How to Pop a Pimple the Right Way

Written by: Desiree Stordahl

Few things can ruin your day like the sight of a red, swollen pimple with a whitehead in the center. Of course, a great skin care routine that includes a leave-on salicylic acid product is fundamental to getting the problem under control. Even then, you might still end up with breakouts.

What you do with that pimple right now to diminish its appearance and speed up how fast it goes away is as important as using the right products. In other words, don’t pop that pimple in haste!

We’ve included a straightforward step-by-step guide to popping a pimple the right way, advice on how to keep more breakouts from showing up, and a few suggestions for concealing it afterwards.

Should you pop a pimple?

We’re sure you’ve read that you should never pop a pimple, and we understand the concern—you really can hurt skin if you don’t pop a pimple the right way…and if it’s not the right kind of pimple to pop. Over-squeezing and aggressive pushing, picking, or puncturing can cause serious damage that can last far longer than your zit would have—possibly permanently.

The basic starting point is all in the timing: You need to know when the offending blemish is ready for its contents to be released.  How can you tell? You’ll know it’s ready when you see a noticeable “whitehead” showing up on the surface, and the zit begins to feel as well as look swollen.

If you don’t see a whitehead, abort mission. Trying to pop a pimple that isn’t ready will do more harm than good; this is especially true for deep, large bumps, such as cystic acne. If the timing is right and you're as gentle as humanly possible, however, there is a safe way to pop pimples.

How to safely pop a pimple

  1. Buy a comedone extractor. Beauty stores (such as Sephora and ULTA) carry them.
  2. Cleanse your face with a gentle water-soluble cleanser for acne-prone skin. Do NOT use cold or hot water (that will aggravate the skin and make it redder).
  3. With the cleanser, lightly massage skin with a soft, wet washcloth to remove any dead surface flakes as this makes extracting the pimple easier. Take care not to over-scrub.
  4. Dry your skin gently. Do not use the comedone extractor or squeeze when your skin is wet because it's more vulnerable to tearing and creating a lingering sore.
  5. Center the comedone extractor’s opening over the pimple. Then gently (and we mean gently), and with very little pressure (and we mean very little pressure), push the comedone extractor down on the whitehead and move it across the bump. That should release its “contents.” And yes, this part can be gross.
  6. You may have to repeat this one or two more times, but that’s all, as going further can easily damage the skin and worsen the breakout.
  7. Remember to be gentle; the goal is to remove the whitehead without creating a scab or damaging the surrounding skin (scabs are not any better to look at than a pimple).
How To Safely Pop A Pimple

Post-extraction acne care

After extraction, follow up with a 2% salicylic acid (BHA) pimple treatment. Combined, the salicylic acid and anti acne product help diminish the breakouts you currently have and prevent future occurrences by unclogging pores, lessening redness, and diminishing the environment blemishes grow in. Apply these products to areas where you popped pimples and surrounding areas.

If you find you have particularly stubborn breakouts a higher a 5% anti acne product popped pimple treatment or speak to your health care provider about topical prescription options that can be used alongside over-the-counter acne products.

How to cover up a pimple

Once you've extracted and treated your pimple with well-formulated pimple products, now it's time for the magic of makeup…

  1. Prep with a moisturizer suitable for acne-prone skin. (If the skin is dry or flaky, the concealer won't go on smoothly over the area, making the blemish look more obvious.)
  2. Select a matte, neutral-toned liquid concealer that matches your skin tone exactly—avoid peach, pink, green, or ashy colors. A good option to consider is Smashbox’s 24 Hour CC Spot Concealer.
  3. After applying your foundation, use a concealer brush (synthetic hair with a flat, rounded point) or your fingertip and gently dab a small amount of concealer onto the center of the blemish, then blend softly outward, sheering out to the unaffected skin around the blemish.
  4. Optional: If you need more coverage, let the first layer of concealer set for about a minute before adding more, using the same technique.
  5. Set the concealer using a gentle dusting of loose or pressed powder. (A small, soft eyeshadow brush is perfect for applying a layer of powder over a concealed blemish.)

Reality check: The above steps can help hide the redness of a just-popped blemish, but the temporary raised bump that remains is something that can’t be hidden by makeup. Just do your best to conceal it, and then your best and try to forget about it.

Learn more about acne.

References for this information:
Cochrane Database of Systematic Skin Reviews, November 2014, issue 11
Journal of Dermatology, October2012, issue 5, pages 433-438
Clinical Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, November 2010, issue 3, pages 135-142
Expert Opinion of Pharmacotherapy, October 2009, issue 15, pages 2555-2562
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, December 2012, issue 6, pages 357-364