There is no clear-cut answer to whether or not you should pop a pimple. Generally, most dermatologists recommend letting a regular pimple, also known as a pustule, heal itself without popping, and you should never pop or pick at a pimple with your bare hands or nails. Despite this, you can typically use clean cotton swabs or a special acne extractor to pop a pimple, provided it is ready to be safely popped. When it comes to cysts or nodules, which are a more severe form of acne, you should never pop or pick at it with anything.
The general consensus among skin-care experts is to treat pimples with an over-the-counter or prescription acne medication without popping or picking them. Popping a pimple can make it worse in some cases and increase the risk of acne scarring after the pimple is gone. As acne scars do not go away, it is typically recommended that you do not pop a pimple, as living with one for a week or two is usually better than having a scar for the rest of your life.
Although you really shouldn’t pop a pimple, it is especially important that, if you do decide to do so, that you not use your fingers or hands. Even if you wash your hands and scrub underneath your nails prior to attempting to pop a pimple, there can still be dirt and bacteria. When popping a pimple, you may inadvertently push the dirt and bacteria into the pimple, making it worse and increasing your chances of breakouts in other areas.
You can typically safely pop a pimple in the same manner as a dermatologist or facialist would. A pimple extractor, similar to but not the same as a blackhead extractor, can safely pop a pimple without pushing bacteria or dirt into your pores, as long as you clean the device before and after using it with rubbing alcohol or another disinfectant. If you don’t have an extractor or don’t want to purchase one, you can also use two clean cotton swabs in place of using your fingers or nails. No matter what device you use, it is important not to pop a pimple that isn’t ready; it should have a white head in the center.
There are two types of pimples that neither you nor a professional should ever pop: cysts and nodules. This type of acne is characterized by large pimples that are hard to the touch and significantly bigger than pustules, the standard type of pimple. Attempting to pop this type of acne can lead to an infection and severe scarring, and will often only increase the amount of time that it takes the pimple to heal. A cortisone shot, specialized acne medication, and time are typically the only treatment options for these types of acne.