Should You Pop a Pimple?


Pimple popping. It's tempting, but should you do it? Here's a comprehensive guide to help you decide.

We've all been there. You look in the mirror and see it - that red, swollen bump staring back at you. Immediately, your first instinct is to squeeze it until it pops. However, you've probably also heard that you shouldn't pop pimples. So what should you do? Should you pop that pimple or not?

Should You Pop a Pimple

The Urge to Pop Pimples

Why is it so tempting to pop pimples? There's something inherently satisfying about getting rid of those bumps, especially when you can literally see the gunk come out. However, popping pimples can also lead to more harm than good if not done properly.

When making the decision to pop or not, it's important to understand what's actually inside a pimple and how popping impacts its lifespan.

What's Inside a Pimple?

Pimples form when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. This allows bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) to multiply inside the plugged follicle. As the bacteria grow, the area becomes inflamed and red. This inflammation is what we call a pimple.

Inside that red bump, pimples contain:

  • Sebum - Oil produced by the skin's sebaceous glands near hair follicles. Excess sebum is one cause of pimples.
  • Bacteria - P. acnes bacteria feed on sebum and multiply rapidly inside the clogged follicle.
  • Dead skin cells - Cells shed from the skin's surface can clump together and clog follicles.
  • Pus - A buildup of white blood cells, dead skin cells, and bacteria. This accumulation of fluid gives pimples their white "head."

So when you pop a pimple, all this stuff comes bursting out.

The Life Cycle of a Pimple

Pimples go through various stages during their relatively short life cycle:

1. Formation - The hair follicle becomes plugged with sebum and skin cell debris. P. acnes bacteria multiply rapidly in the trapped sebum. Inflammation begins.

2. Maturation - Over 1-2 weeks, the blocked follicle grows larger and more inflamed. Pus accumulates at the surface, forming a whitehead.

3. Rupture - The swollen follicle ruptures, releasing all the internal contents. The pimple "pops" open.

4. Healing - After drainage, the pimple gradually heals. Inflammation subsides and the skin renews itself.

Popping impacts the progression between the maturation, rupture, and healing stages. But is this beneficial or harmful?

The Benefits of Popping Pimples

There are a few potential benefits to popping pimples:

  • Satisfaction - Many find it gratifying to remove the gunk inside and "pop" the bump. The visual progress can be satisfying.
  • Speed healing - Draining the pus and bacteria might enable faster healing, flattening pimples more quickly.
  • Prevent scarring - Popped pimples might be less likely to rupture on their own in a way that scars the skin.
  • Uncover blockages - By draining a popped pimple, you can remove the sebum "plug" blocking the pore.

However, these benefits only occur if pimples are popped properly. Done incorrectly, popping can do much more harm than good.

The Potential Harms of Popping Pimples

Here are some of the biggest risks of popping pimples:

  • Spread infection - Pressing on pimples can push the bacteria deeper into the skin, causing more widespread infection.
  • Damage the skin - Picking at pimples can damage collagen fibers and permeate the follicle walls, leading to scarring.
  • Delay healing - Popping forces the wound open again, stopping the natural healing process. This can prolong inflammation.
  • Scarring - Improper popping can permanently scar your skin, leaving an indentation, mark, or discolored spot.
  • Pain - Pressing on sensitive inflamed blemishes can be quite painful. There are less invasive ways to treat pimples.
  • Let bacteria enter the wound - When you pop a pimple, you create an open wound. This allows bacteria into the skin that can cause even more pimples.

As you can see, there are some very compelling reasons to avoid popping pimples. But when done carefully and correctly, popping can be beneficial.

How to Pop a Pimple Safely

If you're going to pop a pimple, you need to do it the right way. Follow these steps to avoid potential damage:

1. Wash your hands and face - Clean your skin and hands with a gentle cleanser to remove excess oil and bacteria.

2. Sterilize a needle - Use a needle or sanitized lancet to gently pierce the blemish instead of squeezing. Hold the needle parallel to your skin to avoid penetrating deeply.

3. Apply warm compress - Place a warm, damp washcloth over the area for several minutes to soften the skin and draw the pus to the surface.

4. Gently squeeze - Use a cotton swab or tissue to lightly press down on either side of the blemish. Do not forcefully squeeze or puncture it again.

