How to Pop a Pimple (aka Zit)

Popping a pimple can be a risky business. 

Done right, you can help an unwanted zit heal faster because you’re draining a collection of trapped pus. 

Done wrong, you can turn that zit into a scar, or worse yet, a dangerous infection.

I admit that it’s embarrassing to go out in public with a blemish in the middle of your face that screams “pop me.” If you absolutely can’t resist the urge to pop it, at least be cautious and do it in the manner that’s least likely to cause damage. The procedure is actually called “acne surgery” and there are rules for doing it right.

When we dermatologists pop pimples we use a sterile needle and extract the contents with an instrument called a comedone extractor. We wear gloves and clean the area with rubbing alcohol before and after. Follow these steps to pop a pimple like a pro.

How do you pop a pimple like a pro?

  1. Don’t pop a pimple before its time. Wait until your pimple has a firm white head, indicating that the white blood cells are grouped in the pore and ready to be “extracted.”  Don’t try to pop a pimple that’s still just a hard red bump because it’s still solid, there is nothing to “extract” and you’ll do more harm than good.
  2. Wash your fingers well with warm water, soap, and a fingernail brush before you begin.
  3. Sterilize a straight pin with a match or lighter. Let the pin cool and then wipe off the black carbon char with rubbing alcohol. Either pour some alcohol on your fingers (alcohol is flammable so keep it away from flames) or wrap them with clean Kleenex tissue as an extra precaution against introducing dirt or bacteria into the burst head of the pimple.
  4. Use the pin to gently pierce the head of the pimple. Approach the pimple parallel to your skin surface; pass the pin through the very tip of the white center, then lift up the skin with the pin to open a hole. This should not hurt if the pimple is ready.
  5. Gently squeeze and press around the base of the pimple’s white tip so the pus comes to the surface. Don’t press down on the zit; try to get underneath it so that the pus comes to the surface instead of going farther down into the pore or ruptures out of the pore into the deeper tissues of your skin. And, don’t scratch or gouge the skin because this leads to scarring.
  6. Finish by applying more rubbing alcohol (which will sting!) or a very small amount of bacitracin ointment to the now-deflated pimple.
  7. Don’t pop a zit in the “Danger Triangle” of your face. This includes the skin around and on your nose and upper lip. The blood vessels here communicate directly with blood vessels in your brain. If the pus of an infected zit goes down into your skin instead of coming out to the surface here, you could have a much more serious problem than just acne – the deeper tissue infection can spread to the brain, where it can lead to a very rare condition called a cavernous sinus thrombosis. The end result could be loss of vision, neurologic damage, and even death. Fortunately, with the advent of modern antibiotics, this problem is extremely rare nowadays.

Find more of my dermatologist acne skin care advice by visiting my Acne Skin Care pages. Learn the different types of acne and how I treat the acne patients in my dermatology practice. Find information to help your complexion. Click here to get Acne Treatment Advice and Skin Care Tips from the Dermatologist.

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4 Responses to “How to Pop a Pimple (aka Zit)”

  1. Lisa Chamblee April 10, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Rather than trying to sterilize a needle, purchase a box of lancets from a pharmacy. They are sterile, disposable, and fine-tipped. They are also handy for removing splinters.

  2. Parker April 22, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    I am sending this post to my teenage son!

  3. Emma Jack May 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Dr. Bailey,

    As a lover of zit popping(especially on other people!) I really enjoyed reading your advice on the subject, especially number 7. I have popped many a one in the triangle but certainly won’t pop another,

    Many thanks

    Emma

  4. Gloria Brown May 24, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    Hi, i read this blog. I am very impress with your blog about pimple. All your step for treating pimple is very important for me. now i know how to treat my pimple in home. Thanks.