We hate to tell you—but yes, according to Deirdre Hooper, M.D., of Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans, LA. “This is one of those no-brainers every derm knows. Just say no!” Besides some scary-sounding infections (like MRSA, which can cause a painful abscess), when you pick at your skin you’re risking serious, sometimes permanent scarring. Plus, as you (er, your friend) probably know, popping zits is super habit forming. “I really find this to be one of the most troubling problems with my acne patients. Once you start doing it, it’s hard to stop,” says Hooper.
So what should you do next time you spot a pimple that’s begging to be popped? First, make sure it's not really a cold sore. Then ignore it. If it hurts, apply a warm compress for 10 minutes, 2 times a day to ease inflammation.
No matter what, keep your fingers off your face. If you actually see a whitehead, you can try very gently and shallowly poking it with a sterilized pin, says Hooper. Then grab two Q-tips and—again, gently—press them on either side of the whitehead to remove pus. (So that's what Q-tips are for!) If there’s no whitehead, popping it will do nothing and to speed up it’s healing, you’ll have to visit your dermatologist for an injection.
Then try mixing some hydrocortisone cream with benzoyl peroxide cream and applying twice a day to bring down the inflammation and remove bacteria, suggests Hooper. She says you can also try taking 400 mg of Advil every eight hours to ease any painful swelling.
But if you spend hours in front of a magnifying mirror, you should consider breaking the habit altogether. To do that, Hooper recommends visiting a site like StopPickingOnMe.com for tips and advice. You can also try telling a close friend or loved one that you’re trying to stop, so you’ll have someone to call you out if you start doing it, and call or text if you feel the urge. (PS: Read about The Shady Beauty Secrets You Keep From Your Man.)