We know it's bad for us. Dermatologists beg us to stop. But for some reason we can't keep our hands off of our faces every time an angry red pimple crops up. What's up with our weird zit obsession?
Sure, that bullseye on your face might make you a little self-conscious, but culturally, we're so into popping pimples that there are full Youtube channels dedicated to the event. (Did your brain just explode? Same.)
Turns out that dermatologists are just like us. "Oh my gosh, we love this stuff!" laughed Dr. Rosalyn George MD, FAAD. A dermatologist at Wilmington Dermatology Center, she agrees that sometimes it's just torture to let a whitehead sit on your face. She schooled us on the safest way to pop a pimple—and minimize damage and scarring in the process.
First rule? Don't attack until it's ready. "It should have the white bump or pustule—if it's just risen and red, it isn't ready to be popped and you'll do more harm than good."
If you're going in, weigh the consequences. Popping that offensive bump might cause scabbing and scarring if you're not careful. If the idea of walking around with a whitehead is more horrifying than a little scab, then you're going to need to grab some tools.
Amateurs, you'll need a needle and a lighter. Sterilize the needle by running it through the flame for a few seconds; then, holding the needle parallel to your face, gently stab the pustule head from the side (not the top) to create a hole. From there, wrap tissues around your fingertips and apply pressure to the sides of the pimple with your fingers. The puss—stay with us—should ooze out very easily with a light touch. If it doesn't, that's a clue that your blemish isn't ready to pop! Clean it off and give it more time.
If you're a seasoned pro, you can try using an extractor tool. No hands or needles required, just gently press around the pimple with this cosmetician favorite. Dr. George also recommends using this method to extract blackheads: "The pore is already open, so they just pop right out as soon as you apply pressure with the tool!"
Chances are you'll feel drunk with power after you successfully eliminate that pesky pimple, but don't go overboard. As soon as you see blood, it's time to stop manipulating the area. That means hands off, immediately. The presence of blood or ferrous material (the clear fluid that seeps out of the wound) indicates that the area could scab or scar.
Wash the pimple and the area of skin surrounding it with soap and water. Unless you're super oily, Dr. George doesn't recommend following up with a toner—these formulas can be too astringent for just-squeezed skin and can leave things more red and aggravated.
If you'd like to, and don't have a deleterious reaction, dab a bit of antibiotic ointment to the affected area. Not into antibiotics? Try washing with probiotic soap and then dabbing a bit of lavender oil onto the pimple; lavender essential oil has wound healing properties.
Once you're satisfied with your extraction, you're free to go about your day. Have to head out? Cover up with mineral makeup, which isn't as pore-clogging as other types of makeup. If you went a little overboard, give the pimple time to heal. Eventually the scars will fade, especially if you protect skin from the sun by slathering on SPF everyday.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho