There are two types of people in this world—those who can’t help but pop a pimple when it surfaces, and those who can. As someone with scant willpower (who is highly proficient at turning off early morning exercise alarms), I fall very neatly into the former camp. Yes; these fingers have been around the pimple poppin’ block; let me tell you.
My uterus took in a new tenant last September—the Mirena IUD—and this living arrangement swiftly brought an end to my 27-year streak of blemish-free skin. Before then, my fondness for zit popping didn’t posit too much of a problem, but now that my hormones are working to ensure I am never without an under-the-skin pimple on my chin, I think it’s time to reassess.
This is my current approach: Feel big, sore pimple under surface of skin forming, resist urge to pick big sore pimple for a couple of hours, abandon flimsy resolve to leave big sore pimple alone by rushing to nearest reflective surface and mercilessly attacking it, monitor BSP’s progress—i.e. wait until some semblance of a head forms—and then really go in for the kill. Why, just the other day I picked with such gleeful and reckless abandon that my jawline resembled a Jackson Pollock painting at conclusion. A welcome comparison for an aspiring artist, not so great for my face or self-esteem. Lengthy healing times and cute little purple scars on my face are all but confirming what skin experts and my mum have been telling me for years: Picking pimples isn’t great. But still, the inner zit popping lover inside me couldn’t help but wonder, Is there ever a good time to pick a pimple? According* to Cynthia Bailey, M.D., a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology and founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care, popping a pimple “can be a good thing or a really bad thing—it all depends on the pimple and how you pop it.” Promising.
Not all zits were created equally. In general, they can be broken down into a few different categories: blackheads and whiteheads, papules and pustules, and nodules and cysts. All have their start with a clogged pore, but outside of that, they have some pretty clear differences and should be approached as such.
Generally speaking, blackheads and whiteheads are okay to (very gently) squeeze if they are on the surface, as their contents are open to the surface.
It’s a hell no for a papule—there’s a lot of inflammation going on down below the skin’s surface already and they are hard to pop, so in doing so you’re gonna wind up with more swelling and redness. It’s also unlikely you’ll get anything from one, so not only does it damage your skin, it will also be deeply unsatisfying. Thank u, next.
Gentle pressure on a pustule that is oozing or has a white/yellow head ready to go is okay, but you’re going to have to really practice some restraint—stop picking once the pus is cleared out to avoid any damage to the skin.
Attempting to pick a cyst or nodule is a big fat no as well—they are bigger and deeper, and the picking only exacerbates the skin and inhibits its self-healing abilities. Breaking open the cyst by trying to pick it just spreads the bacteria to your surrounding skin, which can cause more breakouts.
The way you pop a pimple matters, too. In your haste to rid yourself of your new face friend, it’s likely you’ll be going for it with unwashed hands, which essentially means you’re mixing an open wound with bacteria. Not cute (unless you like scarring).
For a blackhead or whitehead, your best bet is by using a comedone extractor, but only if it’s ready and you can do so without putting too much pressure on the skin. Make sure your skin is freshly clean and apply a hot washcloth for a few minutes or take a hot shower beforehand to soften up the skin and make the extraction easier. For a pustule, clean fingers are fine, but make sure not to use your nails as they can scratch the skin, creating a ripe environment for infection to descend on your face. A tissue is a good option!
For cystic and nodular acne (which shouldn’t be picked at home, ever, under no circumstances, remember?), your new best pal is ZitSticka. Not only do the microdarts penetrate your skin’s surface and deposit—directly into the heart of your zit—salicylic acid, oligopeptide-76, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, which all work together to reduce swelling, size and redness, but the patch also acts as a physical barrier between your fiendish hands and the deep, pus-filled prize they seek. A true miracle.