What Happens to the Pus in a Pimple If You Don't Pop It?


Pimples are an inevitable part of life. At some point or another, we all get them. And when those angry red bumps show up, the urge to pop them can feel irresistible. But should you pop your pimples? What actually happens if you resist the urge and leave them alone?

What Happens to the Pus in a Pimple If You Don't Pop It

The Causes and Formation of Pimples

Before we dive into what happens if you don’t pop a pimple, let’s quickly review what causes pimples in the first place.

Pimples form when hair follicles under your skin clog up with dead skin cells and oil. This clog is called a comedone.

There are two types of comedones:

  • Open comedones - Also called blackheads, these are clogs that are open at the skin's surface. The top is dark in color due to oxidation.
  • Closed comedones - These are clogs covered by skin. They look like small, skin-colored bumps. Closed comedones are also known as whiteheads.

When bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) infiltrate a clogged hair follicle, they can cause inflammation and infection, resulting in pimples.

So in summary, a pimple forms when a hair follicle becomes clogged with dead skin cells and oil, then infected with bacteria. This leads to inflammation, swelling, and pus.

Now let's look at what happens if you don't pop a pimple.

What Happens if You Don't Pop a Pimple?

The Pimple's Lifecycle Continues Naturally

If left alone, a pimple will typically go through its natural lifecycle and heal on its own in 3-7 days.

Here are the stages a pimple will go through if you leave it be:

1. Early Stage: The comedone starts developing underneath the skin's surface. Not yet a pimple, just a collection of oil and dead cells clogging a follicle.

2. Formation: Inflammation sets in as P. acnes bacteria multiply within the clogged follicle. The area becomes red, swollen, and tender.

3. Maturation: White blood cells arrive to fight the infection, causing pus to develop. This pus is comprised of dead skin cells, bacteria, and white blood cells. The pimple swells and comes to a head.

4. Healing: As the body's immune response kicks in, inflammation gradually subsides. The pimple begins shrinking and draining on its own. Within a few days, healing is complete.

So if left alone, a pimple will progress through this natural cycle and heal without any interference. Popping is not required.

The Pus Gets Reabsorbed by the Body

If you don't pop a pimple, the pus inside does not remain trapped under your skin. Your body is able to gradually reabsorb and eliminate it.

Here's how:

The pus inside a pimple is an accumulation of dead cells, oil, and bacteria. It is contained within the wall of the clogged follicle.

As your pimple starts healing and inflammation reduces, the wall of the follicle slowly breaks open. This allows the pus to seep out to the surface of your skin, where it gets cleared away.

Any pus that remains deeper inside the follicle gets reabsorbed by your blood vessels and lymphatic system. From there, it enters your bloodstream so your body can filter it out.

So rest assured, the pus does not sit there under the skin. Your body is equipped to handle and reabsorbate it without the need for popping.

There Is Less Risk of Scarring and Hyperpigmentation

Popping pimples can lead to more harm than good. Doing so can actually prolong healing time and increase your risk of scarring.

Here’s why popping can lead to more pronounced scarring and dark spots:

  • Damaging the follicle: Aggressively squeezing a pimple can damage or rupture the wall of the hair follicle within. This leads to leakage of pus and fluids deep under the skin, causing more inflammation.
  • Spreading bacteria: Popping forces out bacteria from deeper in the follicle up onto the surface of your skin. This can spread infection to other areas and cause more pimples.
  • Causing trauma: Picking and probing at pimples can damage surrounding skin cells. This drives inflammation deeper.
  • Delaying healing: Popping disrupts your pimple's natural healing trajectory. The open wound created takes longer to heal back up.
  • Enhancing inflammation: Forcing out pus stirs up inflammation instead of allowing it to resolve on its own. This turns a small pimple into a much larger, red and swollen lesion.

By avoiding popping and allowing pimples to heal naturally, you have a much lower risk of inducing scarring or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. The pimple resolves quicker without spreading infection deeper under the skin.

When Should You Consider Popping a Pimple?

Now you might be wondering, are there ever scenarios where popping a pimple is okay or even advisable?

There are a select few instances where popping a pimple gently and hygienically may help it heal faster:

  • Whiteheads ready to pop: Mature, ready-to-drain whiteheads can sometimes be popped with minimal pressure. But be gentle! Squeezing too hard can make matters worse.
  • Very large, painful pimples: Larger pimples that are severely swollen and tender may benefit from conservative lancing - a small nick with a sterile needle to release pressure. Do not attempt this on your own. See a dermatologist.
  • Pimples at risk for scarring: Pimples that have lingered for a week or longer can sometimes scar without drainage. A dermatologist may recommend a shot to bring the pimple to a head faster.

However, it's important to know these scenarios are exceptions, not the rule. Most pimples heal best and fastest when left completely alone. The risks of picking, popping and improper lancing almost always outweigh any potential benefits.

