If Dr. Pimple Popper has taught us anything, it’s that there are few things more satisfying than watching someone pop a pimple. But even though pimple popping seems like an easy skincare fix for a big zit, it’s not always the best solution. So we turned to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, to find out when and how to pop a pimple safely. Along with the best alternative acne treatments.
Is it better to pop a pimple or to leave it alone?
Listen, we're going to tell you what you probably already know: You shouldn't pop your pimples. And if one does need popping, a dermatologist should be doing it.
Because that round white pimple is actually your skin doing some of its best work: keeping all the bacteria, debris, and oils in acne nicely contained so it doesn't a) create more acne or b) get infected with new bacteria (from, say, that dirty safety pin in your junk drawer). Popping one can also lead to acne scarring by creating more inflammation beneath the surface of the pimple.
Plus, not every pimple is “poppable,” said Dr. Zeichner. “Red, angry, underground pimples may be painful, but they are not poppable because they do not usually have a clear connection to the surface of the skin.”
Poppable pimples include whiteheads (closed pores that are typically filled with white pus) or blackheads (which are open pores filled with excess oil and dead skin), he said.
How to pop a pimple safely:
If you just can’t resist the temptation, here's how to pop a pimple safely and mitigate some of the risks, according to Dr. Zeichner:
Keep it clean. Meaning wash your hands thoroughly and cleanse your face first.
Gently squeeze. With clean fingers or cotton swabs, “apply gentle, downward pressure on either side of the pimple,” Dr. Zeichner said. Important: If gentle pressure isn’t enough to pop it, “abort the mission,” he said. Because “too much pressure can cause trauma to the skin.”
Treat the aftermath. Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, he said. That’ll help you prevent an infection.
What are alternative treatments for a pimple (other than popping it)?
Reminder: Popping your pimple should be a last resort. But you don't have to just accept it if it isn't ready to pop or if you're nervous about damaging your skin. There are safe ways to get rid of it.
Treat it with benzoyl peroxide. Which is a topical acne treatment. "It lowers levels of acne-causing bacteria, reduces inflammation, and can help open up the pimple itself,” said Dr. Zeichner. Products with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide should be enough, he said. Because products containing more than that can cause irritation without being any more effective.
Apply salicylic acid. Which exfoliates dead skin cells and unclogs pores. And will help eliminate and prevent breakouts.
Cover it with a pimple patch. Not only do they keep the urge to pick or pop at bay, but they also reduce inflammation. Patches are usually made with hydrocolloid (which is also what band-aids are made with), and may be spiked with acne-fighting ingredients like tea tree oil, salicylic acid, niacinamide, or hyaluronic acid.
Rub ice over the area. It will help reduce inflammation.
Breakouts aren’t fun. But popping a pimple should be a last-resort treatment for a breakout. Because it could do more harm than good. Think: Infection, scarring, and even more acne. If you have to pop one, do it with clean hands. And if it doesn’t pop right away, opt for spot treatments or pimple patches instead.
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