How to Pop a Pimple and Extract a Blackhead

You're likely to want to pop a pimple at some point, though there are safer and smarter ways to deal with your skin blemishes.

If that's the case, then you'll want to know how to do it without causing more skin damage. You'll also want to avoid infection, especially if something more than a pimple is going on with your skin.

This article explains the best way to pop a pimple. Better yet, it offers some options that may work well instead—and some tips for when you should avoid disrupting a skin blemish altogether.

Shot of a young woman with hands that look like she is popping a pimple.

Katleho Seisa / Getty Images

Why You Should Avoid Popping Pimples

Hands down, the safest thing for your skin is "hands-off." The best way to deal with your pimple is to allow it to heal naturally. In other words, you should avoid popping or squeezing it.

If you do squeeze a pimple, you may be able to drain some pus from it. The problem is that the squeeze pushes the pimple both up and down. It's not just the pus that you're moving, either. The pimple's core holds a plug of dead skin cells and sebum, a natural kind of oil.

When you squeeze your pimple, you push this plug further into the affected skin pore. The pressure from the popping also may cause the wall of the pore to burst. This happens below the skin surface where you can't see it and means the infection can spread in the dermis layer of the skin.

That's why popping a pimple can cause more damage than just leaving it alone. The more the skin is damaged, the higher the chance you may develop acne scarring.

Recap

It's best to let a pimple heal by itself. That's because popping or squeezing a pimple won't just remove the pus you see. It also pushes it into the nearby skin. This spreads the infected matter and can cause more skin damage.

Solutions Without Popping

There are other ways to get a pimple to drain without popping. Before you start squeezing, take a look at some of the options.

Professional Extraction

The best thing you can do is see a skin specialist. A dermatologist or an esthetician can drain the pimple or blackhead. They're trained to know exactly how to treat a blemish without causing damage to the skin.

Extractions work especially well for blackheads. The pros can get rid of most of the existing blackheads on your skin in just a few visits.

Of course, it's not realistic to run to the skin doctor or salon every time a blemish appears. Both the cost and the time it takes are not likely to be practical.

Apply a Warm Compress

If you have a pustule with a large, obvious white head, you can try a warm compress. Soak a soft cloth in warm water and hold it over the pimple for several minutes. Rewarm the compress when it gets cold.

The warmth helps to make the pore loose and open. It softens the pimple head and allows it to drain naturally. Don't do this until the pustule head is at the very surface of the skin. If you do this before it's ready, a pimple that's not quite formed will just get inflamed, look larger, and be more obvious.

The warm compress method won't work on blackheads. This is because the core of a blackhead is more hard and sticky than the core of a pustule.

Spot Treatment

If you have a day or so to wait, over-the-counter spot treatments are another good option. Dab a small amount on the pimple and leave it alone. The spot treatment helps dry up the pimple.

Hydrocolloid acne patches may help too. They'll keep you from picking at the pimple as it heals.

You can get spot treatments in the skincare aisle of your local drug store. Products that contain benzoyl peroxide or sulfur tend to work best on white-head pustules.

Some people also have good results with products containing salicylic acid or tea tree oil. You may want to try a few brands in order to find the one that works best for your skin.

Recap

Besides popping, you can try other ways to remove a pimple. Warm compresses may work on a fully formed pimple with a white head, or pustule. Over-the-counter skin care products also can help.

Safer Steps to Pop a Pimple

Ideally, you'll be able to take care of your pimple without squeezing. Popping pimples should always be a last resort.

1:38

Click Play to Learn How to Pop a Pimple

This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD.

But, if you're going to pop a pimple, it's best to do it safely. Remember that when you squeeze a blemish, you can cause damage to your skin. These steps will at least reduce the chance of that happening.

This only works for pimples with large, obvious whiteheads. They need to be close to the skin surface.

