Should I pop my zits?

If it's safe for dermatologists to extract some pimples at their office, is it OK to just pop the zits yourself? See more pictures of skin problems.
B2M Productions/Stock Image/Getty Images

A pimple surfaces on your face. It may be a red, inflamed pustule (pus-filled) or just a modest blackhead. Either way, you search for the simplest, fastest way to get rid of this cosmetic embarrassment that you're sure must be visible from space. For many people, the answer to resolving a pimple problem is obvious: pop it, squeeze it, squish it, prick it, scratch it, scrape it -- in other words, attack it with your bare hands or any tool at your disposal. After all, popping (in all its forms) seemingly offers an immediate solution. And, for many, it also provides a somewhat perverse pleasure. There are many devotees of the practice (and enjoyment) of pimple popping.

Unfortunately, skin doesn't always respond well to the two-finger acne treatment. Most dermatologists frown upon pimple popping because it can lead to scarring or another breakout [source: Robertson]. Of course, it's not the actual popping that's at issue; it's that the popping might be done in a way that is unsafe or unhygienic. For example, your nails might tear the skin, or your fingers might redistribute bacteria to your face. But zapping a zit can be done safely. After all, dermatologists frequently pop pimples for their patients, and aestheticians routinely extract blackheads from their clients' faces during spa facials. Of course, you're unlikely to flee to the doctor or spa every time you get a pimple or blackhead, so what are you to do?

Your first rule: Hands off the zit. As tempting as it may be to pop it yourself, you may regret it down the road if it scars. There are many over-the-counter acne treatments -- such as those containing salicylic acid -- that you can use to attack a blemish. And for those who wear makeup, there's the option of covering up zits until they go away.

Still, there are many people who just can't resist attacking a pimple. It can be an irresistible impulse, much like scratching a mosquito bite or picking a scab. So, if you insist on popping that zit or eliminating that blackhead, here are a few acceptable ways to go about it:

  • Use cotton swabs in place of your fingers when squeezing the pimple. This will help keep the bacteria from your hands off of your face.
  • Buy a comedone extractor. This is the tool some dermatologists use to remove whiteheads and blackheads. It can be bought online and at many drug stores. Be sure to follow the accompanying instructions.
  • Get some pore strips. These are for blackheads only. They offer a simple, fast way to unclog your pores.

A final caution: There are types of pimples you should never try to pop, no matter how great the urge -- cysts and nodules, which are firm, painful pimples that form deep in your skin. The treatment for these pimples is more complex than that for regular acne, and they should be treated by a doctor only.

See the next page for lots more information on acne and other skin problems.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Acne." November 2009. (May 17, 2010)
  • MedlinePlus. "Acne." Dec. 11, 2009. (May 17, 2010)
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. "Acne." January 2006. (May 17, 2010)
  • Robertson, Annabelle. "9 Skin Care Myths." WebMD. July 2009. (May 17, 2010)
  • WebMD. "Acne - Home Treatment." Feb. 27, 2009. (May 17, 2010)
  • Wechsler, Amy, MD. "Treating Mild Acne and Popping Pimples." The Tyra Banks Show. March 12, 2007. (May 17, 2010)