When you're staring in the mirror and a pimple is staring right back at you, you're going to get the urge. You want to squeeze it. You really want to squeeze it. Especially since pimples show up at the worst times.
Although there is never a really good time to get a zit, they always seem to make their appearance right before a party, a special date, a big family reunion.
So is it really that bad to pop a pimple?
Yes, it is.
What's the Big Deal?
Think of a pimple as a little sack that holds oil, debris, and acne bacteria, says dermatologist Zakiya Rice, MD, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
"What we call the pustule is actually keeping the bacteria nice and contained," she says. When you puncture the pimple's outer skin, the gunk oozes out. If the bacteria contained in that gunk splatters and lands inside other pores, it can lead to more pimples.
There's another risk. Poke, pick, prick, and prod a pimple, and you can force the debris and bacteria even deeper into your skin. You may also introduce new kinds of bacteria from your finger into the zit. That can cause the pimple to become more red, inflamed, swollen and infected, and may even lead to permanent scarring.
Bottom line: "It's best to let a pimple run through its life span," Rice says.
Left alone, a blemish will heal itself in 3 to 7 days. Popped improperly, it can linger for weeks or even lead to scarring.
How Pros Pop Pimples
Dermatologists and well-trained estheticians know how to pop a pimple safely. They wear gloves and lance a pimple with a sterile needle, then remove the contents with an instrument called a comedone extractor.
So, popping a pimple is best left to the pros. But let's face it. Sometimes, it can be tough to resist the temptation to squeeze the pus out of that bright red zit on your cheek, chin, or nose.
If you're going to do it, there's a proper way, says dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, MD, of Sebastopol, Calif.
1. Don't poke too early. Wait until your pimple has a firm white head. That means the pus is close to the surface and ready to be drained.
2. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water, soap, and a fingernail brush.
3. Sterilize a straight pin with a match or lighter. Let the pin cool, then wipe it down with rubbing alcohol. Swab the zit with alcohol and pour some on your fingers, too.
4. Dry your fingers and wrap them with a clean tissue.
5. Position your pin. Hold the pin parallel to the surface of your skin, and gently pierce the very tip of the zit's white center.
6. Using your fingers, or a cotton swab, softly squeeze the pimple. Press around (not on) the white tip of the zit. If the pus doesn't come out easily, the pimple isn't ready to be popped. Stop!
7. Apply more alcohol (it will sting) or a very small amount of bacitracin ointment to the now-deflated blemish.