Everyone knows the cardinal rule of popping pimples: Don’t do it. Ever. No matter how big and pus-filled and on the verge of bursting they are, whatever you do, never pop.
OK, time for real talk. We know no one listens to that. We all break the rules and pop a pimple from time to time. Picturing your immediate pus-free future wins over considering the long-term effect it could have on your skin. There’s even a website dedicated to pimple-popping videos (click if you dare—it’s not for the weak-stomached), which proves how incredibly satisfying squeezing zits is for some.
So just like your parents told you around the time they suspected you started drinking or having sex, if you’re going to do it, we ask that you please just be safe.
Celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau recommends waiting a day or two after you feel a whitehead coming on, until the infection appears on the surface. Squeezing before that will just damage the skin, since the poppable part is still hidden under healthy skin cells.
Once the whitehead is quite visible, that’s your green light. First thing’s first: Clean the area with rubbing alcohol, instructs Debra Jaliman, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NYC and author of “Skin Rules,” to get rid of any bacteria that could make its way inside the freshly popped zit.Gently squeeze the infection with your fingers at a 90 degree angle. For extra cleanliness, Dr. Jaliman suggests squeezing with a tissue, too, so your fingers are not in direct contact with the pimple. Jaliman also notes that an extraction tool, like this double-ended one from Sephora, might be the best way to approach a zit. “It gives even pressure all the way around the pimple.”
But what if nothing comes out? “If the pimple does not pop, don’t keep putting pressure on it,” Jaliman warns. That’s how you end up with redness and even worse, scarring.When you’re done, clean the area again with rubbing alcohol and put a dab of antibiotic ointment on top to help it heal.
When you start to feel another one about to rear it’s ugly (white)head, treat with your favorite spot treatment ASAP.
When it comes to cystic blemishes, which appear most often in the chin and jaw areas, and don’t ever come to a head, never, ever try to pop. “It is important to remember that cysts are like submarines; they are meant to stay under the skin,” Rouleau says. No matter how hard you pick or squeeze, they’re not going to come to the surface—you’ll just tear up your skin. Let it go away on its own, use a cyst treatment like Renée Rouleau Anti-Cyst Treatment to dissolve the cells, or see a derm to have it removed professionally and safely.
For a more in-depth approach to staying zit-free, read our helpful tips on how to get rid of acne.