Tips for Managing Pimples Without Popping

Dealing with pimples that you don't pop requires patience. But a few proven tips can help you resist the urge to pick and allow pimples to clear up faster:

  • Use acne-fighting ingredients: Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can help unclog pores and speed up pimple healing. Look for cleansers, creams, and spot treatments with these ingredients.
  • Try hydrocolloid patches: These small dots create a protective barrier over a pimple, speeding up recovery and preventing you from touching it.
  • Ice the area: Applying an ice cube for a few minutes helps reduce swelling and pain from severe pimples.
  • Avoid excessive touching: Be aware of resting your face in your hands or picking at your skin, which can worsen pimples.
  • Watch your diet: Foods high in sugar, dairy and refined carbs may exacerbate breakouts for some people. Cut back on these if you notice a correlation.
  • Manage stress levels: Stress increases inflammation and oil production which worsens acne. Try relaxing activities like meditation, yoga or breathwork.
  • See a dermatologist: For recurrent cystic acne or acne leaving marks, your dermatologist has professional treatments that can help.

The Takeaway: Allow Pimples to Heal Naturally Whenever Possible

Pimples can be frustrating and unpleasant to deal with. The urge to pop them is understandably tempting for many of us. However, avoiding popping whenever you can allows a pimple to complete its natural lifecycle and recovery.

If left alone, your body is able to reabsorb and clear away the pus inside an unpopped pimple. You avoid potential complications like scarring, hyperpigmentation and spread of bacteria that can result from popping pimples.

Of course, the occasional whitehead may be gently popped once it's ready. Larger cysts may sometimes benefit from professional drainage. But in the vast majority of cases, allowing your pimples to heal on their own results in the best outcome.

So next time a pimple crops up, try to curb the urge to pick and squeeze. With a little patience, it will usually disappear faster than you think! Stick to a smart skin care routine and visit your dermatologist if breakouts persist. Your skin will thank you.

Frequently Asked Questions: What Happens if You Don't Pop a Pimple?

Popping pimples is tempting for many people. But should you avoid popping pimples to let them heal naturally? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about what happens when you don't pop a pimple.

What exactly is pus inside a pimple?

Pus is an accumulation of fluid, debris, and dead cells that forms as your body fights off infection and inflammation within a pimple. It typically contains:

  • Dead skin cells
  • Bacteria such as Propionibacterium acnes
  • Sebum oil produced by your sebaceous glands
  • White blood cells and cell debris your body sends to combat bacteria

Does the pus remain trapped inside my skin if I don't pop the pimple?

No, the pus does not stay stuck underneath your skin if you don't pop the pimple. Your body is able to gradually reabsorb the pus and eliminate it naturally.

Here is how:

  • As the pimple starts healing, the swollen wall of the hair follicle will slowly rupture and open up. This lets pus slowly seep out toward the surface.
  • Pus deeper under the skin gets reabsorbed into tiny blood vessels and lymph channels. From there it enters your bloodstream and gets filtered out by your kidneys and liver.

So even if you don’t pop it, the pus gets broken down and cleared away by your body over time.

What is the lifecycle of a pimple if I don’t pop it?

If left completely alone, a typical pimple goes through these stages:

  • Early stage – A clogged pore develops.
  • Formation stage – The clog gets infected and inflamed, turning into an actual pimple.
  • Maturation stage – Pus develops, and the pimple grows and comes to a head.
  • Healing stage – Inflammation goes down, the pimple shrinks and drains. After a few days it fully heals.

This whole process usually takes about 3-7 days if you don’t pop the pimple and allow it to run its course.

Does popping a pimple help “get the pus out” better?

Forcing out pus by squeezing often makes pimples worse instead of better. Popping can:

  • Rupture and damage the follicle wall, causing the infection to spread deeper.
  • Push bacteria and pus deeper into the skin, enhancing inflammation.
  • Spread bacteria from an infected pore to surrounding pores.
  • Delay healing by creating an open wound.

So even though it seems satisfying to “drain” the pus out, it usually hinders a pimple’s natural healing process.

Can leaving a pimple alone cause more scarring?

No, not popping pimples actually leads to less scarring most of the time. Popping pimples increases your risk for scarring and dark marks by:

  • Spreading bacteria deeper into the skin.
  • Pushing out pus too aggressively, which can damage the skin.
  • Creating an open wound that is then vulnerable to infection.
  • Pulling off scabs before the skin is fully healed.

Letting a pimple heal on its own keeps the inflammation localized. This reduces the likelihood of extensive damage leading to pronounced scarring.

When is it okay to pop a pimple?

Mature whiteheads that have naturally come to a head may be gently popped if you follow sterile technique. Using two cotton swabs, lightly squeeze either side of the whitehead to expel the pus. Never squeeze from the bottom or pick at stubborn pus.

For severely inflamed large cysts, a dermatologist may use a sterile needle to lance the surface. But this should only be done by a professional. Do not try to lance or aggressively pop cysts at home.

What’s the best way to treat and get rid of pimples?

The most effective acne treatments involve:

  • Over-the-counter products containing acne fighters like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide
  • Prescription topicals and oral medications prescribed by dermatologists
  • In-office procedures like facials and chemical peels
  • Avoiding excessive touching/picking of the skin

Home remedies like toothpaste, lemon juice and baking soda often irritate skin and make pimples worse. See a dermatologist if you get recurring cystic acne. With the right treatment plan, you can enjoy clear, pimple-free skin!

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