Before you fully process than you have a pimple, you inevitably start formulating an attack plan. And sometimes, we can get a little desperate. From covering it with toothpaste to slathering on apple cider vinegar, we’ll do absolutely anything in the name of clear skin.
Of course, some of these tactics can be pretty useless—like the aforementioned toothpaste, for example. But there are just so, so many acne-fighting options out there that it’s almost like being a kid in a humongous candy store. Where to start?
Well, out of all the things you could choose from to fight those zits, from pimple patches to zit-zapping serums, light masks, and everything in between, Dr. Pimple Popper herself—aka Sandra Lee, M.D., dermatologist and founder of SLMD Skincare, has two very big no-no’s. Stop what you’re doing—seriously, put your hands down—and read the two things to never, ever do to a pimple, from the ultimate pimple expert.
1. Never pop *this* kind of pimple
Sure, pimple popping is frowned upon by every skin guru out there. But especially in this scenario: “If you have a red pimple that hurts to touch, and is deep under the skin, don’t pop it,” says Dr. Lee. “It will not only be close to impossible to pop, but if the pimple doesn’t have a head yet and is still under the skin, trying to extract it can be very painful and can cause irritation and infection.”
They’re basically “unpoppables,” and trying to pop them might just lead to swelling, increased pain—and possibly an even bigger pimple (and most definitely an acne scar). “The bigger the pimple, the higher the risk of permanent scarring,” says Dr. Lee. “Always keep your hands off of these kinds of pimples as you may really traumatize the skin and be at risk of scarring that can become permanent.” She recommends applying a spot treatment instead.
2. Never extract a pimple with dirty hands or a dirty tool
Dr. Lee warns that you should really avoid popping any kind of pimple, and visit a derm or skin-care professional to get pimples and blackheads properly extracted. But she knows that sometimes, we just can’t resist (guilty). “Many of us can’t keep our fingers from our face if we see a big juicy pimple that looks like it’s ready to pop,” she admits. When it’s ripe for picking, she says it’s when the pimple is closest to the skin and resembles a whitehead.
Before you even think about touching your face, though, make sure to clean the pimple, your hands, and any tools you may be using. “If you use [dirty] hands or a dirty extractor, bacteria can spread to the pimple—increasing the risk of skin infection and making everything worse,” says Dr. Lee. Washing your face with warm water beforehand can also help to soften the skin and relax your pores, making it a somewhat smoother process. Other than that, your technique is yours for the, ahem, picking.
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