Pimple popping: Why only a dermatologist should do it
If you have a pimple that you’re about to pop, stop! You’ll want to read this first.
Do-it-yourself pimple popping can backfire
Squeezing pimples and other acne blemishes may seem so simple that anyone can do it, but there is an art to doing it right. You need proper technique to avoid:
Permanent acne scars
More noticeable acne
More painful acne
These unwanted side effects are likely when you pop pimples at home. If you push some of the contents inside the pimple deeper into the skin, which often happens, you increase inflammation. This can lead to more-noticeable acne. Some people develop acne scars and pain.
When you pop pimples yourself, you also run the risk of getting an infection from the bacteria on your hands.
Dermatologists know how to remove acne safely
Dermatologists use a few different techniques to physically get rid of acne. One is called acne extraction, which involves using sterile instruments to get rid of blackheads and whiteheads.
Acne extraction is usually offered when other acne treatment fails to clear the skin. it’s rarely a first choice because it takes time and can be expensive.
When performed by a dermatologist, acne extraction is a safe way to get rid of blackheads and whiteheads.
Another technique that dermatologists use allows them to get rid of a deep, painful acne cyst or nodule. To do this, a dermatologist will inject the blemish with a corticosteroid. This speeds healing and reduces the risk of scarring.
An injection is fine for treating one especially painful acne nodule or cyst. It cannot be used to treat several acne blemishes. If you receive too much corticosteroid, it can cause unwanted side effects.
Only a doctor should inject a corticosteroid.
To remove a large pimple or painful acne cyst or nodule, your dermatologist may also use a procedure called incision and drainage. It involves using a sterile needle or surgical blade to open the blemish and then removing what’s inside.
Because dermatologists use proper technique, this procedure can help drain a pimple, cyst, or nodule.
What to expect from acne removal procedures
During acne extraction, a dermatologist uses sterilized equipment to clean out your pores. You may need to have your skin exfoliated first.
Blackheads and whiteheads can return, so you’ll need to follow a skin-care plan to prevent new blemishes.
A corticosteroid injection will flatten most acne nodules or cysts within 48 to 72 hours.
The key to clearing a pimple with incision and drainage is to do this at the right time.
How to treat a deep, painful pimple at home
While you should avoid pimple popping, there is another way to treat a deep, painful pimple. The right at-home treatment can reduce pain, as well as decrease the pimple's size, swelling, and discoloration. See what dermatologists recommend by watching How to treat a deep, painful pimple.
Three things that can improve acne clearing
These techniques aren’t necessary for every blemish. Acne often clears with acne medicine and the right skin care.
While you’re waiting for your skin to clear, it can be tempting to pop a large pimple or squeeze out a blackhead. That can delay clearing.
Here are 3 things you can do that will help you see clearer skin more quickly.
Keep your hands away from your face. Touching, picking, and popping can worsen acne.
Relieve pain with ice. Some acne can be painful, especially nodules and cysts. Ice reduces the inflammation.
Treat your acne. Many people can clear their acne with treatment that they can buy online or at a drugstore. Treatment takes time to work. If you don’t see results in 4 to 6 weeks, a dermatologist can help you clear your skin.
Patience today, clearer skin tomorrow
While you may still be tempted to pop that pimple, you now know the benefits of using a different approach. And that can lead to clearer skin.
Related AAD resources
Fulton JE, Acne Rx: What acne really is and how to eliminate its devastating effects! Self-published; 2001.
Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, et al. “Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74:945-73.
Last updated: 10/17/23