Skip to Content

How do you pop a pimple?

What causes pimples?

Pimples form when hair follicles under your skin clog up. Sebaceous glands attached to the follicles produce an oily substance called sebum. The sebum carries dead skin cells through the follicle and to the surface of your skin. When the follicle becomes clogged, the sebum gets trapped inside. This creates a plug that swells up when bacteria grow inside it. The result is a pimple.

Pimples often form during puberty because hormonal changes cause your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. This can cause pores to become clogged more easily. Pimples can also develop due to:

  • Hormone changes during menstruation
  • Starting or stopping birth control pills
  • High humidity that can cause sweat to clog pores
  • Oil-based makeup
  • Greasy hair products like pomades and gels
  • Certain medications
  • Steroids
  • Stress

Genetics can also play a role. If your parents had acne as teens, you’re more likely to struggle with pimples.

Types of pimples

There are various types of pimples:


Whiteheads occur when a clogged pore remains closed. They look like small, flesh-colored bumps. The clogged follicle wall bulges outward but stays beneath the surface of your skin.


Blackheads happen when a clogged pore is open. The top surface looks dark because of the skin pigment melanin. Blackheads are also called open comedones.


Papules are small red, tender bumps. They don’t have a visible central whitehead.


Pustules are inflamed pimples containing visible pus. The base is red and the pus-filled tip is whitish or yellow.


Nodules are large, solid pimples embedded deep within the skin. Unlike papules and pustules, nodules are less likely to come to a head on their own.


Cysts are like nodules but are larger and more painful. They’re filled with pus and can cause permanent scars if not treated properly.

How to pop a pimple

Popping pimples correctly can speed up healing. But picking at pimples incorrectly can make them worse and lead to scars. Here are some tips for popping pimples safely:

Wash your hands and face

Before popping a pimple, wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap. Also wash your face with a gentle cleanser. This removes excess oil and bacteria from your skin.

Use a warm compress

Apply a warm washcloth to the pimple for about 5 minutes. The heat helps soften up the skin and makes the pimple easier to pop. It also helps draw the pus closer to the surface.

Use sterile equipment

Use a comedone extractor tool or needles sterilized with rubbing alcohol. Don’t try to pop pimples with your bare fingers. Tools help protect the surrounding skin and prevent deeper infection.

Pop gently

Being too aggressive can damage the skin and cause bleeding, swelling and redness. Instead, gently press on either side of the pimple with your sterile tool. Apply light pressure and stop if this seems painful.

Push straight down

Squeeze from the bottom of the pimple, pushing straight down to pop the pimple. Don’t pick at it from an angle, which can unnecessarily tear the skin.

Stop if no pus comes out

If no pus emerges after gentle pressure, stop trying to pop the pimple. Forcing out a pimple that isn’t ready may just lead to redness and irritation.

Don’t over-squeeze

Once pus starts oozing out, stop squeezing right away. You only need to open up the pimple enough to release the pus inside. Over-squeezing will make your skin more inflamed.

Absorb the pus

Grab a tissue and gently dab the expelled pus. Take care removing all the infected material inside the pimple.

Apply medication

Dab some benzoyl peroxide gel or salicylic acid on the popped pimple. This helps kill bacteria to prevent reinfection. Bandages can also protect popped pimples while they heal.

Let it heal

Leave the pimple alone while it heals after popping and treating it. Popping the same pimple repeatedly can lead to scarring. See a dermatologist if it doesn’t go away after 1-2 weeks.

Things to avoid when popping pimples

Certain things should always be avoided when popping pimples:

  • Don’t pick at pimples with your fingers, as they harbor bacteria
  • Avoid popping pimples that haven’t formed a head
  • Don’t try to pop cysts and nodules – let a doctor handle these
  • Don’t pop pimples that are close to the eye area
  • Never pick at acne with long nails or sharp objects
  • Don’t pop whiteheads that aren’t ready
  • Avoid squeezing multiple times to minimize skin damage
  • Don’t pop pimples if you have inflammatory acne

Popping pimples improperly can push bacteria and pus deeper into your skin, causing even worse breakouts. Being too aggressive can also lead to permanent pitted scarring.

