How to Properly Pop a Spot

As a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Sandra Lee always urges people to resist popping their own pimples because it can often do more harm than good — making spots worse and leading to scarring and potential infection. She is aware however, that most of us will not listen to that. With this in mind, we asked for her expert advice on how to pop a spot correctly.

How to properly extract a spot, if you cannot keep your hands off:

  1. Only extract your pimple if it has come to a white/yellow “head”. If the pimple has a head, at that point it is the easiest to pop, with the least risk of scarring because the bump is very superficial to the surface of the skin.
  2. Wash your hands and the affected area with warm water and a gentle face wash.
  3. Gently press a warm washcloth against the pimple for a few minutes to soften the contents of the pore, allowing an easier extraction process.
  4. Use cotton and alcohol to clean the treatment area and to disinfect what you are using to extract the pimple, such as a medical grade comedone extractor.
  5. Place the preferred loop over the pimple and apply slow, even pressure to push contents of the pimple out. If the pimple is not popping, don’t keep trying to force it. Continuous pushing and squeezing will only irritate your skin more!
  6. If using your fingers, make sure to apply even pressure on all sides.
  7. Once a pimple has been popped, keep the area clean and let it heal properly to avoid scarring. Apply a cold clean washcloth against the area and a spot treatment with salicylic acid, which will keep the area clean and safe from bacteria and help with the healing process.

As a reminder, why is it bad to pick pimples?

Pimples are your body’s natural response to a disruption in optimal skin function. When you mess with that natural response, you invite unwanted consequences. According to Dr. Lee, here’s what can happen when you squeeze your delicate skin. 

  1. You’re tearing your tissue. Unless it’s an open comedone (aka blackhead), popping a pimple means you’re breaking through a layer of skin. This creates a wound on top of a pimple. To gently but powerfully exfoliate clogged pores without picking, use a cleanser and spot treatment that features salicylic acid.
  2. You’re interrupting the healing process. Acne forms when pores clog up with dirt, oil, and sometimes, bacteria. Your body’s defences naturally kick in to remedy the situation — which gets side-tracked when you squeeze. When you get a powerful urge to pop a pimple, remember that acne is a normal skin condition — and be kind to your skin.
  3. You might be making it worse. Popping a pimple can introduce more contaminants from your fingers and face — or push trapped oil and bacteria deeper down — into your pores, provoking an even bigger blemish. 
  4. You might create multiple pimples. All that gunk exploding out of an acne pustule or papule can spread bacteria, exacerbating your breakout. To keep fingers off your face while fighting pimples, use a spot treatment to absorb excess oil and pus, while soothing and protecting skin from possible scarring.
  5. You could be creating a scar. Anytime you pick at your pimples (particularly deeper, cystic acne), you run the risk of creating permanent damage. Even if you leave your acne alone, you’re likely to have some post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) as the skin heals. PIH generally disappears over time, but you can speed up the process with ingredients such as azelaic and tranexamic acid. 

Remember: know when to pop and when to stop! 

Dr. Pimple Popper aka Sandra Lee MD, founder of

 Follow @drsandralee


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