Yes, you can spot-treat or cover it up with concealer, but for days when you just so happen to be making a big presentation at work or are meeting your S.O.’s parents for the first time, there’s only one option: pop it.
This is not, however, your invitation to start picking and poking—which can easily cause more redness or scarring and can spread the bacteria that caused the zit in the first place. So what’s the best way to pop a pimple without causing further damage?
“Never use your nails, because they have dirt and bacteria we can’t see underneath them,” urges Jillian Wright, a master clinical aesthetician and founder of Indie Beauty Expo. Instead, the skin guru recommends you use a cotton round to keep the area extra clean (more details on how to wield this surprising weapon below).
And not all pimples are primed for popping; Wright says to go for whiteheads and blackheads only.
Here’s your step-by-step guide to zapping a zit the right way.
Jillian Wright’s five-step guide to popping pimples
1. To loosen a pimple for extraction, apply a bit of jojoba, hazelnut, or grape seed oil and cover it with a wet, warm washcloth. If you have a whitehead that’s red and inflamed, skip this step—you don’t want to further aggravate the pimple.
2. Wash your hands thoroughly, then take a cotton round—your pimple-popping secret weapon!—wet it, squeeze it out, and pull it apart. Wrap your fingertips with each side of the cotton round.
3. You want to apply enough pressure to the sides of the pore that the excessive oil comes out of the skin. If it doesn’t, it’s not ready, but you can still apply a clay mask at night to kill bacteria (see step 5!).
4. Remove discharge carefully with your gauze-wrapped fingers. The webbing of the gauze will catch the discharge, whisking it away, so that you don’t need to use your finger nails (a no-no!). For extra sanitary precaution, follow up by applying a clarifying toner, witch hazel, or apple cider vinegar diluted in water.
5. Once the area is clean, apply a clay mask like one with bentonite, or a tea tree oil spot treatment. These will help kill the bacteria and continue to draw impurities from the pore, while it heals.
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