Is It Really That Bad to Pop Your Pimples?

Plus what happens when you pop one.

<p>G Point Studio/Getty Images</p>

G Point Studio/Getty Images

There’s no denying the unparalleled urge to pop a pimple the second you see that little red mound appear on your face. Just a little squeeze to nix the gunk and it’ll all be fine, right? Not so fast. Long-held skincare wisdom says to resist the compulsion because popping zits can do more harm than good. Curious about whether this is advice worth heeding (or if it’s simply alarmist) we reached out a handful of skin care pros to ask them straight up: Is it bad to pop your pimples? 

RELATED: Ask a Beauty Editor: How to Bring a Pimple to a Head ASAP

Is It Ever OK to Pop Pimples?

Generally speaking, the age-old advice about never popping pimples is one that you should adhere to. Both board-certified dermatologists we spoke to were adamant about this, noting that squeezing a zit is likely to backfire against you and just make the problem worse.

“It can lead to  more inflammation, infection, and possibly spreading acne to other areas,” explains Margarita Lolis, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Jersey. She adds, “Popping pimples can also damage the skin and lead to scarring and hyperpigmentation, as well as delayed healing.”

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Pop Pimples

  • Causes inflammation

  • Spreads acne to other areas

  • Damages skin

  • Can cause scarring

  • Results in redness/hyperpigmentation

  • Irritates skin

  • Feels painful

  • Makes the pimple last longer

Exceptions to the Rule

While you should really avoid popping pimples, sometimes you can get away with gently squeezing a very mature pimple (one that has a little white head at the tip). “If something is very superficial and will pop on its own, occasionally I will suggest popping a pimple and then applying salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to that area to help dry it up,” says board-certified dermatologist Nazanin Saedi, MD, FAAD.

If you do decide to pop a mature pimple, Dr. Lolis says you must remain super hygienic. Wash your hands thoroughly, use clean tools, and gently apply pressure around the pimple without any force. Don’t use your fingernails—just the fingertips. If the pimple doesn’t pop with gentle pressure, it’s not mature.

What’s the Difference Between Extractions and Popping Pimples

OK, we can guess what you’re thinking. If popping pimples is bad, how come skincare pros are allowed to do extractions during a facial? Turns out, these two things aren’t the same.The difference between extracting a blackhead or sebum plug and popping pimples lies in the type of acne and the method used.

“A blackhead—or a sebum plug—is superficial and easy to extract,” Dr. Saedi says.  “Pimples have pustular material and can have much more inflammation surrounding them. Also, you need to place more pressure for popping pimples which can lead to inflammation and scarring.”

Professional aestheticians or dermatologists can also determine when a blackhead is ready to extract, as well. Not all of them are “ripe” for the picking, so to speak.

How to Get Rid of Pimples Without Popping Them

So what’s a person to do when they’ve got a pimple and squeezing is off the table? You’ve got options.

  • Pimple Patches: Dr. Saedi swears by hydrocolloid pimple patches, like the Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch ($11, Amazon). “They help extract the fluid from the pimple to calm it down, and they are also a physical barrier for you that prevents you from picking and popping,” says Dr. Saedi.

  • Warm Compress: “Applying a warm compress can help to bring the pimple to a head and naturally expel the pus,” notes Dr. Lolis. Just apply to clean skin for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Spot Treatments: You can also “dry out” a pimple with an acne spot treatment formulated with salicylic acid, adapalene, sulfur, or benzoyl peroxide. Dr. Saedi says, “I advise patients to put on an agent like salicylic acid at night with a Band-Aid on top to help dry out the pimple but also to avoid any manual manipulation.” 

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