How to Properly Extract a Pimple

Learn how to pop a pimple the right way |

I have a love/hate relationship with extracting or picking at pimples. Sometimes popping a pimple will make it scab over but heal faster, while other times squeezing and popping acne spots just makes them grow even bigger and redder. After years of picking at my skin, here's some advice: don't do it!

Really resist it if you can. Avoid all mirrors. Don't touch your face. Clench your fists and count backwards from ten. Do whatever you can to not pick because picking can cause even more pimples and possible scarring.

However, I know it's hard to resist, especially the pimples that are just screaming to be popped. So if you have to do it, at least make sure you do it right. Here are some simple rules and tips to help you properly pop a pimple:

  1. Buy a pimple extractor (check Ulta or Sephora). The best kind of comedone extractors are the beauty tools that have a needle point on one end (used for pricking open pimples) and a loop on the other (used for pressing down on pricked or open pimples to squeeze out the gunk).

    Pimple extractor

    Pimple extractor

    I prefer extractors with a thin metal loop. When the loop is too thick, it's more difficult to accurately pinpoint certain pores, especially if you are trying to extract blackheads. The needle part is useful, but only if it stays sharp. It's really easy to accidentally drop the extractor and blunt the point.

  2. Disinfect everything. Disinfect the comedone extractor with some rubbing alcohol and wash your face and hands before proceeding with any extractions.

  3. Prep your skin. It's best to do pimple extractions after you've washed or steamed your face (be careful not to get too close to the steam or you'll risk broken capillaries). That way the clogged sebum inside your skin is softened and more ready to be squeezed out. Alternatively, use a warm compress on individual pimples for 15 minutes prior to any kind of popping.

  4. Pick the right pimples the pop. Only attempt to pop pimples with a big, white or yellow-ish head. Don't even think about trying to extract blind pimples without a head because you will only make the pimple grow bigger and cause other pimples to pop up in the surrounding area. The bigger the white/yellow-ish head on a zit, the safer it is to pop without any lingering consequences.

  5. Squeeze gently. Using the comedone extractor, prick the tip of the pimple if necessary (you can also use a lancet), then place the loop part of the extractor over the pimple and gently press down. If the pimple is ready to come out, the gunk should be squeezed out quite easily. You want to make sure to get it all out. A more solid part, the acne root or "mother seed", must be extracted to make sure the pimple doesn't come back the next day.

  6. Use your fingers. Sometimes using the extractor doesn't get all the gunk out, especially if the pimple is bigger than the loop of the extractor. In these situations, wrap your index fingers in some tissue paper and gently squeeze or press both sides of the pimple to make for a clean extraction. Alternatively, you could use q-tips to help "roll" out the gunk in your skin. Oh and the clear liquid that comes out? That's lymph fluid.

  7. Know when to give up. If you have done all of the above and squeezed your pimple to bloody death but the hardened clog inside your skin still isn't coming out, it's time to give up. You can't force it out of your skin if it's not ready to come out. At this point, the more you try to squeeze the zit, the worse you will make it. Let it be a lesson to you that the kind of pimple you just attempted to pop but failed to pop is the kind of pimple that is not ripe enough to extract. It's the kind of pimple you should avoid squeezing in the future.

  8. Help heal popped pimples. Use a q-tip to disinfect newly popped pimples with some rubbing alcohol (beware, it'll sting). However, this is optional because rubbing alcohol can be irritating to your skin. Dab popped pimples with polysporin, antibiotic gel, or aloe vera gel and cover with DuoDerm Synthetic Skin, though a band-aid will suffice. This helps it heal faster and prevents scarring. For more about what to do after popping a pimple, read this.

After you pop a pimple, it's normal for the pimple to ooze, bleed, turn red, swell up, and crust over. They might even temporarily look bigger. At this point, you definitely want to leave it alone because you have shocked your skin enough. Don't pick off the crusty, crystal-like scab that immediately forms. As tempting as it is to make your skin feel flat, your popped pimple needs this time to heal and recover. A few days later, you might notice some scabbing and/or flaking skin around the popped spot. Although this doesn't look that attractive, it's best to not pick at any scabs. Let them fall off on their own - it usually doesn't take long. Sometimes they fall off when you are taking a shower or washing your face and you don't even notice!

Needless to say, I advise against the above procedure because it can cause lots of unwanted scarring, so really resist it if you can. In my experience, popping pimples only begets more pimples. Some popped pimples may look better for a few days after popping, but then they come back bigger and redder than ever! However, my dermatologist tells me that sometimes popping pimples truly helps them to go away faster, but only the pimples that are ripe and ready to be popped. I also find that aestheticians and dermatologists do a much better job extracting (i.e. they extract the pimple cleanly and it doesn't scar), so you can consider going to them for help.

One last thing, do not attempt to pop a cyst (those gigantic, under the skin pimples that hurt). Cysts are really deep in the skin and trying to pop one will cause nothing but pain and an even angrier cyst. The best thing to do is to either hit it with some kind of spot treatment every hour or to put a warm compress on it to bring it to a head faster. Another option is to get a cortisone shot from a dermatologist, which however, could result in a skin indentation.

Keep in mind that popping your pimples won't make acne go away. It might flatten pimples, but your skin will still be red from the popping. Worst of all, by picking at your skin, you invite future pimples to be formed in that area. Extracting pimples is also a painful process and you'll most likely be left with many temporary red welts afterwards.

It's best to just let your active pimples run their course and to keep your hands away from your face at all times. A good skin care routine and a thorough understanding of acne treatments will go a long way. Popping acne only treats the symptom, not the cause, and the only way to truly be acne-free is to get to the root of the problem.

Believe me, I know.

So, even though you now know how to extract a pimple the right way, make sure it doesn't become a regular skin picking habit!

Last updated: September 19, 2012

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