What to Do Instead of Popping a Pimple, According to Derms
The quest for "perfect" skin is not without its bumpy patches, so to speak. For one thing, it's nearly impossible to achieve: even supermodels have pores, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology, at least 50 million people in the US have experienced some form of acne at one point or another — even if that's not the story you're seeing on Instagram.
The reality is, no matter how many green juices you down in the pursuit of a skin-care detox, there will always be outside factors at play — like your monthly period, or your cell phone you keep forgetting to disinfect, or that big slice of pizza you couldn't resist at the 2 p.m. staff meeting. General life stresses, hormones, or any combination of factors can lead to not just a breakout but a huge, glaring mess of a zit on your cheek, nose, or forehead. When you need a quick solution (emphasis on the "quick" part), you might be tempted to fuss with the blemish. We have three words: don't do it!
There are ways to get rid of a pimple without popping it. And we should know, because we tapped the experts for their opinions. So what other alternatives are there when you're in a pinch? Keep scrolling to find out.
Tip 1: First, Diagnose the Type of Acne
To get an idea of how to get rid of your trouble spots, it's in your best interest to classify the problem first. According to Tina B. West, board-certified dermatologist and founder of the West Institute, zits are categorized as follows: "papules (deep red bumps), open comedones (blackheads), closed comedones (whiteheads), or pustules (pus-filled bumps)."
"For whiteheads or red papules, trying to pop at home can make things worse," she said. "The trauma of poking, prodding, or pushing can create more inflammation, which will make the area look worse and take longer to heal. It can also lead to permanent scarring."
Then, come up with a plan of attack.
"Acne treatment requires a multipronged approach," Steve Xu, MSc and assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University, tells POPSUGAR. "You have to fight the bacteria that drives acne. You have to fight the oil your skin naturally produces."
Some of that oil is good, though, so before you run out and buy any random product, assess your skin type (you might actually be underhydrated, so your skin is compensating by producing more oil) and figure out what type of products you need.
"Over-the-counter products including gentle cleanser, benzoyl peroxide, and Differin shouldn't break the bank," says Chelsea Heidenberger, a medical esthetician working alongside Dr. West at the West Institute. "Try these first, and don't give up after a week or two or because you get a little dryness or continued breaking out. It will take at least six to eight weeks to see results. No single acne treatment works for everyone, though, so if you're not getting anywhere after using this over-the-counter regimen, see your dermatologist, who may determine that you need prescription products."
Tip 2: Look For Acne Treatments That Do Double Duty
"For people looking for remedies available over the counter, my favorite combo is salicylic-acid-based cover-up during the day and an anti-inflammatory hydrocolloid patch at night," says NYC-based dermatologist and skin-care expert Arash Akhavan of The Dermatology & Laser Group. "Both of these items will quickly deflate and heal most pimples and are readily available online and in drugstores."
As for our favorites, we suggest the It Cosmetics Bye Bye Breakout Full Coverage Treatment Concealer ($34) and the Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patches ($12 for a pack of four). You can also shop the top acne patches here.
Tip 3: For Emergencies, Get a Cortisone Shot
If your pimple is some next-level stuff (i.e., cystic acne deep below the skin), consider a trip to the dermatologist. "In the office, there are injections, lasers, and prescription products that we can use to quickly deflate pimples," Dr. Akhavan says.
For a red bump, getting a cortisone shot can work wonders and "is the only remedy and will work within a day or two," Dr. West says. "A laser treatment may also be done at the same time to resolve redness."
Tip 4: If You Must Pop It, Be Smart
According to Dr. West, blackheads are the least damaging type of acne to pop ("as long as you use gauze or cotton and exert gentle pressure along the sides"). Whatever you do, don't dig your nails into your skin. Otherwise, you risk exposing your open pores to all that bacteria under your nails.
"For whiteheads, a little bit of patience goes a long way. If you wait until there is a defined white bump, then using a sterile needle at the top to just barely puncture it and pushing gently on the sides can be helpful, again making sure that the puncture is very superficial protecting the skin from anything sharp. A comedone extractor can also be used to gently extract the whitehead with more precision."
New to extractors? Try the Bestope Acne Removal Kit ($9) for a whole arsenal of tools.
Tip 5: Practice Good Preventative Care
"I always advise my acne-prone patients to try their best to avoid extreme fluctuations in hormones that can cause skin inflammation, such as cortisol and testosterone," Dr. Akhavan says. "Sleeping seven to eight hours per night, exercising regularly, and avoiding foods that can cause surges in cortisol such as dairy, simple sugars, and alcohol are good practices [that] minimize skin inflammation."