As Shakespeare’s Hamlet once pondered, “to pop, or not to pop, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer a festering pimple or try and squeeze it to death”.
Ok we’re lying, Hamlet never said that. But we’re sure the question of whether extraction is a beneficial or harmful practice is as old as acne itself.
There is plenty of literature out there telling us that pimple-popping is a scourge, that it worsens acne, causes scarring and leads to infection. Meanwhile, many of us still gleefully squeeze our whiteheads in secret, without any disastrous consequences. We can also pay for extraction facials. So then, is pimple popping really all that bad?
The answer is that it depends on what sort of pimple we’re talking about.
Pimples that should NEVER be popped
As a hard and fast rule, there are some zits that should never be touched. This includes cystic acne and nodules. In other words, keep your fingers well away from the hard, red and painful bumps lodged deep underneath the skin. These annoying things can last for weeks, which can make you feel like giving them a squeeze to nudge it along. However, trying to pry these open risks spreading the infection to the surrounding skin, and increasing the size and severity of the breakout. Also, the chances of pockmarking are REAL. Because cysts and nodules are rooted so far beneath the skin’s surface, squeezing these could result in crater-like scars – which can be permanent in nature.
So then how do you banish this type of acne?
The good news is that even though you can’t pop nodules, there are several ways to successfully treat cystic acne. Don’t be discouraged if you’ve been through a few methods and are yet to find a solution – sometimes it takes a combination of treatments to do the trick. From a skincare perspective, ingredients such as salicylic acid and glycolic acid are incredibly effective. Try the Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser from COSRX. If you're a double cleansing fan (we certainly recommend it), pair it up with the Pore Clarifying Clean It Zero cleansing balm from Banila. For glycolic options, look no further than the Some By Mi Miracle range.
It’s also important to use skin-barrier strengthening serums, as cystic breakouts damage healthy tissue and inhibits the skin’s healing abilities. The Great Barrier Relief serum from Krave Beauty has done wonders for cystic acne-prone skin, as has the Centella Green Level Buffet serum from Purito. You can browse through our full barrier-boosting range here.
Finally, talk to your dermatologist, and consider lifestyle factors – e.g. whether you’re getting enough sleep, stress levels, hormonal changes and diet. Unfortunately, sugar and highly processed foods exacerbate inflammation and cystic acne. Try to stick to a balanced diet, especially around your periods (we know, the cravings usually get worse! But stay strong).
Pimples that CAN be safely popped
Good news, diehard zit poppers: certain types of congestion such as blackheads, pustules and whiteheads are fine to squeeze: if done correctly. The pus in these bad boys need to be extracted, and the act of popping can actually help treat the skin. But let’s lay some ground rules first:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with anti-bacterial soap. Don’t forget to wash underneath your fingernails.
- Swab the pustule with some rubbing alcohol. If you’re squeezing a blackhead, exfoliating first and using a steamer on your face will help to soften the gunk inside and make it easier to remove.
- Use your fingers to apply firm but gentle pressure on either side of the pustule or blackhead.
- If that still doesn’t yield results, then step away from the pimple: it’s not ‘ripe’ yet and should not be popped.
Now, post-popping care is just as important, to reduce the risk of infection and to ensure your skin heals quickly. Dabbing some Homeoplasmine on the wound, or covering it with a hydrocolloid patch such as the Acne Pimple Master Patch from COSRX will create a moist, protective environment to promote healing and minimize scarring.
Happy squeezing (or not).
P.S. If you want to try some of the products listed above, check out our Acne Fighting Bundle made up of COSRX's pimple powerhouses - you'll save over 10% off the full individual prices!