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When is a pimple ready to pop?

Popping pimples is a common urge for many people struggling with acne. Though it can be tempting to pop every pimple that appears, this can actually worsen acne and lead to scarring. Knowing when a pimple is ready to be popped safely is key to reducing acne and avoiding permanent damage to the skin.

What happens when you pop a pimple?

Popping a pimple opens up the skin barrier and exposes the inner contents of the blemish. This includes:

  • Sebum – An oily substance produced by sebaceous glands in the skin.
  • Bacteria – Bacteria like Propionibacterium acnes can multiply inside a clogged pore and cause inflammation.
  • Dead skin cells – Excess skin cells can plug up pores and contribute to pimple formation.
  • Pus – A mixture of oil, bacteria, dead skin and white blood cells.

By popping a pimple, this material is expelled from underneath the skin. Though this may provide temporary relief, it can also lead to more harm than good by:

  • Spreading bacteria further across the skin, potentially causing more breakouts.
  • Damaging the skin with picking and squeezing, creating an open wound.
  • Causing bleeding, redness, pain and swelling.
  • Increasing the risk of scarring if not properly cared for.

Though popping pimples is not recommended in most cases, sometimes a blemish can be evacuated safely and effectively if done correctly at the right time.

Signs a pimple is ready to be popped

Popping a pimple too early can cause a lot of damage. Here are some signs that indicate a pimple is ready to be popped:

  • It has a white or yellow head – This means the blemish is ripe and ready to rupture naturally.
  • The skin over it feels thin – A thin skin covering indicates the pus is close to the surface.
  • It is soft and pliable – The pimple feels mushy when touched instead of firm and hard.
  • It is painful or throbbing – This suggests the pus is building up inside and putting pressure on nerves.
  • It has been present for 3-4 days – Enough time has passed for the blemish to mature.
  • Other pimples have recently healed – The breakout cycle is winding down.

A pimple that displays several of these clues is more likely to be successfully popped without excessive force or damage. Still proceed with caution.

Warning signs a pimple is not ready

Popping a pimple too early can make matters worse. Here are some signs a pimple should be left alone:

  • The pimple is small – Small pimples are best treated with topical acne medications.
  • It is a hard lump under the skin – This indicates the clog is deep inside the pore.
  • There is no head – White or yellow pus has not built up yet.
  • The skin feels tight – The covering over the blemish is thick.
  • It is swollen and red – Signs of inflammation mean popping will be painful.
  • It is a cystic blemish – Cysts have no openings to extract pus.
  • It recently formed – The pimple needs time to mature.

Popping a pimple with any of these features often requires aggressive squeezing, which can lead to bleeding, swelling, infection and scarring. Leaving it alone allows the blemish to calm down.

How to pop a pimple

If you have assessed the pimple and deemed it ready for popping, proceed with care using proper techniques and tools to minimize damage and avoid complications.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap to avoid transferring bacteria to your face.
  • Cleanse the skin around the pimple with a gentle cleanser to remove excess oil and bacteria.
  • Sterilize a pimple popping tool like a lancet or needle with alcohol.
  • Use two cotton swabs on either side of the pimple to gently apply pressure and extrude the contents.
  • Avoid squeezing or puncturing too forcefully, which can damage the skin.
  • Collect the pus on a clean tissue and discard appropriately.
  • Clean the area again and apply an antibacterial ointment.
  • Cover with a hydrocolloid bandage to protect and absorb fluid.
  • Never try to pop cysts or nodules – these require professional medical treatment.

Proper pimple popping hygiene is vital for avoiding infection and additional breakouts. Only pop pimples selectively when the signs are right.

What to do after popping a pimple

Proper aftercare is just as crucial as popping technique for healing a popped pimple fast and avoiding scars. Here are some tips for post-pop pimple care:

  • Keep the area clean – Use a gentle antimicrobial cleanser twice a day to prevent bacterial overgrowth.
  • Reduce inflammation – Apply a cool compress and hydrocortisone cream to soothe swelling and redness.
  • Keep moist – Use an oil-free moisturizer to promote healing without clogging pores.
  • Apply acne treatment – Benzoyl peroxide can kill acne-causing bacteria in the pore.
  • Protect from sun – Sun exposure can darken acne marks – use sunscreen.
  • Don’t pick scabs – Picking delays healing and increases scarring risk.
  • Watch for signs of infection – See a dermatologist if the area becomes increasingly swollen, red and painful.

