How to Pop a Pimple Responsibly

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

Many sources claim that you should never, ever pop a pimple, but it’s not the beauty sin some make it out to be. At times it can help and you don’t need to be an expert like Dr. Pimple Popper to do so successfully.

But what kind of pimple can be popped – a blackhead, a whitehead, a pustule? Also, how to pop a pimple safely without leaving a scar? In this article, we answer these questions and advise on when and how to pop a pimple responsibly at home. However, you should rather not rely on our tips if your skin condition is very serious. For this, always visit a dermatologist or a qualified doctor 👩‍⚕️.

Everyone gets pimples, and even though we aren’t “supposed to,” we all pop them sometimes. But there is a safe way to pop your pimples.

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 main types of acne include blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, and cysts. Dermatologists agree that most acne has three main causative factors:

  • inflammation,
  • bacteria, and
  • oil production.

Blackheads:

A blackhead will form when oil and dead cells get trapped in a pore that is only slightly closed. Air can reach the oil, which oxidizes it and turns it a dark color. It’s like when you leave a cut apple on the counter for an hour, and the air turns it slightly brown – a natural process.

Never try to pop a blackhead because the irritation could cause the pore to close completely, which could turn the blackhead into a bigger problem. Exfoliators with low-concentration salicylic acid may help in this case.

Whiteheads:

A whitehead is a small, firm, white dot, the same size as a blackhead. It is similar to a blackhead, except the oil and dead skin cells are trapped under the surface because the pore is completely closed.

We advise against popping whiteheads because this would require you to break the skin significantly, which can lead to all kinds of issues. Bigger whiteheads, or ones with heads that are more yellow than white, may actually be papules or pustules.

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, papule popping should be avoided, as the resulting irritation can actually exacerbate the problem.

Pustules: 

Pustules are the only kind of acne that we recommend popping because if left unpopped, many pustules will pop themselves anyway. Pustules are the classic “pimple.” They are raised bumps with a defined white or yellowish head. If you know what you are doing, 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 sometimes softer, almost like a blister. 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 Microbes Contribute to Acne

The microbes primarily associated with acne are called P. acnes, but it’s important to note that on their own, they are not a problem. In fact, they can even help reduce acne. Small numbers of bacteria called “commensals” always live on the surface of our skin, and they have beneficial functions in our bodies. P. acnes 🦠, specifically, consume the oil that our skin naturally produces, and in this, they actually help prevent oil buildup.

When Do Friendly Bacteria Become The Enemy?

The issue starts when the skin becomes inflamed. Inflamed skin swells slightly, so the pores constrict, which traps oil, dead cells, and bacteria in them. If there’s a significant amount of oil trapped, the microbes have lots of extra food and their numbers can multiply rapidly, which causes more inflammation and then infection. This is a papule – an inflamed bump caused by P. acnes.

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 👍.

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 can release a chemical that binds to cells and tricks the immune system into believing these 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.

Attempting to pop a cyst will likely push P.acnes🦠 even further under the skin. Breaking the skin open will cause significant damage and scars.

Hyperpigmentation and Scarring

Before learning when and how to pop a pimple safely, you should know the risks involved. Even when done carefully, papule popping can lead to scarring or hyperpigmentation, and this is more common for people of color.

Hyperpigmentation is commonly associated with acne because melanin is a key part of the wound healing process. When there’s a break in the skin, different chemicals, including melanin, are sent to repair the damage. Melanin gives a darker color to cells in the acne, and it typically 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 extra melanin to fade from this type of skin, sometimes several weeks or even months. Lighteners that are commonly used to reduce hyperpigmentation on fair skin are not always safe for dark skin.

If you don’t pop a pimple safely, you can also cause indented scars, which look like small pockmarks. This is a common form of acne scar that doesn’t go away on its own. Pockmark scars can be treated by a dermatologist, but their services are often expensive and rarely covered by insurance, so it’s usually best to prevent pimples and scars from forming in the first place.

The best way to prevent indented scars and hyperpigmentation is safe and responsible pimple popping.

If you want to pop a pimple, we urge you to follow some simple tips to prevent scarring.

How to Pop a Pimple

We suggest five simple steps for popping pimples: wash, lance, squeeze, wash, treat. Preferably do this in front of a mirror.

  1. One of the most important steps in popping a pimple is washing your face and hands with warm water before getting started. Our hands regularly touch money, doorknobs, and our phones – some of the germiest items in the world, so before you open your skin, make sure you first wash your hands 🧼 to avoid the risk of contamination. It’s also important to wash your face because you don’t want to risk reintroducing any bacteria on the surface of your skin into the pore.
  2. Once your hands and face are clean, you’ll need a sterilized needle 💉. A thin sewing needle usually works well, and you can sterilize it by wiping it with a cotton swab that has been soaked in rubbing alcohol. Use its sharp point to gently press into the head of the pimple, breaking the skin by making a tiny hole.
  3. Now, place the pads of your fingers on either side of the pimple while pressing down and slightly in. Don’t use your nails, as this would increase the likelihood of scarring. Continue popping the pimple while pus is coming out, but when blood 🩸 or a clear fluid starts to emerge, wipe it away with a cotton swab (not your fingers!) and move onto the next step.
  4. You’re now done with the pimple, so wash your face and hands again to prevent the bacteria 🦠that were inside the pimple, or that are still close to the surface of your skin from spreading to other pores.
  5. Finally, it’s time to treat the pimple. Now that the skin is opened slightly, acne-fighting ingredients 💪 can more easily reach the bacteria inside. This is the best time to apply your favorite spot treatments or products with ingredients containing benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil.

Treatment and Prevention

The last step for popping a pimple is applying an excellent treatment product that will kill any remaining bacteria and reduce inflammation. Spot treatment can work well in this particular scenario, but you don’t have to buy any special spot treatment products 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 popping pimples is not the end of the world, it’s always easier to prevent pimples than to treat them. Whether you have acne or not, we always recommend a daily facial routine, but it’s important to find a routine that suits your needs. Our products at Exposed contain 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 for Pimples 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 routines or excessive spot treatment.

If you have dry skin, we recommend our Expanded Kit. This like 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 general skin care and treating your pimples. The kit contains everything in our Expanded Kit, but it also comes with a Clarifying MaskMicroderm Scrub, and Probiotic Complex Capsules.

The Ultimate Kit provides the ultimate skin care experience, to keep your skin healthy and acne-free.