First things first—any dermatologist you talk to about pimple-popping is going to say (and repeat) that you should leave it to the pros. Popping or picking or squeezing your own blemishes can cause a ton of issues. Infections, scarring, reoccurring breakouts—seriously, dermatologists really want you to leave your skin alone. Even still, we know that sometimes the temptation to deal with a zit yourself is too great. You just have to get your hands on it. So we spoke to Dr. Julia Carroll, a dermatologist at Compass Dermatology in Toronto, on the best way to deal with a just-can’t-leave-it-alone pimple at home. Here are her tips.
First, try to not pop the pimple
If you can treat your blemish topically, try to do that. “For comedones (small pinpoint whiteheads and blackheads) use a treatment with either benzol peroxide, salicylic acid or glycolic acid,” says Carroll (we really like this one). “But, start with just one product or ingredient so you don’t irritate your skin further.” If you have larger whiteheads with some redness or swelling (pustules) or red, swollen bumps without a whitehead (papules) you can start with the same ingredients. “They may not zap a zit immediately, but long-term use can reduce the number of spots or breakouts.”
Next, if you can get to a dermatologist, do so
“At my office, we offer a lot of treatments that don’t require an appointment with a dermatologist,” says Carroll. If you can make time to get to a professional, this is where you want to do it—before you start picking and prodding and doing some damage to your skin.
Why is it such a bad idea to pop a pimple yourself?
Most acne scars and pigmentation are the result of popping pimples—not the blemishes themselves. “When you manipulate the skin you can cause permanent damage to the tissue,” says Carroll. Also, any poking you do yourself often results in more inflammation. “This causes an increase in redness immediately and ultimately slows down the healing in the long run.”
Okay, so you’re going to pop that pimple anyways
Only pop the pimple yourself if there is a visible whitehead. Then follow Dr. Carroll’s steps. First, wash your face thoroughly and use alcohol on the affected area. Next, using two Q-Tips, gently apply pressure to the lesion. And then—here’s where it gets tricky—leave the thing alone. “Don’t keep going back for more,” says Carroll. “Let the area heal.”
What should I do to prevent pimples from coming up in the first place?
The biggest mistake you’re making? Skipping sunscreen. “Many people skip sunscreen because they think it makes them break out,” says Carroll. “It’s more likely related to sweat and dirt.” There are many oil-free acne-friendly sunscreens that will keep your skin protected without causing breakouts.
Anything else I should know?
“Always seek help early,” says Carroll. Scars are preventable, so as soon as you see signs of scarring seek help! “We live in Canada,” says Carroll, “so while it takes some time to see a dermatologist, it is covered by provincial health plans so it should be accessible to all.”