How to Pop a Pimple Using Science! Avoid Scars & Speed Recovery

by | May 16, 2017 | Acne, Guides | 16 comments

Let me start off by asking: what in the WORLD do you think you’re doing? Why? WHY? WHY?!?! Pimple popping is horrible for you! Leave this article right now and we’ll forget this ever happened.

Do you feel guilty yet? Good.

While I don’t recommend that anybody pop their pimples, I understand that we’re all human and succumb to this awful temptation from time to time. Do know that you if decide to take this route, there are some potentially devastating long term side effects like atrophic scarring if not done properly. And believe me, if anyone knows a thing or two about scarring — it’s me.

This is the result of not taking proper precautionary measures when popping pimples. Most of these scars could have been avoided entirely had I followed the guidelines I will list here.

God, what I would give to go back in time and slap myself!

The difference in acne scarring you see didn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of a long, extensive, and strenuous journey of skincare treatments throughout the past year. I will eventually make a whole post about how I achieved this kind of progress completely from home. Subscribe to the email newsletter to stay tuned.

With that said, if you absolutely must, and I mean absolutely must  pop a pimple, I will be going over the best and safest method possible to minimize your chances of atrophic scarring and speed up recovery time.

If I sound like an angry or disappointed father or friend throughout this article, it’s probably because I am. My apologies ahead of time. I take this subject matter very seriously, and would prefer that people abstain from popping pimples at all cost. I’m simply relaying this information to you all in case you absolutely can’t help yourself or think it’s warranted.

What You Will Need.

A comedone extractor, 70% isopropyl alcohol (no, not for the face),  single use sterile lancets, hydrocolloid bandages, and vaseline or aquaphor. Optional: liquid bandaid.

  • A Comedone Extractor.

For the uninitiated, this pimple popping tool is called a “comedone extractor.” It’s what dermatologists and estheticians use worldwide during extractions. You’re going to need one. This is the set I use.

comedone extractors

Check on Amazon

It’s cheap, durable, made of surgical steel, and will last you a lifetime. It comes with a set of five (I lost one) to address different needs (whiteheads and blackheads), pimple size, and pressure intensity. For example, see how the one on the left has a slight bent to it at the loop?

comedone extractor

This provides a bit of a buffer by bending slightly if too much pressure is applied. The one on the right doesn’t bend at all, so it’s super sturdy and only to be used on very stubborn clogs, but can do some real damage. For most purposes, the first one will do just fine. Learn from my mistakes and don’t opt out for something cheap like this. It will only do more harm than good.

terrible comedone extractor

  • Can I just use my fingers?

NO! Using your hands often results in squeezing pimples, an absolute no no. There’s a reason dermatologists and estheticians worldwide use comedone extractors and not their hands. These tools ensure that all the gunk is removed. There’s so much room for error when using your fingers. Even if you think you got everything out, chances are you didn’t.

****TRIGGER WARNING:****

Here’s an old photo. This is the result of not using a comedone extractor.

dermatillomania

Aren’t you all glad I’ve taken photos of absolutely everything? :p The last thing I want to see, is you ending up in my shoes. Acne scars are some of the most difficult things to treat.  Cut the BS, save yourself the trouble, and drop 5 to 10 bucks on some professional extractors.

  • 70% Isopropyl Alcohol

 70% isopropyl alcohol

You will need this to sterilize your comedone extractors. The brand doesn’t matter, just make sure it’s 70%. No, 99% is not better. To properly sterilize surfaces and tools you need 70%. This has to do with the way microorganisms are killed.

To summarize, higher concentrations of alcohol evaporate more quickly, which don’t allow complete contact with microbial life. There’s more to it, namely how water works in the solution but you get the point. If you want to read more about why 70% is optimal for sterilization — read this.

  • Hydrocolloid Bandages.

hydrocolloid bandages

After you pop a pimple, you need to put a hydrocolloid bandaid over it (more about this in a bit). Hydrocolloid dressings are bandages used on open wounds to absorb exudate (i.e. the pus-like or clear fluid that oozes out of cuts and pores).

It’s a waterproof gel-like adhesive that prevents blood-clotting, and creates a moist wound healing environment to speed up the recovery of the tissue beneath it. If you want to read more about how they work, go here.

How will this work on acne?

Essentially, it’s gonna suck out all the gunk inside a popped pimple, and close up the wound without the possibility of it tearing or opening back up when the bandaid is removed.

I’m warning you now: this is highly addictive. Nothing is quite as satisfying as waking up the next morning after popping a zit and seeing a bandage filled with juicy white pus from your now non-existent pimple. 😉 If you have no idea what this looks like — check it out!

[Misc] Is there anything more satisfying than waking up to 4 full hydrocolloids? No.

Which hydrocolloid bandages are best?

I’ve had the lovely pleasure of dealing with tons of whiteheads in the past (sarcasm), so I kinda consider myself a connoisseur of hydrocolloid bandages. As you can tell, I’ve tried quite a few brands. Not shown here because I threw boxes away: Nexcare Acne Absorbing Covers, and Dream Dots.

hydrocolloid bandages for acne

Some work extremely well, others simply don’t. In my quintessential experience (lol), the Duoderm Extra Thin Dressings are the best.

