Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/23/2021
Acne-sufferers of the internet, it’s time to stop the pop. Popping your pimples may feel satisfying or like a solution in the moment, but in the big picture, pimple popping is actually not great skin care in action.
For all the love that Dr. Pimple Popper and other acne-extracting influencers may get online, popping pimples is actually not always the right way to deal with them. This is particularly true if you’re trying to pop them yourself.
Instead of clawing at your face with fingernails, makeshift tools, and comedone kits you bought off the internet, there are some smarter ways to address acne without risking more complications to your poor, helpless skin.
Before we talk about options, let’s talk pimples and why popping is so bad.
Acne is the unfortunate result of the breakdown of your skin’s normal process for shedding dead cells from your hair follicles. The result is a bacterial infection, which is caused by excess cells, oils and bacterial filling the pore.
This happens because a mixture of oil and dead cells is the perfect habitat for bacteria—the ones that cause acne.
You may be wondering why this happens. Well, plenty of things can trigger an imbalance: poor diet, dehydration, the climate’s toll on your skin, and hormone imbalances—particularly one type of hormones, called androgens.
Androgens are so impactful to acne because they can drastically increase your oil production through the sebaceous gland. Normally, oil (also called sebum) is produced to help the dead cells slide out more efficiently, but in the case of acne, it can act like the perfect terrarium for bacteria.
You might assume, rightly, that because of all this, getting rid of the contents of a pimple is important. To a degree, that’s true. But popping them can actually cause some big problems too.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association says that popping your own pimples can cause some serious problems. Those problems could leave you with more prominent acne, or acne scars, or pain or even an infection.
Popping a zit seems like a good idea, because you want to get what’s inside of it out. The problem is that doing it yourself, by squeezing, can actually force the contents of the pimple deeper into your skin—a problem that will increase inflammation, infection, and could lead to scarring.
So what’s the right way for you to pop a pimple? Let someone else do it.
A dermatologist knows how to properly “pop” or extract pimples, but it turns out that, aside from whiteheads and blackheads, popping isn’t the right treatment.
More serious forms of acne may require other means of extraction, and even an injection of corticosteroids to make healing more rapid. And this injection should only be administered by a healthcare provider.
Dermatologists, generally, know the appropriate techniques and tools for identifying the type of acne they’re dealing with, and the way to aid in the healing effort without causing more problems.
Are you popping compulsively? Whether it’s a nervous habit or a vain attempt to wrestle control back from your breakouts, we get the motivation behind popping. But stopping the popping is actually part of the best recommended set of treatments for breakouts.
According to the AAD, there are three things that you can do immediately to get clearer skin.
Treat acne pain with ice.
Treat acne with over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Keep your hands away from your face.
See that last one? Popping and touching generally is only going to make things worse.
Can’t help yourself? You may have a nervous habit or even a compulsive issue, which can be difficult to correct. Here are some tips on how to stop popping and picking, according to the folks at Harvard Medical School:
Know your triggers. You might be touching your face to react to pain, or as a self-conscious instinct to manipulate or hide your blemishes. But knowing these triggers that start your hands moving is the first step to reducing the habit.
Make it harder to pick. Put roadblocks up to the habit. Keep shorter nails, distract your hands with fidget spinners, or if the problem is serious, wear some gloves.
Three words: cognitive behavioral therapy. Sometimes these habits are more severe than we think, and sometimes the mechanism to get rid of them might take two people to diagnose and overcome. Therapy might be great for dealing with trauma, but it’s also great for things like this.
So what should you do about your acne? There are some effective strategies you can employ today to address the issues, without making anything worse.
This might be a “duh” moment, but blotting papers, astringents like witch hazel, or masks can all be your friend in simply removing the oil to get things back in balance. A healthcare professional might recommend benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid as options.
Drying out your skin can have some nasty adverse effects on its balance. The solution, as you might have guessed, is a moisturizer. In addition to proper daily water intake, consider compounds like aloe vera, or topical hyaluronic acid, which has been shown to help with moisture retention.
Getting rid of grime and dead cells is important, but exfoliation isn’t just about hard scrubbing—in fact, it’s the opposite. Scrubbing will help with the right pressure, but consider a chemical exfoliant like a retinoid. Retinoids are synthetic vitamin A compounds that get rid of dead cells while simultaneously boosting new cell growth.
There are over-the-counter options, but prescription versions like tretinoin might help with more serious problems. Tretinoin, which has been recommended since the 1960s, has been shown to boost collagen production as well. You might want to consider our Acne Cream.
Is your lifestyle screwing with your skin? There are some things you might want to look at: high glycemic diet, poor hydration and general stress can cause skin issues. They can also lead to diabetes, hypertension, and other stuff you don’t want to deal with.
Better dietary health is just good for your whole body, anyway.
Popping is bad. If there’s one takeaway here, that should be it. But if there’s a second, it’s that a healthcare professional should be involved in some of these decisions when it comes to taking on your acne.
Whether you’re a teenager or in your 30s or beyond, fighting and getting rid of acne is a more complicated business than squeezing every last pimple—and it doesn’t have to be a battle fought one whitehead at a time.
If you’re struggling with bad skin, talk to someone and find the right treatment(s) for you. You deserve to glow. And your skin? It deserves some peace and quiet.
Insider tips, early access and more.