When do you pop a pimple and when do you leave it alone? A Singaporean dermatologist educates us
Pop it like it's hot
Much like Aunt Flo, pimples too, have a knack for making their grand entrance at the most inopportune of moments. See: the many times one has burst forth hours away from a big date or threatened to rip out of your pore amidst a dazzling crowd of chic tastemakers. Some setbacks teach us invaluable lessons; pimples just live to annoy us and make our lives more miserable than it needs to be.
Naturally, most of us want to pop the sucker (read: get it as far away from us as humanly possible) with our bare hands despite the deluge of advice from many a skincare professional to leave it alone. As take-charge women, the thought of allowing a veritable pus volcano on our face to fester is hard to stomach. That's not to say that you should resign yourself to fate whenever your trusty fingers go in for the kill though. Instead, reduce chances of redness, inflammation, and potential scarring by choosing the right time to squeeze that little demon. Dermatologist and founder of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre, Dr Teo Wan Lin, dishes the deets.
Should you pop your own pimple?
"As a general rule, you should never attempt to pop your pimple, no matter how tempting it is. When you squeeze a pimple, you may be able to drain some pus — giving you the illusion that you are clearing your skin. However, the pus and the pimple's core isn't just pushing up and out of the skin, it is also being pushed down further into the pore.
The pressure will then cause the wall of the pore to burst, allowing debris and bacteria to spread into the dermis, causing inflammation. You may also introduce new types of bacteria from your fingers into the pimple. All of this leads to more damage. The more the skin is damaged, the higher the chances are of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and acne scarring. If left alone, a pimple will normally heal itself in 3 to 7 days. If popped improperly, it can linger for weeks or lead to permanent scarring."
"But... let's face it. Sometimes it can be impossible to resist the temptation of pinching the pus out of a bright red pimple on uber prominent areas such as your cheek, chin or, nose. If you are determined to do it, I recommend doing it in a way that will cause minimal damage to your skin."
When is it a good time to pop a pimple?
"Always wait until your pimple has a firm whitehead. This means that the pus is close to the surface and is ready to be drained. There are certain types of pimples you should never try to pop, and they are red pimples without a white head (called papules) and big, inflamed, deep blemishes (think thick bumps that are hard to touch and large leisons that look like boils).
Instead, exercise patience. If your budget allows, visit a dermatologist for a cortisone injection, which speeds up healing and reduces the risk of scarring. Another procedure that a dermatologist can perform is incision and drainage. It involves using a sterile needle or surgical blade to open the blemish and removing what is inside."
What is the safest way to pop a pimple?
"First, wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap. With the skin still slightly damp, take a piece of tissue and apply gentle pressure around the white tip of the pimple. The pus should drain readily, but if you feel pain or it doesn't, then that means that the pimple is not ready to be popped and you should stop immediately.
Ultimately, your best bet is to leave pimple extractions to a dermatologist. During acne extractions, I use a sterile needle to lance a pimple, then remove the contents with a comedone extractor. This is the safest way to remove a blackhead or whitehead without damaging the skin."
What should you do once the pimple is popped?
"I recommend applying an antibiotic ointment to a popped pimple if it is open or raw to prevent the development of an infection. Bear in mind, though, that after a pimple goes away, it can take several weeks for the skin to fully heal. Inflammation under the skin persists because there could still be bacteria under the skin that takes time to fully go away. Ultimately, prevention is better than cure. I recommend for you to invest in a good skin care regimen that will give you that clear, glowing skin."
How else can you get rid of pimples?
"Before resorting to popping, I'd say apply an acne or spot treatment, first. I formulated a blemish spot cream using bioactive plant extracts to quickly reduce and inhibit spot inflammation. It contains Chollera Vulgaris, which is anti-inflammatory and helps prevent acne breakouts. It also contains Argania Spinosa, which has antioxidant properties and helps to fade acne scars by removing damaged cells while encouraging the growth of new healthy skin cells.
If you have a recurrent flare of more than five to eight pimples every month, you should see an accredited dermatologist to have your acne diagnosed and treated with the correct medication."
"Prescription medication could range from topical retinoids and oral antibiotics to isotretinoin. If you have ovarian issues, your doctor will start you on specific oral contraceptive pills to help regulate your menstrual cycles. Open comedones, on the other hand, are best treated with a mixture of chemical peels containing salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids to control the oil production. I personally treat closed comedones with a specialised machine that comes with a vacuum hand piece. It gently extracts blackheads and whiteheads without pain or scarring while also infusing a customised blend of fruit-based acids that exfoliate the skin.
For patients who prefer not to be on oral medications, blue light is a safe and effective acne treatment method, too. It is designed to treat acne when it is active. There's also ablative resurfacing, which eradicates acne scarring. Carbon laser peels are a good option to shrink oil glands and reduce production of oil in the long run."
"In addition to treatment, prevention against future acne breakouts is also crucial. A good diet and proper skincare with cosmeceuticals — products containing bioactive ingredients with therapeutic benefits that are backed by dermatologists — are also important factors in treating acne."
Dr Teo Wan Lin is the founder and Medical Director of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre. She is also a dermatologist accredited by the Ministry of Health specialising in medical and cosmetic dermatology.