Pimple picking and popping 101: Here’s what you need to know

June 14, 2024

We’ve all been there. You’re looking in the mirror staring at a pimple that’s begging to be popped. It’s so tempting. Before you dive in though, it’s important to know that experts strongly advise against pimple popping as it can actually cause more harm than good.  

Popping a pimple can cause inflammation and irritation which slows down the healing process, explains board-certified NYC cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD. The pus from a pimple can also spread bacteria to other pores causing more breakouts, she adds. Or worst case scenario, popping a pimple can lead to permanent scarring which is even more difficult and costly to treat.  

In other words, although it is incredibly enticing to pop a pimple, resist the urge, says Jodi LoGerfo, a doctor of nursing practice and a family nurse practitioner certified in family medicine and dermatology. Your skin will thank you for it later.  

That said, we are human after all. So if you must treat a pimple at home, there are a few guidelines to follow to help minimize the negative effects. Keep reading to learn the dos and don’ts of navigating pimple popping with caution and care. 

DO: Only pop pimples with a firm, white head 

It’s best to pop a pimple that has a firm, white head. “This indicates that the pus is close to the skin’s surface and ready to come out,” Dr. Green says. However, if you have deep or painful acne (cystic acne), pimple popping is a definite don’t.  

DON’T: Skimp on cleanliness  

To limit irritation and infection, it’s vital that you wash your hands and clean underneath your fingernails with soap and water before popping a pimple. Dr. Green also recommends applying a warm compress to your skin to dilate pores and make it easier to extract the pimple contents.  

You can then use a pin to pierce the pimple and gently squeeze the pimple with your fingers, a cotton swab or a comedone extractor, Dr. Green says. “Do not try to keep squeezing the pimple if its contents do not come out easily,” she adds. 

Sterilization is also key, Dr. Green says. Be sure to sterilize the pin with a lighter and the treatment area with an alcohol wipe. The cotton swab should be new and directly out of the package and the comedone extractor should be wiped with alcohol before usage.  

Immediately after popping a pimple, Dr. Green instructs washing your face with a gentle cleanser to remove impurities and applying bacitracin to the area to prevent bacterial accumulation in the open wound.  

DO: Use a pimple patch 

Using a pimple patch is a safer and effective alternative to popping a pimple. “Pimple patches absorb drainage from pimples and ensure that bacteria cannot come into contact with it,” Dr. Green says. And, since they cover the pimple, it prevents you from picking at it and causing more irritation. If patches aren’t your thing, look for a spot treatment that forms an invisible “patch” over your skin, protecting while treating and healing the pimple.  

DO: Use a spot treatment 

Spot treatments are also recommended to help reduce and treat pimples. Specifically, Dr. Green recommends ones that contain benzoyl peroxide as the active ingredient which helps reduce excess sebum and dead skin cells from the skin’s surface to help clear up clogged pores.  

DO: Follow a skincare routine 

For preventing and managing pimples, Dr. LoGerfo says a regular skincare routine is essential. She recommends starting with a cleanser and following that with a toner to exfoliate the skin. Next, apply treatment products and then lock them in with a serum and a moisturizer. Lastly, apply eye cream and finish with sunscreen.  

DO: Visit a dermatologist  

All that said, the safest way to pop a pimple is by seeing a dermatology provider who can perform treatments to remedy pimples without scarring, Dr. LoGerfo says. This often involves injecting corticosteroids into each pimple to accelerate the healing process and reduce the risk of scarring, Dr. Green explains. If your acne is persistent and can’t be managed with over-the-counter treatments, a dermatologist can also help you manage it by prescribing topical or oral medications.  

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Murad, and are for informational purposes only, even if the advice of physicians and medical practitioners are included. This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered specific medical advice.  

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Jessica Estrada is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and editor covering a wide range of lifestyle topics including beauty, skincare, wellness and mental health. Her work has been featured in Well + Good, Refinery29, Bustle, Elite Daily, Byrdie, The Zoe Report, Cosmopolitan, The Cut and more.