The truth is, you should never pop a pimple. Ever. You should let the pimple run its course and heal in its own good time (which is typically 3-7 days). Prodding and picking only forces debris and bacteria even deeper into the skin, as well as introduces new bacteria into the zit. This causes the pimple to become more red and infected and, worse, may lead to scarring.
But despite anything we say, we’re guessing you’ll find yourself popping a zit anyways—especially before a hot date or big event. Below, we list some tips on how to cause the least damage to your skin. But, for the record, pimple popping is never a good idea!
If you must, when can you pop?
Wait until the whitehead shows. Until you actually see the white, do not touch your skin. This usually means it has been around for a while since puss has collected and had time to form a white tip. If you do it too early, you can cause an infection or scarring, since the whitehead is still buried beneath healthy skin cells.
How to Prep the Skin
To start, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly. Many recommend using rubbing alcohol—since you’ll be opening the skin and creating a way for bacteria to enter and create an infection—but dermatologist Dr. Jeanine Downie advises against this. “Rubbing alcohol burns the skin,” she says. “Washing your face gently with a cleanser is enough.” Then, gently pat dry your face.
How to Pop It
Take a wet Q-tip and roll it over the top of pimple very gently. “The Q-tip will give you even pressure to make the whitehead burst open,” says Dr. Downie. “If it doesn’t pop from the pressure, it’s best to leave it alone.” If you don’t have a Q-tip, squeeze with a tissue—anything to avoid touching the pimple with your bare hands.
Note: Dr. Downie stresses that cystic blemishes are a completely different story. “Don’t go anywhere them because they can really scar you.” She recommends getting them injected with low-dose cortisone by a board-certified dermatologist.
How to Heal It
Once you’re done popping, apply an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide to the deflated blemish. This will help banish any bacteria inside the blemish and help it to heal.