You wake up on the morning of the Big Event - maybe it's an important meeting, a hot first date or even your wedding day. You look in the mirror and gasp: A zit the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza has sprouted right in the middle of your forehead. Now you're faced with the question that has plagued humankind for centuries -- to pop or not to pop?
Unfortunately, the popping problem isn't restricted to teenagers -- adults get acne, too, and are just as tempted to pick and pop. Basically, you get acne when your oil glands make a lot of sebum, which combines with your dead skin cells to gunk up your pores. Bacteria love this oily stew and join in the party. Before you know it, you have a zit.
Factors like hormones, humidity and cosmetics can aggravate your skin and encourage a break out. So can stress, which explains the unerring appearance of that pimple when you need it the least.
So now you're stuck with a zit, and you have to decide what to do about it. In general, dermatologists will give you a loud, resounding "No!" when you ask if you should pop a pimple, and that applies to any kind of pimple, whether it's a cyst, blackhead or whitehead.
But let's face it -- sometimes you just can't help yourself. It's too tempting. The zit is just too big, too itchy or too gross to leave it alone. Sometimes you're so desperate, you don't care what the doctors say -- you're going to pop that pimple before it grows to Mount Everest proportions. If that's your mindset, read on to find out the better ways to zap that zit.
Pimple Popping Methods
You've heard all the warnings: If you pop a pimple, you'll just make it worse and it'll never go away. But you're sure you look like an alien and that everyone is going to be staring at it if you don't put it out of its misery. You reason that it's better to kill the beast before it explodes on its own -- and then you lean in to squeeze the life out of that sucker.
If you absolutely must pop that pimple, there's a better way to do it than digging in with your fingers. Consider trying one of these methods:
- Wield the right weapon. In most drugstore beauty aisles, you can find the weapon of choice for getting rid of pimple goo: a comedone extractor. To pop your pimple with the extractor, roll it across the pimple while pressing firmly.
- Go low-tech. Use two cotton swabs instead of your fingers. Wait for the pimple to come to a head, then squeeze with the cotton swabs. Stop squeezing when you see blood and then spot-treat the pimple by applying a tiny bit of hydrocortisone. Make sure you apply it only on the zit.
- Visit the doctor. Your other option is to let a professional do the popping for you. Having your pimples squished and drained in the doctor's office is sometimes called "acne surgery." Your dermatologist may extract your whiteheads and blackheads or -- if you have cysts -- drain them. Phototherapy (lasers and special lights) can also be used to treat your acne. Your doctor can even inject your pimple with a steroid that should make it go away within a day.
Now that you have some options to properly pop your pimples, read on to find out more about the tools you can use to assassinate that acne.
Pimple Popping Tools
You've decided that the alien love child on your chin has got to go, and you've read about how to properly pop it.
But before you stage your attack, take a moment to consider the advantages of these tools:
- Comedone extractor: The extractor is a thin, metal instrument that looks a bit like something you'd expect to find in a dentist's office or a manicurist's salon. Extractors vary, but they often have one bladelike end and one rounded, looped end. This is an inexpensive option, and you can easily reuse it multiple times if you make sure you sanitize it. One advantage of going to your doctor to have your pimples removed is that dermatologists use surgical-grade extractors that are often finer than the ones available in beauty or drugstores.
- Cotton swabs: Another inexpensive pimple-popping tool is a cotton swab. Although you can't reuse swabs like you can a comedone extractor, they are cheaper. Using cotton swabs gives you better access to a pimple. You can squeeze the pimple from all sides and get into nooks and crannies that you wouldn't be able to touch with your fingers. Cotton swabs offer another advantage by absorbing any oil and goo that come out of the pimple, so you're not accidentally spreading it across your skin and causing more problems.
- Lasers and light treatments: Phototherapy does have advantages for cases of cystic acne. It certainly costs more and often requires multiple visits, but you can't pop acne cysts on your own. You may also want to go this route if you have areas of acne that are hard to reach, like on your back.
Now that you're ready to go, tools in place, the last step before you decide to start squeezing is to consider the consequences of your actions. Read on to find out some of the problems with pimple popping.
Problems with Pimple Popping
Dermatologists are quite unified in their campaign against pimple popping. But if it makes you feel better and gets rid of some of the gunk hiding in your zits, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. How could popping be so bad? It turns out that popping pimples can cause more problems than it solves.
Long story short, picking, popping, squeezing and scratching your zits can lead to infection. As you squeeze your pimple, you could be squishing dirt, oil and bacteria deeper into your skin, which can lead to even more redness and swelling. Moreover, all that popping can just irritate your acne, making it even worse and longer-lasting. Finally, popping that pimple yourself can lead to scarring, which may stick around longer than the pimple would have.
Don't think that covering your fingers with tissues or latex gloves will be enough to avoid all these problems, either. It's very easy for your nails and fingers to rip right through these, allowing them to dig into your skin and cause scarring. Plus, your hands have oils and dirt of their own, and you run the risk of transferring all of that ickiness, causing new zits and irritating existing ones.
It might feel like that zit on your face is taunting you, but before you start digging at it, remember to consider your options. If you can't talk yourself out of popping it, at least try to take the time to do it properly so that you don't wind up in a worse situation than when you started.
For more information, follow the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "12 Ways to Get Better Results from Acne Treatment." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/twelve_results.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Acne." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/common_acne.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Physical Procedures for Treating Acne." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/physicalprocedures.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Treating Severe Acne." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/treatsevereacne.html
- Cleveland Clinic. "Acne FAQs." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/acne/derm_faq.aspx
- DeNoon, Daniel J. "Acne … Again?" WebMD. (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/acne-again
- Dilworth, G.R., MD. "Acne Surgery." Canadian Family Physician. 1983 May; 29: 955-958. (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/pagerender.fcgi?artid=2153820&pageindex=1
- Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. "Acne Vulgaris." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec10/ch111/ch111b.html
- New Zealand Dermatological Society. "Causes of Acne." DermNet NZ. (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.dermnetnz.org/acne/acne-causes.html
- New Zealand Dermatological Society. "Comedones." DermNet NZ. (Accessed 9/1/09) http://dermnetnz.org/acne/comedones.html
- Robertson, Annabelle. "9 Skin Care Myths." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/9-skin-care-myths
- WebMD. "Skin and Hair Care for Women of " (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/skin-hair-care-women-of-color
- WebMD. "Teen Acne: Prescription Treatments for Acne." (Accessed 9/1/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/teen-acne-prescription-treatments
- Wechsler, Amy, MD. "Treating Mild Acne and Popping Pimples." The Tyra Banks Show. (Accessed 9/1/09) http://tyrashow.warnerbros.com/2007/03/treating_mild_acne_and_popping.php