How to Safely Pop a Pimple and Extract a Blackhead

Before You Squeeze, Consider the Possible Consequences

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Everyone tells you not to pop pimples. But who among us hasn't resorted to squeezing a blemish every now and again? No one wants to walk around with a big whitehead (or, worse yet, a blackhead) on their face. What can you do if you have a blemish that's just begging to be taken care of?

Is Popping a Pimple Ever Okay?

The absolute safest thing for your skin is to keep a hands-off approach.

Allow the pimple to heal naturally and try to avoid squeezing it.

When you squeeze a pimple — even though you may get some pus to drain — you may be forcing that infected material deeper into the pore. The pressure can also cause the wall of the pore to burst underneath the surface of your skin. 

This gunk then spreads to other pores and can cause a new pimple to form. You also increase your chances that the pimple will leave a permanent scar.

That said, it's tough to sport a huge whitehead at work or school. In this case, you may be able to gently express the pus and allow the pimple to drain.

Before Popping Try These Tricks

Popping isn't the only way to get that pimple to drain. Before you resort to popping, try these tricks first.

Have a professional drain it for you. The best thing you can do is have a dermatologist or an esthetician drain the pimple or blackhead. The pros know how to carefully extract those blemishes without causing damage to the skin.

Extractions work especially well for blackheads. Your therapist can get rid of most of the blackheads on your skin in just one or two visits.

Of course, we don't always have the time (or the money) to run to the salon every time a blemish appears. So, if you can't have the pros do it, read on.

Try a warm compress. If you have a pustule with a large, obvious white head, you can try to get it to drain with 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.

This warmth helps to soften the head and allows the pimple to drain naturally. Make sure, though, that the pustule is "ready," with a large white head at the surface of the skin. If you do this with a pimple before the white head has formed, you can actually make the blemish look larger and become more inflamed.  

This method won't work on blackheads.

Spot treat it. If you have a day or so to wait, spot treatments are another good way to dry up that whitehead. Dab a small amount on the pimple and leave it alone. Quite often, the spot treatment will dry up the pimple overnight.

You can get spot treatments over the counter in the skin care aisle of your local drug store. Products that contain benzoyl peroxide or sulfur tend to work best on pustules. Some people also have good results with products containing salicylic acid or tea tree oil. You may want to experiment with a few different brands to find the one that works best for your skin.

If You Must, Here's How to Safely Pop a Pimple

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

If you feel like you must pop that whitehead, though, it's best that you do it safely. Remember, whenever you squeeze a blemish there is no guarantee that you won't damage your skin. These steps will at least reduce that chance.

This only works for blemishes with large, obvious white heads that are close to the surface of the skin. 

  1. Wash your hands well with soap and water.
  2. Sanitize a needle or pin with rubbing alcohol.
  3. Coming in at an angle parallel to the skin, gently prick the top of the whitehead with the tip of the needle. Don't go so deep that you draw blood. You just want to pierce the very surface of the whitehead.
  1. Wrap your fingers in tissue or cotton. Place your fingers on either side of the blemish. Instead of squeezing, though, gently pull away from the blemish. This often drains the pimple without you having to squeeze at all. It reduces the chance of pushing infected material deeper into the skin. 

If that works, you can stop here! See, there was no need to squeeze at all.

Do you still have the whitehead? Grab two cotton swabs and apply gentle pressure to the sides of the blemish. This is a gentler method than using your fingers.

Don't squeeze to the point of drawing blood — just enough to drain the whitehead. Apply a tiny dab of antibacterial ointment to the pimple.

If the pimple doesn't drain easily, then it's not ready. Don't force it and it's best to leave it alone. Try an overnight spot treatment in the interim. 

Never, Ever Try to Pop a Deep, Inflamed Blemish

While you can sometimes gently extract a whitehead, there are certain types of pimples you should never try to pop. 

Any red pimple without a white head (called papules) should not be squeezed. Those big, inflamed, deep blemishes (nodular breakouts and cysts) should never be squeezed, either. 

Is your blemish especially large and very painful? You'll want to leave this blemish alone, too. It may not be a pimple at all, but may actually be a boil

How to Safely Extract a Blackhead

It's generally safer to extract a blackhead than an inflamed pimple because there's less risk of infection and scarring. Still, this isn't a license to start digging away at your skin. You'll still need to treat your skin gently. 

  1. Wash your hands with soap.
  2. Wrap your fingers in cotton or tissue. Place gentle pressure on either side of the blackhead. Try to get down underneath the blackhead and push up carefully.
  3. Instead of steady pressure, use more of rocking or massaging motion to help loosen the plug. Continue this until the core is completely extracted. Remember, don't apply so much pressure that you draw blood!
  4. Use a toner or astringent on all the areas that you've extracted.

Comedo extractors are small metal tools estheticians use to remove blackheads and they are another option. However, these can do more harm than good in unskilled hands. You can easily apply too much pressure and bruise your skin.

If you do use a comedo extractor, make sure you sanitize it first with rubbing alcohol. Position the loop of the extractor around the blackhead. Put gentle pressure straight down; don't use the extractor to dig at the blackhead. If you're leaving red marks on the skin, you're pushing too hard.

Some blackheads are stubborn and don't want to leave the pore. If you can't extract them, leave them alone for another day.

Got a Lot of Blemishes?

Extracting individual blemishes on occasion isn't a big deal. But if you have many breakouts, the best option is to stop them before they even appear. For that, you'll need an acne treatment that you'll use every day.

Over-the-counter (OTC) acne products can be helpful for blackheads and mild acne. If OTC treatments aren't doing the trick, there are plenty of prescription acne medications that will work on both inflammatory acne and blackheads. 

If you need help getting your blemishes under control, make an appointment with a dermatologist.