The Right Way to Pop a Zit

If you must, here's the best way to do it

Here's some good advice: If you get a pimple, it's best to leave it alone. Squeezing a pimple can worsen the problem, forcing sebum and bacteria deeper into the skin -- leaving you with a zit angrier and redder than your original one. And if you're particularly vigorous at picking at your zits you risk damaging the skin, which can potentially leave you with scars.

A patient approach is best when dealing with the occasional zit (serious acne is another matter entirely and should be treated by a dermatologist). Over the counter treatments containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are very effective at diminishing the appearance of blemishes, and are definitely worth trying.

However, over the counter treatments need time to work (about 3 to 10 days), and the reality is that there are times when few of us can resist taking matters into our own hands. Dr. Kathy Fields, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California-San Francisco and one of the co-creators of Proactiv Solution, understands the temptation.

"We all pop zits. We are compelled," says Dr. Fields, "The danger is pushing too hard and long, creating bleeding into the skin and even more swelling (inflammation) and worst of all, scarring."

The first step in deciding what to do about a zit is to evaluate it to see if it is truly ready to pop. A pimple is ready once a white head has formed. Unless the pimple looks like it's ready to burst on its own, you must leave it alone. If it's not ready, attempting to pop it will make it worse, so hands off!

What should you do if your pimple isn't ready to pop but you need it to go away fast? Your best bet is to call your dermatologist and ask for an emergency appointment. Dr. Fields says that a dermatologist can "inject red nodules and cysts with a low dose steroid that will take the bump down in one day. Another option that dermatologists offer is laser therapy for pore cleaning and to reduce redness."

Here's a trick from Dr. Fields if your doctor can't see you in time and you need to shrink a zit quickly: "Apply Afrin nose spray on the pimple to reduce redness, then put on hydrocortisone 1 percent from the grocery store and layer on the Proactiv Refining Mask." You should see relatively speedy results when using this technique because you are treating the redness, reducing inflammation and fighting bacteria at the same time.

But what if you need to do something about that zit today? Perhaps it's your wedding day, or you have a big job interview and your pimple has formed a visible white head and is just begging to be popped. Let's be honest, there's no way you're just going to ignore that zit. So here's the safer way to squeeze:

1. Thoroughly wash your face and hands. You are dealing with an infected lesion on your skin and you don't want to introduce more bacteria to the mix.

2. Wet a clean washcloth with warm (not boiling!) water and place it very gently on the pimple. (You may need to do this a few times.) Usually, this is enough to loosen the white cap and the pus will start oozing out on its own. If that's the case it's time to stop -- your work is done.

3. If the white cap is still there after applying couple of warm compresses the next step is to sterilize a sewing needle -- use rubbing alcohol.

4. Carefully and gently poke the white head once. The pus should begin to come out on its own.

5. Now is the time to apply pressure, but keep your nails away from your face -- we want to minimize the risk of scarring! Wrap your fingers in clean tissue and apply gentle pressure on the skin around the pimple. Don't press on the pimple itself.

Dr. Debra Jaliman, a Manhattan board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, recommends using "a comedone extractor to pop the pimple while applying even pressure so that the structural integrity of the pore isn't broken." Dr. Jaliman warns, "When popping a zit with one's fingers there is a high risk of leaving a scar because of the uneven pressure applied."

6. Stop once pus stops coming out. If you see blood, you've gone too far.

7. Apply a clean warm compress and let the pimple rest for a bit. It's best if you don't apply any makeup until it has healed completely.

Got any zit-popping tricks of your own? Chime in below!

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