Can you really pop a pimple without permanently damaging your skin?

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Most of us are obsessed with the tiny abscesses that oil, dirt, and grime cause on our skin. Pimples, blackheads, acne, it’s the same thing – and it’s a massive industry. There are TV shows (Dr. Pimple Popper on TLC), YouTube accounts, and TikTok threads dedicated to the satisfaction people receive from watching an irritated acne spot explode.

It’s disgusting, that’s for sure. But we are all collectively fascinated – admit it. We stare deep into the mirror at our clogged pores and wonder, anxiously, where an irritated redhead will surface next. If it’s already there, it’s hard to resist the urge to pop it. If the pus comes out, our brain deduces that the pimple is healing itself. If the pus fills up, we pop it again – and again and again until it stops coming back.

But we all do more harm than good and are obsessed with videos in which “experts” set a bad example. You should never pop your pimples, says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, Miami-based board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years of experience. Below, she explains why, but also why we are all struggling to resist this.

Shouldn’t you pop your pimples?

Nope! If you happen to have something open inadvertently, you may consider putting warm compresses on it, but never burst.



Why do people do it? Where does the craving come from?

There are two main reasons we feel the urge to pop: to feel better or to look better. If the area is swollen, throbbing or tender and we may feel that if we release some pressure by popping it we will feel more comfortable but this is only a very temporary improvement and the popping usually causes even more inflammation. Also, individual acne lesions often take days or even weeks to disappear. If we skip, we change the contour of the acne so that it appears to flatten, but this is usually only a temporary improvement in the appearance of the pimple or pustule, as it gets worse usually after the breakout, and that certainly increases our risk of acne scarring.

How are blackheads different from pimples? Is there one worse to pop than the other?

Popping a blackhead is less dangerous than popping a pimple. Since a blackhead is just a clogged open pore filled with dead cells that have oxidized and therefore appear black, you can sometimes vaporize the blackheads to the point where they can start to come out on their own. If you see the black wisps already protruding from the surface of your skin, you can try gently pressing around them and see if they will come out. You may consider using a “blackhead extractor” which is an instrument designed for the extraction of blackheads with virtually no trauma to your skin.

Is the size of a single a concern? Both the size of the spot on your face and what stands out?

If a pimple appears to be very deep or throbbing, I recommend seeing a dermatologist or primary care physician as it may need to be treated with antibiotics and/or a cortisone injection, called intralesional cortisone.

What kind of damage can your acne cause? Is it final?

Scars, hyperpigmentation, and infections can all result from picking. Depending on your own tendencies for scarring or pigmentation, sometimes these are temporary, but sometimes they are essentially permanent.

How do you recover after popping a few pimples? What ingredients are good for treating them?

If you couldn’t resist and pop a pimple or two, here are some helpful tips: apply ice right after to reduce redness and swelling and possibly help limit the spread of infection that may occur afterwards the appearance of a pimple. Then you can apply a 1% hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation after freezing it. That evening, apply some salicylic acid, either cleansing with a salicylic cleanser or in a spot treatment to help some of the residual debris purge from the breakout area.

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