Popping pimples can lead to scarring or increased acne if not done properly, but if you know how to pop a pimple responsibly, popping can be a useful aspect of treating acne.
Many sources claim that you should never, ever pop a pimple, but it’s not the skin care sin everyone makes it out to be. Popping a pimple is like many other acne treatments: it is not right for everyone or for every situation, but there are times it can help. That being said, there are some specific guidelines for how to pop a pimple responsibly. A specific type of acne called “pustules” are the only kind that should ever be popped, but how do you know if your pimple is a pustule? If it is, what’s the best way to pop it without leaving a scar? Before jumping in, it’s important to know how to pop a pimple, and all the different factors that go into pimple popping.
Knowing What Kind of Acne You’re Dealing With
Before popping anything, make sure your pimple is actually a pustule. The word “pimple” is meant to be interchangeable with the word “pustule,” but over time, “pimple” has come to mean any kind of acne. The first step in the process of how to pop a pimple is to make sure it really is a pimple.
There are five main types of acne: blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, and cysts. All of them are caused by a combination of the three main contributing factors of acne: inflammation, bacteria, and oil production.
Blackheads: Blackheads form when oil and dead skin cells get trapped in a pore that is not completely closed. Contrary to popular belief, blackheads have nothing to do with dirt. Because the pore is still slightly open, some air can reach the oil, which oxidizes it and turns it a dark color. It’s a bit like when you cut into an apple and leave it on the counter for an hour, and the air turns it slightly brown. Blackheads should never be popped because the irritation of popping could cause the pore to close completely, which could turn the blackhead into a bigger problem.
Whiteheads: Whiteheads are a lot like blackheads, except the oil and dead skin cells are trapped under the surface because pore is completely closed. They look like small, firm, white dots, similar in size to blackheads. If you have whiteheads that are bigger, or they have a head that is more yellow than white, it may actually be a papule or a pustule. We advise against popping whiteheads as well because it typically requires you to break the skin significantly, which can lead to all kinds of issues.
- Papules: Papules are slightly bigger than blackheads or whiteheads. Instead of forming a small dot, they form a raised bump without a defined head. They might have a white or yellowish color, but unlike pustules, papules should not be popped. Like whiteheads, popping papules typically breaks the skin, and like blackheads, the irritation can actually exacerbate the problem.
- Pustules: Pustules are the only kind of acne that we recommend popping, because if left un-popped, many pustules will pop themselves anyway. Pustules are the classic “pimple.” They are raised bumps with a defined head that is white or yellowish in color. If you know how to pop a pimple responsibly, you can get rid of pustules without leaving a scar.
- Cysts: Cysts are the last major category of acne, and you should never try to pop them at home. Cysts are large, raised lesions that can be hard to the touch or softer, like a blister almost. Popping cysts almost always leads to significant scarring, and it can even make cysts worse. Pustules really are the only kind of acne you should try popping.
How Bacteria Contributes to Acne
The bacteria primarily associated with acne are called p. acnes, but it’s important to note that on their own, p. acnes don’t necessarily create a problem—in fact, they can even help reduce acne. P. acnes bacteria always live on the surface of our skin in small amounts, and they are anaerobic, meaning they can’t survive in oxygen for very long. They consume the oil that our skin naturally produces, so when left alone, p. acnes can actually help prevent oil buildup. The issue starts when the skin becomes inflamed.
When something inflames the skin, it swells slightly and the pores constrict. This traps oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria in the pores. If there’s a significant amount of oil trapped in the pore, the bacteria have lots of extra food and their numbers can multiply rapidly until the immune system recognizes it as an infection.
At that point, the immune system sends cells to kill the bacteria and triggers more inflammation to prevent the bacteria from escaping back to the surface or expanding to other pores. This is a papule: an inflamed bump caused by p. acnes, but not yet a pustule, with a defined head. Again, please don’t pop these! You are far more likely to harm your skin than help it.
When the immune system cells start fighting off the p. acnes, both cells typically die, immune system and bacterial. This dead cell matter forms pus, and as the immune system successfully fights the infection, more pus will be generated until the papule transforms into a pustule, with a clearly defined, white or yellowish head. At this point, it is okay to pop the pimple if you do so responsibly (keep reading to learn how to pop a pimple responsibly).
Cysts vs. Pimples
Sometimes this process gets out of hand and the immune system doesn’t successfully fight off the infection. This is how cysts form. P. acnes bacteria can release a chemical which binds to skin cells and tricks the immune system into believing the skin cells are actually bacteria. This causes the immune system to attack your own body, thus breaking down the pore and giving the bacteria room to spread under the skin. Because no pus is building up and pushing toward the surface of the skin, healthy layers of skin cells continue to grow over the infection, making cysts especially bad for popping. Attempting to pop a cyst will likely push the bacteria even further under the skin, and if you do manage to get anything out, breaking the skin open will cause significant damage and scarring.
