Pimple Poppers Beware - The Habit May Be Worse Than You Think

Pimples are an inevitable (albeit unwelcome) part of life. They last long after the adolescent years for many people and, according to Harvard Medical School, have four direct causes: excess oil production, bacteria, clogged pores, and inflammation. And every cause has its own list of potential triggers. Makeup or makeup remover, other facial and hair products, stress, hormonal changes, diet, and even cell phone usage can lead to or worsen the skin changes that cause adult acne (via Everyday Health). Some medications can also contribute to acne, including corticosteroids and anabolic steroids.

Whether you have acne-prone skin and have to constantly deal with breakouts, or see pimples appear on your skin only occasionally, the temptation to pop them is real. Viral social media videos showing blackhead extraction, and schoolyard myths about getting rid of whiteheads, may be behind the pimple-popping movement. But across the board, skin experts are warning against popping pimples. As satisfying as it feels to burst them open, you may actually be doing more harm than good.

Why you shouldn't pop your pimples

Contrary to popular belief, popping pimples doesn't necessarily allow bacteria to seep out of the skin so that the area can heal. Utah-based medical group Intermountain Healthcare explains that popping can actually cause bacteria to sink further into your skin. This could lead to more inflammation or even another breakout, especially if the bacteria spreads to surrounding pores. Popping your pimples can also cause scarring or infections, and can delay your body's natural healing process.

According to Medical News Today, the only type of pimple that you should even consider popping is a whitehead that is close to the surface of the skin and looks close to naturally bursting on its own. Non-inflamed blackheads may also be safe to extract. However, the process needs to be done carefully.

Proper whitehead removal involves thoroughly cleaning and exfoliating the area (and your hands), applying rubbing alcohol, softening the skin, and then carefully popping with a sterilized needle (via Medical News Today). But the American Academy of Dermatology Association advises opting for a qualified dermatologist to physically get rid of acne, as an incorrect technique can lead to worse results. Though professional acne extraction can be expensive and time-consuming, it's usually able to remove persistent acne. In more severe cases, dermatologists can inject a blemish with a corticosteroid or open it with a surgical blade to drain it. But there are also methods you can try at home that are much less risky than pimple-popping.

What to do instead

If you aren't certain that you've mastered the correct popping technique, and you don't want a dermatologist to pop your pimples for you, there are other ways to clear up acne. Healthline highlights several natural topical treatments you can apply to the skin, including honey, witch hazel, and aloe vera. Tea tree oil has also been shown to be particularly effective at battling acne when applied to the skin. However, it's important to note that tea tree oil is very drying and should always be diluted before application. Mayo Clinic notes that there are a few lifestyle changes that can help keep pimples at bay. These include protecting your skin from the sun, avoiding touching your skin, and always showering after sweating.

For more serious cases of acne, there's a range of medications, both topical and oral, that may help. Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinoids, and antibiotics are among the most popular topical medications for combating acne (via Cleveland Clinic). Antibiotics can also be taken orally to clear up pimples, as can contraceptives and retinoids. Healthcare providers sometimes recommend alternative therapies too, including steroids, laser therapy, and chemical peels.

Generally, lone pimples go away on their own, and the right strategies can relieve even severe cases of acne. Unless you're sure you're using the right technique on the right kind of pimple, it's best to avoid popping — the risk of worsening your breakout isn't worth it.