The Correct Way to Pop a Pimple

Read this before you start pinching your face.

We’ve all been there. You’ve got a big date tomorrow but BAM, a giant zit just popped up on your forehead and it’s pretty much all you see when you look in the mirror. So, you get your trusty fingers ready and you go in for the kill, ready to destroy the pimple in time for your date. But wait, because you actually may be causing more harm then good.

We talked to board-certified dermatologist and founder SKINFIVE, Dr. Ava Shamban, about when to pop a pimple and what steps to take to make sure you’re not destroying your skin in the process.


Let’s start with when NOT to pop, because honestly, there’s a larger chance you should leave the zit alone rather than trying to stab at it and just make it worse.

There’s no whitehead.

If there’s no whitehead, step back. Meaning, if you don’t see that white mound forming at the top of the zit, the pimple is not ready to be messed with. “It could just be a red bump, and people who start to work those red bumps, that’s when they get into trouble because there’s inflammation there and there’s nothing to really pop out,” Dr. Shamban says. “So, that’s just like a cyst that doesn’t have any yellow to it and if you start messing around with that then you’re really going to give yourself a scar.”

If it’s in the middle of your face.

It may just be an old wives tale, but the area around your nose is considered an “unsafe zone” when it comes to acne, so it’s better to proceed with extra caution when you’re dealing with a zit in that area. “People say the zit can drain into the sinuses and then you can end up with like a brain infection,” Dr. Shamban says. “There’s so much blood supplied to the face, so maybe just stay away from that zone.”

If there’s an inch of redness surrounding the pimple and it’s extremely painful.

These are two symptoms of facial cellulitis, a type of facial infection. It’s very rare, but if you exhibit these symptoms, consult your doctor.

If you’re applying a lot of pressure and nothing is happening.

When popping a pimple, you want to be very gentle, so as not to give yourself a scar. If you’re applying pressure and nothing is happening, the pimple is not ready, so don’t try to force it to pop.

You have more than three pimples at once.

“If your face is just covered with pimples in various stages, you’re not going to win this battle,” Dr. Shamban says. “If you’ve got more than three pimples, you’re running the risk of spreading the inflammation in a larger area and creating more acne and more scarring.” So, if that’s the case for you, just head to your dermatologist and they will help you out.


OK, so now you know when to stay away, but when do you have the go ahead to dive in? “If you see like a millimeter of a whitehead, then it’s ok to drain that” Dr. Shamban says.


Now you know when it’s OK to pop a pimple, but there are still specific steps you should take in order to avoid infection. Follow the below steps and you will be in the clear.

1. Prep your skin.

Start by applying hydrogen peroxide or witch hazel to the affected area. These are antiseptics which will help to prevent infection.

2. Soften your skin.

Take a wash cloth and soak it with warm water (make sure it’s not too warm, you don’t want to burn yourself). “This will soften up the skin, and a lot of times, the pimple will drain on its own,” Dr. Shamban says. “You might have to just apply a little pressure.”

3. Apply pressure.

If the pimple didn’t drain on it’s own, now it’s time to add a little more pressure. If you’re using your fingers, wash them thoroughly with soap and water before you touch your face. Again, it’s all about being gentle, if you have to force it, the zit isn’t ready to be popped. You can also use q-tips, or over-the-counter instruments, though Dr. Shamban suggests steering clear of the instruments because if not used correctly they can cause some serious scarring.

4. Cover it up.

After the pimple is drained, Dr. Shamban suggests covering it with an over-the-counter pimple patch, specifically one with salicylic acid in it. “This will reduce inflammation and prevent infection,” she says.

There you have it! Follow these steps, be gentle, and, if you’re ever unsure, it’s better just to head to the dermatologist to be careful. Happy popping!

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