Let the popped pimple heal naturally and avoid picking at the area. See a doctor if the wound looks infected.

How long does a popped pimple take to heal?

A popped pimple usually takes 3-7 days to completely heal, depending on:

  • Depth – Superficial pimples heal faster than deep lesions.
  • Severity of inflammation – More swelling takes longer to resolve.
  • Wound care – Proper cleaning and protection accelerates healing.
  • Individual factors – Age, genetics and medical conditions affect wound healing.
  • Scarring risk – Deeper wounds may fully close but leave a scar behind.

Here is a general timeline for popped pimple healing:

Days After Popping Healing Status
1-2 days Open wound, swelling, inflammation
3 days Scab forms over wound
4-5 days Scab darkens and hardens
6-7 days Scab falls off, new skin exposed

Though the pimple may seem to be healed in 3-5 days, it takes a full week for new skin cells to close up the ruptured follicle. Continue proper care during this time.

Risk factors for complications

While most popped pimples heal without incident, some factors raise the risk of complications like scarring and infection:

  • Severe inflammation – More trauma to the skin makes issues more likely.
  • Deep skin puncture – The deeper into the dermis, the higher the risks.
  • Location – Pimples popped near nostrils and lips are prone to complications.
  • Recurrent picking – Picking at scabs reinjures the skin repeatedly.
  • Unsanitary extraction – Introducing bacteria raises infection risk.
  • Genetics – Some people are predisposed to prominent scarring.
  • Age – Acne in older adults tends to scar more easily.

Those with a history of keloids or thick, pitted scarring should avoid popping pimples altogether and see a dermatologist to minimize acne safely.

When to see a dermatologist

In some moderate to severe cases of acne, consistently popping pimples at home can cause more harm than good. See a board-certified dermatologist if you experience:

  • Lasting scars or dark spots from popped pimples
  • Severe or painful cystic acne lesions
  • Signs of infection like pus, fever or red streaks
  • No improvement with over-the-counter care
  • Emotional distress from acne’s appearance

A dermatologist has specialized training and access to professional-grade acne treatments that can reduce pimples, irritation, scarring and the urge to pick. Prescription options they may provide include:

  • Retinoids like tretinoin to exfoliate clogged pores
  • Antibiotics to combat acne bacteria
  • Drainage and injection of large cysts
  • Oral medications like isotretinoin or birth control pills
  • Light and laser therapies to reduce bacteria and inflammation
  • Chemical peels and microneedling to smooth scars

Medical management can help curtail the acne cycle so there are fewer pimples to pop in the first place. This allows skin to heal and limits risks of scarring or infections.

Other tips for managing acne

Making smart lifestyle choices and using over-the-counter products can also help maintain clear skin and prevent constant pimple popping:

  • Wash face twice daily with acne-fighting cleanser
  • Shampoo regularly, especially if hair is oily
  • Avoid excessive touching and picking at the face
  • Shower after sweating to rinse away dirt and oil
  • Take makeup off thoroughly before bed
  • Wear oil-free, non-comedogenic cosmetics
  • Use oil-absorbing facial blotting papers to control shine
  • Wear sunscreen daily to prevent dark acne marks
  • Avoid heavy lotions and creams that clog pores
  • Stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet

Over-the-counter retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and sulfur preparations can also help dry out and disinfect acne lesions. Natural options include tea tree oil, zinc and probiotics supplements.


Popping pimples can be tempting but should be done sparingly and strategically to avoid causing more harm than good. Look for signs like a whitehead and skin thinness to identify mature pimples ready for drainage. Keep the area clean while avoiding picking to help popped pimples heal quickly within a week. See a dermatologist for help managing moderate to severe acne or recurring scars from popping. With diligent care and professional treatment if needed, you can keep skin clear and scars at bay.