One of the most annoying things about acne — aside from how incredibly painful it can be — is the scarring it often leaves behind. Each mark on your skin can serve as a reminder of pimples gone by; the cyst that cropped up after a stressful day, the pimples that plagued your cheeks during particularly heinous periods, and so on. But it's also an indication you're popping pimples in a way that damages your skin, and
leads to scarring.
"This usually happens when one tries to pop a pimple that's too deep (under the skin) by 'digging' at it," Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, medical director of
Mudgil Dermatology, PC, tells Bustle. Squeezing and forcing a pimple to pop before it's ready can damage your skin — especially if it's cystic acne. If you have ongoing breakouts, or zits that leave scars behind, definitely see a dermatologist and ask about your treatment options. But until then, pop with caution.
"In general, pimple popping should be avoided. But if a pimple is at a visible head, you may gently apply light pressure using [cotton swabs] or the freshly washed pads of your fingers," Susan Bard, MD, of
Manhattan Dermatology Specialists, tells Bustle. "If nothing is expressed then stop immediately. Do not keep squeezing." Here are a few pimple popping techniques that can damage your skin and lead to scarring, if you aren't careful, according to experts.
Popping Before It's Ready
The moment you see a pimple forming, it can be
so tempting to get in there and pop it — especially if it's a giant, glowing monster of a zit that's staring you down in the mirror. But try to give it time.
"If there is no 'head' to the pimple (i.e. it is entirely under the skin — a painful red bump),
don't try to pop it," Dr. Mudgil says. "These will scar 90-plus percent of the time if you try to 'dig' at them."
The only time you should consider
popping a pimple is if it has a visible white mound in the middle, and doesn't require much effort to pop.
"If you feel that you need more than the slightest pressure, it's not ready," Dr. Mudgil says. "In these cases, you should let your dermatologist handle matters. Most dermatologists will have room in their schedules to squeeze in this type of derm 'emergency' if need be."
Another thing you don't want to do, when you've got a pimple lurking on your skin, is pick at it with your fingernails, especially if it turns red or hurts to do so.
"It is best not to pick your own pimples, because it can lead to worse inflammation, can prolong the duration of your pimple, and can cause scarring,"
Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Bustle. If you can, try to leave it alone until it's fully come to the surface. Or, go to your dermatologist and ask for their advice.
You've probably had a few pimples that "burst" when you squeeze them. And yet, while satisfying, this is one habit that can lead to scarring.
"When you squeeze the skin and 'burst' the pimple, you are creating a tear in the skin, which then needs to heal and can leave a scar," Dr. Shainhouse says. Remember, if you have to force it to pop, it's not ready to pop.
You know those deep, painful pimples that don't show much above the skin? That's
cystic acne, and since it's so far under the skin, you should avoid squeezing it at all costs.
"If the pimple is deep, or if there is no obvious open pore, squeezing will cause pain and
inflame the cyst, dilating the blood vessels, drawing fluid and white blood cells to the area, and making it appear larger and more red and raised," Dr. Shainhouse says.
Also, squeezing this type of pimple can cause it to spread under the skin, which will only make the situation worse. "If it 'pops' under the skin, it can cause a local infection [called
cellulitis], which will be red, swollen and tender for days at least," Dr. Shainhouse says.
Touching Your Skin With Dirty Hands
If you are going to attempt a pimple pop, at
least make sure your fingers and nails are clean. "If your fingers are not clean, you may be able to squeeze out a bit of pus, but then you can introduce other bacteria (usually staphylococcus) into the torn pimple and into adjacent pores, causing a secondary skin infection," Dr. Shainhouse says. And that can slow healing, damage skin, and even lead to scars.
Keep in mind that, for any amount of pus you see leaving the pimple when you squeeze it, there's an
equal amount squishing out underneath your skin. And that's not going to bode well for the healing process.
"Every time a pimple is squeezed, the amount of pus that comes out above the skin also ruptures underneath the skin,"
board-certified dermatologist Jennifer T. Haley, MD, FAAD, tells Bustle. "This sets off a huge inflammatory cascade reaction with the potential for scarring that lasts weeks. If your fingers or fingernails are leaving a mark on the skin, that is a sign you are overdoing it."
Using A Pin To Prick The Pimple
It's common to reach for a needle or pair of tweezers to gently prick a pimple, as a way of allowing the pus to escape more easily. But unless you're super careful about it, this is one pimple popping technique you should try to avoid.
"Some people use a pin or a needle (whatever they have lying around at home) to pop their pimple," board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Anna Guanche, tells Bustle. "These tools are not sterile and I see localized infections from this home-remedy! Stay away from this!"
Having Someone Else Pop It
If you have a loving partner or family member who's down to pop your pimples, you might be tempted to let them go to town. But this technique will only introduce bacteria that your skin just
"Their dirty hands and nails can infect your pimple," Dr. Guanche says. "This seems to have entertainment value for your partner, but maybe watch a movie instead."
While it may seem like
a recently popped pimple needs to be coated with acne creams and other drying medications, that's actually not the case at all.
"Most people go overboard by applying alcohol, hydrogen peroxide [...] whatever they can get their hands on," Dr. Guanche says. "It makes your pimple look angry and irritated... therefore, it takes longer to heal."
To heal your pimple faster and prevent scarring,
put an antibiotic ointment on it instead, and then leave it alone.
Looking At Your Skin With A Magnifiying Mirror
While popping a pimple, try not to use a magnifying mirror, as it will make you prone to popping zits and blackheads that simply don't need to be popped.
Using a magnifying mirror makes it easier to spot skin "imperfections" that aren't even visible to the naked eye, Dr. Guanche says. And that can lead you to pick at your skin until it's red and inflamed, which can increase your chances of scarring.
If you try to pop a particular pimple every few hours, it may be time to
give your skin a break. "Let it rest," Dr. Guanche says. "Give it a chance to heal." If you're squeezing it and nothing's happening, remember: that's a sign it's not ready.
In the meantime, you can numb a painful, irritated pimple with an over-the-counter numbing cream, Dr. Guanche says, which may make you less inclined to pick it.
You can also
make an appointment with your dermatologist, who will know exactly what to do to get rid of a painful pimple. And, they may even have a popping tip or two.