  1. Wash your hands well with soap and water.
  2. Sanitize a needle or pin with rubbing alcohol.
  3. Gently prick only the very top of the whitehead with the tip of the needle. Do so on an angle that is parallel to the skin. Don't go so deep that you draw blood. If this hurts, either you're poking too deeply or the pimple isn't ready to treat yet.
  4. Wrap your fingers in tissue or cotton. Place your fingers on either side of the blemish.
  5. Gently pull away from the blemish. This motion is the opposite of squeezing. It will often work to drain the pimple without the risk of pushing any infected matter deeper into the skin. 
  6. Stop here if it works. There's no need to squeeze at all. Cleanse the area with soap or facial wash, and apply a bit of toner or astringent.

If you still have the whitehead:

  1. Grab two cotton swabs. Apply gentle pressure to the sides of the blemish. This is a better way to squeeze than using your fingers.
  2. Work the cotton swabs around the blemish. That way, you're not continually pushing from the same sides.
  3. Don't squeeze too hard or draw blood. You want just enough pressure to drain the whitehead.
  4. Once done, wash with cleanser. Apply toner or astringent. You can also use a tiny dab of antibacterial ointment on the pimple site.

Recap

Popping a pimple safely involves two main ideas. First, keep the site clean and sterile. Then, use only gentle pressure. Don't force it. If the pimple doesn't drain easily, then it's not ready. Leave it alone and try a spot treatment overnight.

Never Pop a Deep Inflamed Blemish

You can sometimes gently "pop" a whitehead. But there are certain types of pimples you should never try to pop. Don't do so if you see:

  • Any red pimple without a white head
  • Big, inflamed, deep blemishes. These may be nodular breakouts and cysts that should not be squeezed. The core is too deep in the skin, so it's best to simply let them heal on their own. A spot treatment or acne medication might help to get them on their way.
  • A large and very painful blemish may not be a pimple. It may be a boil instead.

How to Extract a Blackhead Safely

It's generally safer to extract a blackhead than an inflamed pimple. There is less risk of infection and scarring. Still, you'll need to treat your skin gently.

You may want to try removing a blackhead right after your shower or bath. The steam and warmth will relax the pore openings. This loosens and softens the blackhead plugs. It makes them easier to coax from the pore.

  1. Wash your hands with soap.
  2. Wrap your fingers in cotton or tissue.
  3. Place gentle pressure on either side of the blackhead. Try to get below the blackhead and push up carefully.
  4. Instead of steady pressure, massage the plug or use a rocking motion to help loosen it. Do this until the core is completely removed. Remember, don't press so hard that you draw blood or leave finger marks on your skin.
  5. Use a toner or astringent on all the areas that you've extracted.

Comedone Extractors

Comedone extractors are small metal tools estheticians use to remove blackheads. They can be an option. However, they also can do more harm than good in unskilled hands. It's easy to apply too much pressure and bruise your skin.

If you do use a comedone extractor, make sure you sanitize it first with rubbing alcohol. Put the loop of the tool around the blackhead, with the blackhead in the middle. Apply gentle pressure straight down, and don't dig into the skin. If you leave red marks on the skin, you're pushing too hard.

Recap

Some blemishes, like a red or inflamed one, should be left alone. Blackheads, though, may be easier to remove. You can do so by hand or, if you can use one safely, try the comedone extractor. Blackheads can be stubborn. If you can't extract them, leave them alone for another day.

Summary

The safest way to pop a pimple is not to do it. There are times that it's likely you'll want to, though. So the next-best way is to use a proper technique so that you won't damage the skin or spread infection.

The technique you'll need is going to depend on what kind of pimple you have and what stage it's in. Whether for a whitehead or blackhead, the steps presented here offer you the best chance to "pop" your pimple in a clean, safe way.

If you think you need more help, don't hesitate to see a dermatologist or other skin care professional. That's all the more true if you think you have inflammatory acne or another skin condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens if you don't pop a pimple?

    A pimple will usually heal on its own within about five to seven days. As a pimple forms, white blood cells try to fight the infection. The white blood cells die and combine with dead skin cells to form pustules. Once the infection heals, the pimple starts to go away.

  • What should you do after popping a pimple?

    If you've already popped a pimple, don't try to squeeze any more out of it. To help it heal, wash it with a gentle cleanser, and try using a spot treatment with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. To help reduce any swelling, you might try using a cold compress with a cloth wrapped around an ice pack.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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