Most of us are freakishly obsessed with the tiny abscesses extra oil, dirt and grime trigger on our skin. Pimples, blackheads, acne, it's all the same — and it's a massive industry. There are TV shows (Dr. Pimple Popper on TLC), YouTube accounts and TikTok threads dedicated to the satisfaction folks receive from watching an irritated acne spot explode.
It's disgusting, for sure. But we're all collectively fascinated — admit it. We stare deeply into the mirror at our clogged pores and wonder, anxiously, where an irritated red dot will surface next. If it's already there, it's difficult to resist the urge to pop it. If the pus comes out, our brains infer, the pimple is on its way to healing itself. If the pus refills, we pop it again — and again and again until it stops coming back.
But we're all doing more damaging than we are good and obsessing over videos wherein "experts" set a bad example. You should never pop your pimples, Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, a Miami-based board certified dermatologist with over 40 years of experience, says. Below, she explains why, but also why we all struggle to resist doing so.
You should't pop your pimples?
No! If you happen to have something that opens inadvertently you can consider putting warm compresses over it, but never pop.
Why do people do it? Where does the urge come from?
There are two main reasons why we feel the urge to pop: to feel better or look better. If the area is swollen, throbbing or sensitive and we may think that if we release some pressure by popping it that we will feel more comfortable but this is only a very temporary improvement, and the popping typically causes even more inflammation. Also, individual acne lesions often take days to weeks to resolve. If we pop we do change the contour of the acne so it seems to flatten, but this is also typically just a temporary improvement in the appearance of the pimple or pustule since it usually gets even worse after popping, and it certainly increases our risk of scarring from the acne.
How are blackheads different from pimples? Is 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 look black you can sometimes steam blackheads to the point where they may start to come out themselves. If you see the black strands already peeping out of your skin surface you can try to gently press around them and see if they will come out. You can consider using a "comedone extractor" which is an instrument made for extraction of blackheads with virtually no trauma to your skin.
Is the size of one ever concerning? Both the size of the spot on your face and what comes out?
If a pimple seems like it is very deep or throbbing, I recommend you see a dermatologist or primary care physician since it may well need to be treated with antibiotics and/or a cortisone shot into it, called intralesional cortisone.
What kind of damage can picking at your acne cause? Is it permanent?
Scars, hyperpigmentation and infections can all result from picking. Depending on your own wound healing or pigment-forming tendencies 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 just couldn't resist and do pop a pimple or two, here are a few helpful tips: Apply ice right afterward to both lessen redness and swelling and also possibly help limit the spread of infection that can happen after pimple popping. Next, you can apply 1% hydrocortisone cream to lessen the inflammation after you've iced it. That evening, apply some salicylic acid, either by cleansing with a salicylic cleanser or in a spot treatment to help some of the residual debris purge from the popped area.