Hyperpigmentation and Scarring
Before learning how to pop a pimple, you should know the risks involved. Even when done carefully, popping pimples can often lead to scarring or hyperpigmentation, and this is even more common for people of color.
Hyperpigmentation is a kind of scar commonly associated with acne where the skin becomes slightly darker. This happens because melanin is a key part of the wound healing process. When there’s a break in the skin, different chemicals and cells are sent to repair the damage, and melanin is one of those chemicals. Melanin deposits color to the skin cells, so the longer the wound takes to heal, the more hyperpigmented the skin is likely to be. Typically, hyperpigmentation fades after a few weeks.
This situation is slightly different for people of color who already have a significant amount of melanin in their skin cells. It can take much longer for this extra melanin to fade from skin of color, sometimes several weeks or even months. And skin lighteners that are commonly used to reduce hyperpigmentation on fair skin are not always safe for dark skin. Many skin lighteners have been shown to turn hyperpigmented spots into darker, almost blueish spots in people of color.
If you don’t know how to pop a pimple safely, you can also cause indented scars, which look like small pock marks in the skin. These are also a very common form of acne scarring, but these typically don’t go away on their own. Pock mark scars can be treated by a dermatologist, but the treatments are often expensive and rarely covered by insurance, so it’s usually best to prevent these if you can.
The best way to prevent indented scars and hyperpigmentation is to understand how to pop a pimple safely and responsibly.
How to Pop a Pimple
We suggest five simple steps for popping pimples: wash, lance, squeeze, wash, treat.
- One of the most important steps of the popping process is washing your face and hands before getting started. Our hands regularly touch money, door knobs, and our phones, some of the most germy items in the world, so before you open your skin to remove a mild infection, make sure your hands aren’t carrying germs that might cause another infection. It’s also important to wash your face because you don’t want to add any p. acnes bacteria on the surface of your skin back into the pore as you pop it. It’s best to start with a clean slate.
- Once your hands and face are clean, you’ll need a sterilized needle. A thin sewing needle usually works well, and you can sterilize a needle by soaking a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol, and using it to clean the needle. Take the point of the needle and gently press into the head of the pimple.
- Using the pads of your fingertips, press on either side of the pimple and press down and slightly in. Don’t use your nails, as that increases the likelihood of scarring. You can continue popping the pimple while pus is coming out, but if blood or a clear fluid starts to come out, it’s time to move onto the next step.
- Once you’ve popped the pimple, wash your face and hands again to prevent the bacteria from inside the pimple from spreading to other pores.
- Finally, it’s time to treat the pimple. Now that the skin is opened slightly, acne-fighting ingredients have a more direct path to the bacteria inside, so this is the best time to apply your favorite skin care products.
Treatment and Prevention
The last step for how to pop a pimple is applying an excellent treatment product that will kill any remaining bacteria and reduce inflammation. A spot treatment can work well in this particular scenario, but you don’t have to buy a whole separate spot treatment if you use Exposed Skin Care’s Basic Kit. Our Basic Kit is perfect for pimple popping because it contains a gentle Facial Cleanser for steps 1 and 4 and an Acne Treatment Serum for step 5. With tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide, our Acne Treatment Serum is the perfect product for killing bacteria, but it also contains green tea extract to reduce inflammation and make pimples less visible.
Although it’s not the end of the world to pop pimples, it’s always easier to prevent acne than to treat it. Whether you have acne or not, we always recommend a daily skin care routine, but it’s important to find a routine that fits your needs. Every product we make at Exposed contains quality ingredients that keep all skin types healthy, like tea tree oil, salicylic acid, aloe vera and more. All you have to do is decide which of our kits is the best fit for you and your lifestyle.
The Best Treatment Solutions at Exposed Skin Care
The Basic Kit is the best option if you’re low-maintenance, always in a rush, or have trouble keeping up with new routines. With only 3 easy steps, you can keep your face acne-free without all the hassle of more intense skin care routines.
If you have dry skin, we recommend our Expanded Kit. This is just the same as our Basic Kit, but it comes with our signature Moisture Complex, which contains green tea extract, pumpkin seed oil, and other ingredients to help your skin retain moisture.
Our last option is the Ultimate Kit, which contains everything you could ever need for acne treatment and skin care. If you take pleasure in doing your daily skin care routine each morning and night, and you want to use all of the best acne treatment products, the Ultimate Kit is the best option for you. It contains everything in our Expanded Kit, but it also comes with a Clarifying Mask, Microderm Scrub, and Probiotic Complex Capsules.