When to see a dermatologist

It’s best to get advice from a dermatologist if you have severe, widespread acne. Popping pimples at home may provide temporary relief. But it won’t address the underlying causes behind recurring breakouts.

See your dermatologist if you experience:

  • Painful, hard nodules and cysts on your face and body
  • Acne that doesn’t improve with over-the-counter washes and creams
  • Deep scarring from picking and popping
  • Red, swollen blemishes that don’t come to a head

A dermatologist can examine your acne and determine what’s causing it. They may recommend professional treatments like:

  • Prescription topical creams with retinoids
  • Antibiotics to kill bacteria
  • Birth control pills to regulate hormones
  • Isotretinoin pills for severe cystic acne
  • Corticosteroid injections to treat swollen blemishes
  • Acne surgery to drain deep lesions

They can also extract stubborn pimples in a sterile medical setting. This carries less risk of scarring than popping them yourself at home.

Acne scar treatment

Popping pimples can sometimes lead to depressed indentations in the skin called pitted scars. Acne scars form when damage from a blemish breaks collagen fibers beneath the skin. Sebum and dead skin cells get trapped beneath the surface, creating pits.

There are treatments that can improve the appearance of acne scars:

Laser skin resurfacing

Laser resurfacing involves directing pulsating beams of light at the skin. This removes outer layers of skin to promote regeneration of new, scar-free skin. Lasers can precisely target acne scars without affecting the surrounding area. Procedures usually require multiple treatments spaced weeks apart. Laser resurfacing carries a risk of permanent lightening of the skin.


Dermabrasion uses a rapidly rotating device to essentially sand the skin. This helps even out the surface by removing upper layers of skin blemished with scars. After abrasion, new skin forms as the area heals. Dermabrasion may irritate skin and require several months of recovery.


Microneedling involves using tiny needle pricks to create micro-injuries that stimulate collagen production. Popular devices include dermarollers and microneedling pens. New collagen fills in indented scars as skin repairs itself. You may need multiple microneedling sessions for optimal improvement of acne scarring.

Skin fillers

Injectable skin fillers can temporarily fill in depressed acne scars. Fillers provide immediate improvement that lasts up to 1-2 years. Hyaluronic acid fillers tend to be the safest and most effective for acne scar filling. Risks include bruising, swelling and uneven looking results.

Punch excision

Punch excision is a minor surgical procedure to cut out individual pitted scars. The scar is removed, and the edges are brought together with stitches. The skin then heals in a way that minimizes indentations from scarring. Punch excision works best for deep boxcar and ice pick scars.

Preventing future pimples

Popping pimples can provide short-term relief for blackheads and superficial blemishes. But acne problems will return if you don’t treat the root causes. Here are some tips to help prevent future breakouts:

Wash your face twice daily

Use a gentle cleanser in the morning and before bed to keep your skin free of excess oil, makeup and dirt. Avoid harsh scrubs that can irritate your skin.

Use oil-free cosmetics

Choose water-based makeup and lotions formulated for acne-prone skin. Avoid oily products that can clog your pores and lead to new pimples. Look for oil-free or non-comedogenic labels.

Shampoo your hair regularly

Letting hair products build up on your scalp can worsen acne along the hairline and forehead. Use a clarifying shampoo once a week and conditioner daily.

Product Use
Clarifying shampoo Once per week
Conditioner Daily

Avoid excessive sun exposure

Too much sun can darken acne marks and scars. Wear an SPF 30+ sunscreen daily to protect your skin. Reapply every 2 hours when spending time outdoors.

Take care of your mental health

Stress doesn’t necessarily cause acne, but it can make breakouts worse. Make time for relaxing activities and get support if you’re dealing with anxiety or depression. Getting adequate sleep also helps manage stress.

See a dermatologist

Your family doctor can prescribe basic acne treatments. But for more advanced cases, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist has specialized expertise in diagnosing and treating all types of pimples. Custom prescription medications and procedures can help keep severe acne under control.


Popping pimples seems like a quick fix for getting rid of blemishes on your skin. But doing it incorrectly can make acne worse and lead to scarring. Always use sterile tools, pop gently, and stop if it hurts or bleeds. Severe acne may require prescription medication or in-office treatments performed by a dermatologist. Taking proper care of your skin each day is also crucial for preventing future breakouts after popping zits.