Confession time: We’ve all at some point been unable to resist the urge to pop a pimple. And while it's always best to keep your hands away from your face, if you absolutely cannot restrain yourself, at least know there is a proper way to squeeze a spot that will avoid inflaming skin. For the technique, we turned to Southern California-based dermatologist Sandra Lee, M.D., more commonly known on the Internet as Dr. Pimple Popper.
It’s safe to say that Lee knows her way around a blemish. Over two million combined followers avidly watch YouTube and Instagram videos of her performing extractions on patients, some of whom have traveled from as far away as London and Saudi Arabia for treatment.
Let’s be honest, you’re probably going to pop a pimple again in the near future, so read on for Lee’s advice, and get the job done with minimal potential for scarring.
Timing Is Everything
Before popping a pimple, Lee recommends pausing to think about what you have on your schedule for the rest of the day. “Don’t decide to do it right before a big date or an hour before getting professional photos taken,” she says. “When you squeeze a pimple successfully, it usually looks a little worse before it looks better, so it’s best to do the squeeze at least 24-hours before you want that area of the skin to be the center of attention.”
Know When a Blemish Is Ready to Be Popped
To avoid causing irritation or scarring, Lee stresses the importance of leaving the blemish alone until it’s ready to be extracted. “A pimple has to ‘come to a head’ for it to be successfully popped,” explains Lee. “You can encourage a pimple to do this by applying warm compresses to the area often. Over time, you should see a white bump come up in the center of your pimple. This is called a pustule, and is what can be successfully popped and make the pimple go away with no scarring.”
When a blemish is a deep-seated red bump under the skin that's painful to touch, Lee stresses that it's not ready to be popped. “Squeezing it will only cause it to swell even more, get redder, and could possibly lead to a skin infection. If you need this type of pimple to disappear ASAP, she recommends seeing a dermatologist who can inject a little low potency steroid directly into the pimple to quickly shrink it.
If you have a pimple that’s come to a head and you’re dying to pop it, you’ll need the following: Clean hands and fingers, a clean sharp needle, rubbing alcohol, and cotton swabs. “Use a needle that you sterilize with a flame and wipe down with rubbing alcohol. Hold this [cooled] needle in your hand, and brace that hand against your face, or a non-moving surface to stabilize your hand so it doesn’t shake about, and gently pierce the top of the pustule with the needle. Then, pull up to lift open a hole within the pimple,” instructs Lee.
Next, use a comedone extractor like Sephora Collection’s Double-Ended Blemish Extractor ($17; sephora.com) or your clean fingers to push down around the pustule. Lee says to stop pushing once the puss has been expressed and you see a little blood. “If you keep squeezing, this can aggravate the pimple, and make the swelling and inflammation worse!”
When you’re finished, wipe the pimple area down with rubbing alcohol again while applying a little bit of pressure. Lee says you can also use antibiotic cream to minimize the chance of infection or a small dab of over-the-counter corticosteroid cream to lessen inflammation and redness in the area. We also like spot treatments like Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Targeted Spot Treatment ($18; burtsbees.com).
What You Should Never Do
While the above method works on whiteheads, some blackheads (both are caused by clogged pores), and even milias (small superficial cysts), Lee stresses that cystic acne (large, painful blemishes beneath the skin’s surface) should never be squeezed. “You can help cystic acne get to the squeezing stage by applying a warm compress to it. Other than that, leave it alone.”