5. Clean the area - Use an antimicrobial toner to prevent infection after draining the pimple's contents. Cover with a hydrocolloid bandage to absorb fluid and speed healing.

6. Never touch or pick - Do not use your fingernails, which carry bacteria. And avoid popping the same pimple repeatedly, which causes more inflammation.

7. Know when to avoid popping - Certain pimples like hormonal cystic acne are too deep and risky to pop at home. Leave those for your dermatologist.

Popping pimples will only help if you do it correctly. Even then, it has risks and should not be a habit.

Are There Alternatives to Popping?

Luckily, there are much safer and more effective alternatives to treat and prevent pimples without popping them:

  • Benzoyl peroxide - An over-the-counter ingredient that kills acne-causing bacteria and exfoliates dead skin cells inside clogged pores. Look for acne spot treatments containing benzoyl peroxide.
  • Salicylic acid - Helps unclog pores by dissolving the "glue" between dead skin cells. Salicylic acid is found in many daily acne face washes.
  • Retinoids - Vitamin A derivatives that speed up cell turnover inside plugged hair follicles. Retinoids like adapalene are available over-the-counter and by prescription.
  • Clindamycin - This antibiotic stops the growth of pimple-causing bacteria. It's available topically or in oral capsule form for more severe inflammatory acne.
  • Avoid touching your face - Keep your hands away from your face throughout the day to prevent spreading bacteria to existing pimples.
  • Use oil-free products - Look for "non-comedogenic" or "oil-free" on the labels of skin care and makeup. Oil-free products are less likely to clog your pores and cause breakouts.

By using medications and avoiding excessive face touching, you can treat and prevent pimples without needing to pop them.

When to See a Dermatologist

If you're experiencing large, painful breakouts that aren't responding to over-the-counter treatment, make an appointment with your dermatologist. A dermatologist can:

  • Prescribe stronger medications like isotretinoin, spironolactone, or oral antibiotics
  • Perform in-office extractions or injections on severe cystic acne
  • Provide professional advice for your specific skin type and condition

Do not try popping painful cystic acne at home. See a professional to avoid permanent scarring.

The Takeaway: Should You Pop Pimples?

Here are some key takeaways to remember:

  • Popping can sometimes speed healing but often makes pimples worse
  • Only pop properly-formed whiteheads and gently drain the contents
  • Never squeeze, puncture, or pick cystic breakouts
  • Avoid excessive popping to prevent skin damage and scarring
  • Try alternatives like acne medications, oil-free products, and seeing a dermatologist

In most cases, it's better to avoid popping pimples altogether. The risks usually outweigh the rewards. But if you're going to pop a ripe whitehead, at least do it carefully and safely. With a few precautionary measures, you can minimize the chances of infection and scarring.

Remember - picking and pressing on pimples will almost always lead to more harm than good. Treat acne with proven medications, avoid touching breakouts, and see a dermatologist for severe inflammatory cystic acne. If we all follow these tips, our skin will look and feel much better!

Frequently Asked Questions About Popping Pimples

What happens when you pop a pimple?

When you pop a pimple, you rupture the follicle wall. This releases the contents inside, including oil, dead skin cells, bacteria, and pus. Pressing on a pimple forces these substances out through the opening of the clogged pore. The white gunk that comes out is the infectious material that was trapped underneath your skin.

Is popping pimples bad?

Popping pimples can be bad if not done correctly. Improper popping can push bacteria deeper into the skin, cause more inflammation, spread infection, and damage the skin leading to permanent scarring. That's why dermatologists caution against popping pimples at home.

Does popping pimples make them worse?

Popping pimples can make them worse by:

  • Pushing bacteria deeper into pores, exacerbating the original infection
  • Causing more inflammation and redness
  • Spreading bacteria to other sites, causing more pimples
  • Creating an open wound vulnerable to outside bacteria
  • Delaying the healing process and prolonging breakouts

So while satisfying, popping pimples can definitely make breakouts worse in many cases.

Does popping pimples leave scars?

Yes, popping pimples can lead to scarring if not done properly. Picking and squeezing pimples can damage the follicle wall and surrounding collagen fibers. This can result in different types of acne scars:

  • Ice pick scars - Deep, narrow pits caused by infected hair follicles
  • Boxcar scars - Wide, U-shaped depressions from loss of collagen
  • Rolling scars - Bands of scar tissue that create uneven skin texture
  • Hyperpigmentation - Dark spots from pimples rupturing near surface

Avoiding picking and inflammation is your best bet for preventing permanent scars.

