You wake up, roll out of bed, and make your way into the bathroom, only to discover that somehow your face has grown an unsightly, white-tipped pimple. But beyond the negative impact that pimples can have on the way you look, they can be downright uncomfortable as well. Swollen, puffy, and sore, these miserable little pustules can come out of nowhere and completely ruin your day. And even though real beauty has almost nothing to do with appearance (despite what movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements may claim), having a massive zit (or zits) taking up all of the best real estate on your face has a way of negatively impacting a person’s self-esteem.
Although pimples may seem as though they just magically and horrifically appear out of thin air, the reality is that pimples follow a very specific lifecycle. You see, across the entire surface of your body, you have tiny openings in your skin called ‘pores.’ There are two kinds of pores, and they serve different (but similar) functions. Sweat gland pores produce perspiration across the surface of the body to help regulate internal temperatures, while sebaceous gland pores produce a different mixture of liquid fats and proteins called sebum, which coats the skin in a protective layer known as hydrolipidic film that helps waterproof and protect it from bacteria. Sebaceous glands also house hair follicles, which help guide the sebum oil to the surface. Unfortunately, sebum doesn’t always make it all of the way out. Sometimes, dead skin cells from the skin’s surface become trapped down inside the pore and mix with bacteria and sebum to create a ‘plug.’ New sebum is unable to leave the pore, and when this happens, the clogged pore begins to swell. Clogged pores can produce several different kinds of pimples and skin irritations, but we’re going to focus on pimples—whiteheads and blackheads. Whiteheads are clogged pores that have almost completely closed. The trapped plug then pushes against the closed opening, filling with pus, and creating the light-colored tip that gives whiteheads their names. Blackheads are clogged pores whose openings remain open to the outside air. The plug oxidizes, hardens, and turns dark in color. Blackhead pimples don’t generally become as swollen as whiteheads do.
Pimples carry with them a certain stigma of uncleanliness, but the fact is that most acne outbreaks are a product of hormonal changes within the body, rather than as a result of poor hygiene. And while the hormonal changes that play a large part in pimple formation are most prevalent in teenages, acne among adults is also common.
So, when faced with the appearance of a new and terrible pimple on the one part of your body most likely to be seen by everyone you meet, what do you do?
Do you pop it?
Of course you pop it.
However, you probably shouldn’t.
There are a number of potential problems that come from popping pimples. For one thing, it’s usually not a very sanitary process, and can introduce new bacteria to already damaged tissue, possibly leading to infection. For another thing, any ejected pus, sebum, bacteria, or grime can easily find its way down into other pores, leading to further breakouts.
At the same time, the act of popping is very destructive, and can damage sensitive tissue in ways that the pimple itself would not have, and if done incorrectly, the sebum plug may be only partially removed, or worse, forced further down into the pore where it can cause even worse damage. Likewise, popped pimples have a tendency to leave scars behind after healing. The real kicker is that once a pimple has been popped, the pore itself remains irritated and swollen, and due to the additional damage that comes as a result of being forcefully popped, it will likely remain so for even longer than it would have if you had left the pimple alone.
The point we’re trying to make is this: Don’t pop your pimples. If you have a single pimple every now and then, leave it be and let it run its course (most pimples will fade and disappear within 3–7 days). If you suffer from constant, uncomfortable acne, then reexamine your cleansing process and see a dermatologist who can help you create a targeted, personalized plan.
Despite the cautions of the previous section, we understand that there are simply times when you won’t feel like leaving the house with a marble-sized lump poking out from your cheek, and no matter how much we warn you not to, you’re going to pop it. So, in an effort to minimize the damage, we’d like to share with you our step-by-step pimple popping process (this guide is for dealing with whitehead pimples; for information on how to get rid of blackheads, click here):
We really can’t stress this enough: Quickly popping a pimple without taking the proper precautions can easily lead to scarring, breakouts, and infection. If you absolutely must pop a pimple quickly, cover your fingers with tissue paper, and be careful not to put too much pressure on the area around the pimple for any prolonged period of time. Instead, move your fingers to different spots as you squeeze to minimize damage. That having been said, squeezing a pimple in order to pop it will damage your skin, so we don’t recommend it under any circumstances.
Whether you did it the right way or not, once you’ve popped the pimple, you have a few steps that you need to take to ensure that you leave your face in the right condition to heal properly. Here are some tips to help you get back on the right track:
As has been stated above, the biggest cause of pimples isn’t hygienic; it’s hormonal. That having been said, there are still a number of steps that you can take to minimize your chances of suffering from an outbreak.
For bad cases of acne that don’t seem to be responding to any at-home treatments, you should consider visiting a dermatologist. Dermatologists will be able to provide customized treatment plans specially suited to your own unique situation, and will have the tools and experience to pop your pimples for you, should they decide that it’s necessary. Unfortunately, some insurance providers are unwilling to cover dermatologist visits, so be prepared to pay out of pocket if needs be. A single dermatologist visit can run a few hundred dollars, but professional assistance with acne and other skin problems is the most-effective way to find a lasting solution.
Although your first instinct when discovering a new whitehead may be to pinch it into oblivion, take a step back and really consider the situation. There are a number of other ways to deal with unsightly pimples, that are much less dangerous to the overall health of your skin. However, if you do decide to go through with popping your pimple, be sure that you do it the right way. After all, your skin is your defense against the outside world—try not to damage it too badly.
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Disclaimer: The information on this website and any related links are for general informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, contact a professional healthcare provider.