Medically reviewed by Tia Bean, MSN, APRN
Pimple popping is having its day. In fact, it’s become a spectator sport. Videos featuring close-ups of whiteheads erupting like Lilliputian volcanoes under pressure from an extractor tool or (sometimes ungloved) fingers get millions of views on YouTube and TikTok. Blackhead popping and cyst popping videos draw plenty of eyeballs, too. But is it bad to pop pimples?
When asked, “Should you pop pimples?”, most dermatologists firmly say no. You might think it will help the pimple heal faster, but the experts note that pimple popping at home probably won’t help and may hurt.
5 perils of popping pimples
DIY pimple popping is a bad idea for at least five reasons:
- Pressing on and squeezing an acne blemish can push the oil, dirt and bacteria that’s clogging the pore deeper into your skin and make your acne worse. If the crud gets deep enough, nodules or painful cysts can form. Cystic acne is especially hard to treat and likely to lead to scars.
- Dirt, bacteria and oils can travel from your fingers into your pores and nearby hair follicles.
- The opening left behind after you pop a pimple could turn into an acne scar.
- The pressure you put on your skin could lead to a small, possibly permanent spider vein on your face.
- If you really go to town on a blemish, the force can cause the skin to tear enough to create an open wound that can bleed, scab over and scar, as well as open the door to infection.
What to do instead of pimple popping
Just because it’s unwise to pop a pimple doesn’t mean you’re entirely at its mercy. If you leave it alone, it will go away on its own, typically within three to seven days unless it’s a deep cyst. But if you want to help it along, you have some safe options. Here’s how to get rid of acne faster according to the American Academy of Dermatology:
- Turn up the heat on whiteheads. A warm compress can help coax a pus-filled pimple along. Soak a clean washcloth in hot water, wring it out and apply it to the area for 10 to 15 minutes three or four times a day.
- Put it on ice. To ease pain and inflammation from a pimple deep in the skin, wrap an ice cube in a clean washcloth or paper towel and apply it for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat after a 10-minute break.
- Battle bacteria with benzoyl. Dabbing on a 2% benzoyl peroxide product once or twice a day will help dry up pimples and prevent infection.
Acne extraction and more: What a dermatology provider can do
Is it bad to pop pimples? At home, yes—but your dermatologist may be able to do it safely. For stubborn zits or times when you need to get rid of a pimple fast for a special event, a dermatology provider can use one of several techniques depending on the size and type of blemish:
- Acne extraction. Acne extraction is performed with sterile instruments designed for this purpose to safely remove blackheads and whiteheads.
- A corticosteroid injection. Injecting a corticosteroid into a large, deep pimple or a painful cyst reduces inflammation and starts to shrink the breakout within 24 to 72 hours. Shrinking the blemish in this way can reduce the chances of scarring. Corticosteroid injections are typically used for single cysts or nodules, not multiple zits.
- Incision and drainage. If you have a particularly large cyst or nodule, the dermatology provider can open it using a sterile needle or surgical blade and then clean out the contents.
Pimple popping can be hard to resist, but treating a bothersome breakout is best left to a professional. A dermatology provider can also develop an acne treatment plan to keep pimples and other blemishes from forming in the first place. Learn when to seek a dermatologist’s care for acne vs. trying to treat it at home.
Ready to make an appointment for acne treatment? Schedule one today.
Written by Maura Rhodes, a New Jersey-based writer and editor specializing in health and well-being.