When is it okay to pop a pimple?

It may be okay to pop a ripe pimple in a few specific circumstances:

  • The pimple is ready to burst on its own (large whitehead)
  • The blemish is small, superficial, and non-inflammatory
  • You use sterile tools and proper technique
  • You properly clean and care for the site afterward

But it's generally best to avoid popping pimples altogether. See a dermatologist for painful cysts.

What's the best way to pop a pimple?

If you must pop a pimple, follow these steps:

  1. Wash hands and face thoroughly
  2. Sterilize a needle with alcohol
  3. Apply a warm compress for 10 minutes
  4. Gently puncture the very surface of the whitehead
  5. Use sterile cotton swab to lightly press on sides
  6. Clean area with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide
  7. Apply hydrocolloid bandage and do not pick site

Avoid excessive pressure, squeezing, or repeated picking of the same pimple.

What should you do after popping a pimple?

After popping a pimple, it's important to:

  • Cleanse the area with an antimicrobial face wash
  • Apply a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment
  • Cover with a hydrocolloid patch to protect the open lesion
  • Use a topical healing ointment like aloe vera
  • Avoid touching, picking, or irritating the area further
  • Keep skin hydrated and wear sunscreen daily

Proper aftercare can promote faster healing after popping a pimple.

How can I treat pimples without popping them?

Some safer ways to treat pimples without popping include:

  • Using acne medications like retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, etc.
  • Taking prescription antibiotics for inflammatory cystic acne
  • Using oil-free and non-comedogenic skin care products
  • Avoiding excessive face touching throughout the day
  • Seeing a dermatologist for cortisone injections on big pimples
  • Getting professional extractions done by an esthetician
  • Performing regular cleansing and exfoliation to prevent clogged pores

Overall, it's best not to pop pimples. Seek professional treatment instead.

When should you see a dermatologist for pimples?

See a dermatologist for pimples if you have:

  • Large, painful cystic acne lesions
  • Acne unresponsive to over-the-counter treatments
  • Acne primarily along the jawline or lower face
  • Inflammatory acne leaving scars or dark marks
  • Frequent pimples before your period each month
  • Severe breakouts causing emotional distress

A dermatologist can provide prescription-strength acne treatments, drainage, and advice tailored to your skin. Don't attempt to pop severe cystic acne at home.

Does popping pimples increase risk of infection?

Yes, popping pimples can lead to infection. Pressing on pimples forces out bacteria which can spread to other sites. And the opened follicle provides an entry point for outside bacteria to penetrate the skin and cause more pimples. In severe cases, a bacterial infection of a popped pimple can even progress to a staph infection.

Can popped pimples leave indentations?

Yes, improper pimple popping can cause permanent indentations or pits in the skin, especially if deeper cysts are squeezed. The pressure damages the collagen matrix under the skin surface. And the ruptured follicle never heals properly, leaving an indentation. Avoid picking and follow proper aftercare if you pop a pimple to minimize indentation scars.

Should I use a pimple popping tool?

Sterile lancets are the only pimple popping tool recommended by dermatologists to gently puncture the very surface of ripe whiteheads. Never use a popping tool like those found online to forcibly squeeze or dig out pimple contents. This will worsen inflammation. Proper technique is key, not the tool.

What's the best pimple patch to use after popping?

The best pimple patches to use post-popping contain hydrocolloid like COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patches or Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch. These absorb fluid from the open wound and promote faster healing. Look for patches with tea tree oil as well to prevent bacterial overgrowth. Avoid plain band-aids.

Can you pop a cystic pimple?

You should never pop or squeeze cystic pimples. Cysts are large, painful, pus-filled lesions deep under the skin. Popping them at home will likely end up just pushing the infection deeper and causing severe scarring. Leave cystic acne for your dermatologist to inject with cortisone.

In summary, it's best not to pop pimples whenever possible. Seek professional acne treatment instead. If you must pop a surface whitehead, take measures to disinfect first and care for the skin after. Avoid repeated popping, squeezing, or picking which leads to scars. With restraint and proper technique, you may minimize some risks of pimple popping.

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