See Duoderm Bandaids on Amazon

They’re medical grade and used on wounds after surgery. They may seem more expensive initially (about $20), but they’re the best bang for you buck considering how many of them you get

hydrocolloid bandages

Avoid buying Nexcare Acne Absorbing Covers, Dream Dots, and [Cosrx] Acne Pimple Master Patches. They work fine but are the same thing as Duoderm just cut up into tiny circles, and overpriced for how much product you actually receive.

The Walgreens brand use to be my holy grail, but they’ve recently changed and a took a dip in quality for the worse. We should all start a movement and protest… maybe they’ll restock the original kind.

I digress. The CVS brand is a close second to Duoderm bandages IMO.

  • Sterile Single-Use Lancets.

The reason we use these is threefold:

1. LOOK HOW SMALL THE NEEDLE IS!

single use sterile lancet single use sterile lancet

Check lancets I use on Amazon

I’m not even sure you can see it in the photo that well, but trust me it’s super thin — even smaller than pores! This will ensure we do absolutely no damage to the skin when we GENTLY stab the pimple.

2. For sanitary reasons. I don’t have to explain to you why using the same needle over and over again is a bad idea. The last thing we want is to poke our pimple with a microbially-infested sewing needle. Single-use diabetic lancet needles are sterile and safe.

3. It’s important to minimize as much pressure possible when pressing against a pimple during extraction. (That alliteration though.) Lancing it beforehand with a tiny needle relieves the blockage and gives room for the “plug” to exit more freely. Again: make sure you do this as gently as possible!

UPDATE: Several people have asked which ones I use. Here ya go. 

  • Aquaphor or Vaseline.

This will be used for aftercare. More about this in a bit.

When to Pop A Pimple.

WHITEHEADS ONLY. Don’t you dare do it otherwise. If the pimple hasn’t come to a head yet, leave it alone. You can do some things to speed this process up, for example warm compresses or chemical exfoliants.

THE PIMPLE POPPING PROCEDURE!!!

  • Step 1:

Disinfect your comedone extractor by letting it sit in 70% isopropyl alcohol for approximately 5-10 minutes. (1)

  • Step 2:

Cut out your hydrocolloid bandage to the approximate size of the pimple you will be placing it over.

  • Step 3:

Make sure your face is throughly cleansed.

  • Step 4:

Go to a mirror and lance the pimple gently with a single-use lancet needle.

  • Step 5:

Now using your comedone extractor press down GENTLY against the pimple you just lanced…. AND POP! The entire “plug” should have come out at this point. It should look like a little grain of rice. If it didn’t, you did something wrong. Now’s the time to start panicking.

Just kidding… sort of. If you find yourself in this position: LEAVE IT ALONE. In most cases, it will do you no good to continue trying to extract it at this point. Accept your losses, and live to see another day.

  • Step 6:

Wipe down the area with a q-tip, preferably with saline solution.

  • Step 7:

Place your hydrocolloid bandaid over the popped pimple, and leave it alone for a minimum of 8-12 hours. You can leave hydrocolloid dressings on up to a couple of days if you want, but most people would rather not go to work or school with a pus-filled bandaid on their face.

If you’re the kind of person who wouldn’t care, more power to yuh. *Cyber high-five*

If you have plans during the day it’s a good idea to do this whole procedure at night so you can simply remove the bandaid in the morning.

And that’s it! You’ve made it! Hurray! Congratulations, you now have a new juicy pus-filled bandage as a souvenir. Take a photo, frame it, and show all your friends!

Aftercare.

Hydrocolloid bandages do a good job of creating a moist wound healing environment that speeds up recovery time. It’s important to recreate these conditions once the bandaid has been removed to reduce any chance of scarring, PIE (post inflammatory erythema), or PIH (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation). Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline),  Aquaphor, or Cerave Healing Ointment are you best friends for this.

aquaphor and vaseline

Both contain a high amount of Petrolatum, which is the most powerful occlusive in the world, capable of preventing up to 98% of transepidermal water loss and accelerating barrier recovery. (23)

Aquaphor has the added benefit of containing lanolin alcohol, another healing agent. Contrary to popular belief, Vaseline (Petroleum Jelly) is non-comedogenic. I will be doing a whole post about this soon.

If the wound hasn’t closed or completely healed yet and you want to apply makeup, use a Liquid Bandaid. This provides an even surface for makeup application while also protecting and covering up the wound. Make sure to cleanse the area before applying it, as hydrocolloids can leave behind some sticky residue.

Dermatillomania (Excoriation Disorder).

This is a very serious subject matter and bares mentioning.  Dermatillomania is a compulsive skin-picking disorder that can cause severe emotional distress. If you suspect you have a picking problem, please please get help. Talk to a medical professional, or at the very least join a support group. This is a really good place to start.

Thanks for reading! Have a great day.

Don’t let your friends pop their pimples! Share this! 😮