Confession. I love squeezing pimples. Few pleasures in life are as visceral. I want to say ew, gross. I want to wretch in disgust. But, I'm afraid that, well…my name is Kayla, and I'm a popaholic.
Who can honestly say they have never squeezed a spot? Who has never been brought to tears by an under-the-skin cheek lump, impervious to a drugstore spot treatment? Who doesn't look in-depth at the pore strip after it has been peeled from the nose? The pastime of popping pimples has seeped across the internet, oozing millions of clicks. Not only are there dedicated YouTube channels (YouTube's Greatest Cysts) but there's online celebs—including Dr. Pimple Popper aka Sandra Lee, M.D., and Dr. Vikram Yadav, who have us utterly enthralled and disgusted. Note: I watch these clips the way I watch a scary movie—with my hands over my eyes, but just wide enough so I can see through my fingers with eye-bulging awe.
Two weeks ago I had some cupping on my back and broke out in an angry (and pus-filled) cluster of pimples on the sides of my neck and hairline. It was fun for about a minute. So I contacted my trusty green beauty aficionado and licensed medical esthetician Jordana Mattoli to get the lowdown on what I and you should do when zits come a' knocking:
Assess the pimple.
"Knowing the types of acne to attempt to squeeze versus what to never touch can make all the difference," says Mattoli. "Most acne (whatever type you are dealing with) is caused from a combination of oil, dead skin, bacteria, and/or inflammation." As it turns out, there's actually a right way and a wrong way to squeeze a pimple, so if you're gonna do it, you might as well do it by the book.
Noninflammatory types: (safe to squeeze!)
Blackheads: also called open comedones, look like a tiny dark-colored dot. A blackhead is essentially oil and dead skin. When the top of the clogged pore is exposed to air, this mixture oxidizes and gets darker.
Whiteheads: also called closed comedones, look like a tiny white bump, with no redness. These remove easily, and just like blackheads, they are from excessive oil production that accumulates in the pores, so the white is just oil mixed with dead skin. The only difference from blackheads is that the clogged areas are not exposed to air.
Inflammatory types: (Don't squeeze) these are all caused by oil, bacteria, and inflammation.
Pustules: a pinkish bump with visible white or yellow in the center, usually not tender. The pus is really just a combination of white blood cells and other fluids clumped together.
Papules: pinkish bumps with no visible pus or white, usually tender.
Milia: totally NOT related to acne, they are small, hard, white bumps that look like tiny pearls...which is just filled with keratin. We still don't fully don't understand why these happen, but they occur in adults, children, and even babies. They are totally harmless and not indicative of acne or other skin issues. These should only be removed by a derm or experienced esthetician.
Don't force it.
Any time you try to remove one of these bumps, there's a risk of making it worse and even pushing it deeper into the skin. Sometimes a bump can't be squeezed, and there is nothing to remove; it's just swelling that needs to gradually go away but can be expedited with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial products, or even an injection of a steroid. You know when you have a red mark after squeezing that can linger around for weeks or months? That's called PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), which can happen when the skin is healing and produces too much melanin.
How to squeeze:
- Wash your face and wrap your pointer fingers in tissue (if you have long nails, try using Q-tips).
- Apply a hot (but not scorching hot) washcloth to the area for 2 minutes to get the blackhead or whitehead warm and mushy; makes it easier to remove.
- You have about a 1-minute window to squeeze...anything that doesn't come out, try again a few hours later.
- Apply a cold compress to the area for a few minutes
- Wash the area you just squeezed and apply an antibacterial product.
- Avoid lotions/creams/oils on the area for 24 hours.
If you tend to get an acne lesion in the same exact spot all the time, it's possible a pore or follicle is slightly misshaped, and it's easy for oil and bacteria to build up again since it has a hard time coming to the surface.
Repair & restore naturally.
After squeezing, apply a cold compress for a few minutes to immediately calm the area and dab on witch hazel to disinfect it. Then you're going to want to apply a soothing serum to the area to quell redness, soothe inflammation, and heal the spot quickly. Next, apply an antibacterial solution to the area for three days to speed healing. I highly recommend S5 Purity Serum ($54.77), an organic cocktail of aloe to soothe, willow bark (a natural form of salicylic acid) to get new healthy cells, and Copaifera Officials Resin (a natural antibacterial).
If you want to apply makeup to cover the area, look for acne-safe, fragrance-free, mineral-based makeup with skin-beneficial ingredients. Priia makes a mineral powder, or if you prefer, the brand has a Crème Mineral Foundation Stick ($36). Both are amazing for covering blemishes, because they contain not only natural mineral pigments to conceal redness, but also healing antioxidants and skin-repairing niacinamide to lighten the blemish.
- Marie Veronique's Treatment Serum ($90) is packed with plant-based botanicals to soothe, fight bacteria, and heal. The vitamins B3 and B5 regulate oil and are anti-inflammatory, argan oil nourishes, and a powerhouse of antioxidants rapidly repair.
- Dr. Alkaitis Organic Soothing Gel ($65) is a cooling herbal treatment gel containing a combination of skin soothers and active herbs. Vitamins B and C, French lavender and wild chamomile all have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties to repair your blemish.