How to Pop a Pimple Without Causing Further Harm - Inflamed acne consists of swelling, redness, and pores that are deeply clogged with bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells.
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How to Pop a Pimple Without Causing Future Harm

A dermatologist details the best way to pop a zit, when you just can't help yourself.
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If you ask just about any dermatologist, they'll say you should never pop a pimple. Experts agree that it's best to let a zit run its course — even if it looks ready to pop on its own anyway. Obviously, it can be tempting not to heed that advice, especially if you're going out and have a spot smack dab in the middle of your forehead. And once you've experienced the instant gratification of bursting a juicy blemish, it's tough to go back to practicing patience. For those times when you just can't be stopped, learning the best way to pop a zit will at least minimize your odds of inflicting damage.

It's still not too late to choose the peaceful approach, slap on a pimple patch, and allow the intruder to see itself out. If you've made up your mind, though, here's everything you should know about how to pop a pimple properly. (Related: What Top Skin Docs Do When They Get a Pimple)

What Can Go Wrong If You Don't Pop a Pimple Properly

The act of popping a pimple isn't always harmful, according to Mona Gohara, M.D., a Connecticut-based dermatologist. The problems arise when people pop zits who are not expertly trained to do so. "Popping the wrong way causes increased inflammation and scarring," explains Dr. Gohara. "It's not the pop itself [that causes harm], it's that the pop does not stop — it keeps going by discoloring and changing skin texture," she says.

Popping a pimple improperly can lead to inflammation, discoloration, and long-term marks or scars, explains Dr. Gohara. In rare, worst-case scenarios, popping a pimple can even lead to serious infections. All of this is to say that if you're going to pop one, you should at least use the best technique to minimize damage. (Related: Why You're Breaking Out, According to a Derm)

Before you do anything, you should make sure that you're looking at a pimple that presents a relatively low risk to pop. Any smaller zit that is generally pain-free is okay to pop from home, says Dr. Gohara. "If done correctly, small pustules or lesions on a red inflamed base can be expressed," she says. Hold off until you see that the pimple has a firm, white head. "That is the signal that the pus inside is close enough to the skin's surface and ready to be removed or expressed," Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist and founder of Ava MD, previously told Shape.

If you deal with cystic acne or get a random deep cystic pimple, you should avoid popping it at home, no exceptions. Cystic acne typically presents itself as larger bumps and will come with more soreness at the pimple site. If you suspect you have a cystic pimple and want it gone ASAP, your best bet is to visit your dermatologist and get a cortisone shot injected directly into the zit, says Dr. Gohara. Picking at the deep, painful zits that qualify as cystic acne tends to lead to redness and scarring that can last weeks, as Shape previously reported. (Related: The Best Acne Spot Treatments to Get Rid of a Pimple Fast)

How to Pop A Pimple at Home

Now that you have some background on what can go wrong and how to ID a poppable blemish, here's exactly how to pop a pimple safely, according to Dr. Gohara.

  1. Cleanse the zit and the surrounding area with a gentle cleanser or a small swab dipped into rubbing alcohol. Dr. Gohara recommends using a non-soap cleanser for this. Try: SkinMedica Facial Cleanser (Buy It, $32, skinstore.com) or Elta MD Foaming Facial Cleanser (Buy It, $28, skinstore.com).
  2. Grab a comedone extractor (Buy It, $9, amazon.com), a tool with a loop on one end and a sharp point on the opposite side. Clean the implement with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
  3. Gently nick the lesion with the sharp end of the tool. This will open the lesion.
  4. Apply mild pressure with the looped end of the comedone extractor around the zit to express contents. Key word: mild.
  5. Cleanse the area with a gentle cleanser. Resist the urge to apply a spot treatment. "Save the benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid for the next night if there is a residual bump," advises Dr. Gohara. "Applying it over an open [wound] can burn the skin."