How to know if a pimple is safe to pop or if you should just leave it alone

  • Popping pimples incorrectly can lead to infection and scars, but some pimples can be popped.
  • Blackheads, pustules, and whiteheads are OK to pop if the pop is done correctly.
  • Hard, red bumps beneath the skin should never be popped.

Good news, diehard pimple poppers.

Chances are good that you’ve been taught to think of popping pimples as an ultra-forbidden pleasure, sure to lead only to intense scarring, infection, and condemnation from your peers. But popping pimples isn’t always bad — you just need to know what to pop and how to do it.

Here, New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner breaks down which kinds of pimples you should (and shouldn’t) pop.

Popping (or extracting) pimples is sometimes the only way to make them disappear

Sometimes the manual extraction is the only way to get rid of a pimple.
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“Ultimately, the blockages in pimples have only one place to go, which is out,” Zeichner told INSIDER. “In some cases, unless pimples are manually extracted, they can stick around for years. The act of opening up a pimple can help treat the skin provided it is done the correct way.”

The correct way, according to Zeichner, is by treating the pop as a “surgical procedure.” This means washing your face and hands, using Q-tips to press down gently on the sides of a pimple rather than your fingers, and — perhaps most important of all — knowing when to give up.

“If the blockage does not come out easily, then leave it for another day,” Zeichner told INSIDER.

If you keep picking at a pimple that isn’t ready to pop, it may cause increased inflammation and irritation, make the pimple take longer to heal and increase your chance of scarring.

If you are looking to pop something the right way, start with blackheads, which, according to Zeichner, are the “easiest” to pop at home.

“Gentle, downward pressure can usually clear the blockage,” he told INSIDER.

You can also pop pustules — bumps with pus at the surface — by using the same kind of gentle pressure, but whiteheads are more difficult to pop at home. According to Zeichner, whiteheads often need to be opened with a sterile needle or blade, so it may be best to visit a dermatologist if you need one popped.

No matter what kind of pimple is popped, Zeichner recommends applying an antibiotic spot cream afterward, as the skin may be tender and more prone to infection.

There are, however, some pimplespapules, cysts, and/or nodules, specificallythat should never be popped, no matter how carefully you do it

Cysts, papules and nodules are hard, red bumps.
vialik/Shutterstock

These kinds of pimples can be identified as the hard, red bumps that are painful to the touch and feel like they are rooted deep within the skin. As tempting as it may be to get rid of a pimple with a good pop, these kinds of pimples don’t actually have a clear connection with the surface of the skin, meaning that attempting to pop them is almost always bound to cause more harm than good.

“The red, angry underground pimples are essentially balloons under the skin without a connection to the surface,” Zeichner told INSIDER. “These pimples are not pick-able and you will inevitably cause skin inflammation, infection, or even scarring if you try to pop them.”

So, if you want to pop a pimple, make sure it isn’t a papule first. Otherwise? You should be fine.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

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