more serious problem than just acne – the deeper tissue infection can spread to the brain, where it can lead to a very rare condition called a cavernous sinus thrombosis. The end result could be loss of vision, neurologic damage, and even death. Fortunately, with the advent of modern antibiotics, this problem is extremely rare nowadays.
If you have pimples to pop, use a professional skin care routine to treat acne.
There are really effective ingredients to fight acne that are available without a prescription. Benzoyl peroxide is the best topical ingredient to kill the acne causing bacteria C. acnes. Salicylic acid and glycolic acid help acne fighting ingredients to get deep into pores where acne starts. I have two professional acne treatment kits:
This routine contains salicylic acid, glycolic acid, the right non-drying benzoyl peroxide strength to kill C. acnes and an acne-friendly moisturizer to prevent skin dryness. It works!
This routine combines all of the above plus pyrithione zinc to reduce the yeast that contributes to 'fungal acne'. It also comes with an acne-friendly sunscreen to prevent hyperpigmentation of acne lesions. If you don't know which type of acne you have, start with this kit to cover your bases.