How to Pop a Pimple: Safety, Side Effects, and Other Solutions

Tips on how to pop a pimple aren't hard to come by. While there are some methods that are better than others, taking a "hands-off" approach is the safest thing for your skin.

Of course, there are times when the temptation to pop a zit may be too great, or a pimple may cause such discomfort that you want it drained. Taking steps to prevent skin damage and infections are important if you decide to go this route. You may even need a professional's help.

This article goes over how to pop a pimple in the safest way possible, as well as other ways to deal with zits and prevent breakouts. 

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

If you squeeze a pimple, you might drain some pus out of it. The problem is that the squeezing pushes the pimple both up and down. It's not just the pus that you're moving, you’re also moving the core. 

A pimple's core holds a plug of dead skin cells and sebum, a natural skin oil. When you squeeze, you push the plug deeper into the pore.

The pressure from popping a pimple can cause the wall of the pore to burst. This happens below the skin surface where you can't see it. The infection can then spread in the dermis layer of the skin.

The more the skin is damaged, the worse your skin may get and the higher the chance you’ll develop acne scarring.

Draining a Pimple Without Popping It

Before you start squeezing, take a look at some of the alternatives to popping a pimple. 

Professional Extraction

A skin specialist like a dermatologist or an esthetician can drain a pimple. They're trained to know exactly how to treat a blemish without causing damage to the skin.

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

That said, going to a provider’s office or salon every time a blemish appears is impractical and costly. You might consider this if a pimple is especially large or uncomfortable, or if you want to clear your skin up as quickly as possible because of an upcoming special event.

Apply a Warm Compress

If you have a pustule with a large, obvious white head at the surface of the skin, try putting a warm compress on it.

Soak a soft washcloth in warm water and hold it over the pimple for several minutes. Rewarm the compress when it gets cold and re-apply.

The warmth helps open and loosen the pore, as well as soften the pimple head so it can drain naturally.

This method will not work on:

  • Pimples that don't yet have a head: Applying a compress will just cause more inflammation and make the blemish more obvious.
  • Blackheads: The core of a blackhead is hard and sticky, not soft like the inside of a pustule. Warmth isn't enough to loosen it.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

If you have a day or so to wait for your skin to improve, you can use an over-the-counter (OTC) acne spot treatment. Dab a small amount on the pimple and leave it alone to dry up. 

Products that contain benzoyl peroxide or sulfur tend to work best on whitehead pustules.
Some people also have good results with products containing salicylic acid or tea tree oil. You may want to try a few brands to find the one that works best for your skin.

Hydrocolloid acne patches are another pimple secret. They help draw material out of the pimple. And since they cover the blemish, they also help keep you from picking at your skin while it heals.

If you want to use makeup to cover a pimple, make sure to choose cosmetics that are noncomedogenic (i.e., that won’t clog your pores). Some brands even carry products that contain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid.

Natural Remedies for Pimples

Some use baking soda, honey, hydrogen peroxide, and other natural remedies to treat pimples. Speak to a dermatologist before trying these or other such treatments.

How to Extract a Whitehead

Popping pimples should always be a last resort. If you're going to pop a pimple, do it safely. Remember that when you squeeze a whitehead, you can damage your skin.


Click Play to Learn How to Pop a Pimple

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

By following these steps, you may do less damage to your skin. This method only works for pimples with large, obvious whiteheads that are 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 the very top of the whitehead with the tip of the needle. Do it at an angle that is parallel to the skin. Do not go so deep that you draw blood. If it hurts, you’re poking too deeply or the pimple is not ready to be treated.
  4. Wrap your fingers in tissue or cotton. Place your fingers on either side of the blemish.
  5. Gently pull away from the blemish (the opposite of squeezing). This will often drain the pimple without the risk of pushing any infected matter deeper into the skin. 
  6. If it works, stop here without squeezing. Cleanse the area with soap or facial wash, and apply a bit of toner or astringent.

If you still have the whitehead, continue with these steps:

  1. Grab two cotton swabs to use instead of your fingers. Use the swabs to apply gentle pressure to the sides of the pimple.
  2. Work the cotton swabs around the pimple. Avoid continually pushing from the same sides.
  3. Do not squeeze too hard or draw blood. You want just enough pressure to drain the whitehead.
  4. Once you’re done, wash your face with cleanser, and apply toner or astringent. You can also use a tiny dab of antibacterial ointment on the pimple.

How to Extract a Blackhead Safely

It's safer to extract a blackhead than an inflamed pimple. While there’s less risk of infection and scarring, you still need to treat your skin gently.

You may want to try removing a blackhead right after a shower or bath. The steam and warmth from the shower will relax the pore openings, as well as loosen and soften the blackhead plugs. This will make it easier to coax them 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. Do not press so hard that you draw blood or leave finger marks on your skin.
  5. When you’re done, use a toner or astringent on all the areas that you've extracted.

Using Comedone Extractors

A comedone extractor is a small metal tool that estheticians use to remove blackheads

While you can get one online or at the drugstore, it can hurt your skin if you don't use it properly. It's easy to apply too much pressure and bruise your skin.

If you do use an extractor for comedones, follow these steps:

  • First, sanitize the tool with rubbing alcohol. 
  • Then, put the loop of the tool around the blackhead, with the blackhead in the middle. 
  • Apply gentle pressure straight down. Don't dig into the skin. If you leave red marks on the skin, you're pushing too hard.

Pimples You Should Never Pop

There are some types of pimples that you should never try to pop, including:

  • Any red pimple without a white head: These pimples are not yet close enough to the surface of the skin to be drained. 
  • Big, inflamed, deep blemishes: These could be nodular breakouts and cysts. You should never squeeze this type of acne because the core of the pimple is too deep in the skin. It’s best to let them heal on their own. A spot treatment or acne medication might help.
  • A large and very painful blemish: You might think these are just big pimples, but they could actually be boils. See a dermatologist.


It's best to leave pimples alone to heal. Attempting to pop one can worsen your skin and prolong your breakout.

If you are going to go ahead and pop a pimple, take steps to minimize the risk of skin damage and a worsened infection.

The technique you'll want to use to pop a pimple will depend on what kind of pimple you have and what stage it's in. Whiteheads and blackheads can be manageable, but you should never try to pop inflamed, cystic acne. 

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.

  • When should you not pop a pimple?

    The general recommendation is that you should never pop a pimple. However, few people follow this. In general, you can gently pop a whitehead pimple once, but don’t try to draw more out again later. Doing so can lead to scarring. 

    You should never pop a pimple that does not have a whitehead or is deep under the skin. Deep inflamed acne can be due to nodular breakouts or cysts and should not be squeezed. The core of the pimple is too deep under the skin to pop without causing trauma to the surrounding tissue. 

  • 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.

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.
  1. Over-the-counter acne products: What works and why. Mayo Clinic. 2018.

  2. Skin care for acne-prone skin. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 2016.

  3. Acne: Overview. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 2016.

  4. Tsukayama A, Yoshinaga A. Studying the efficacy of a new radical treatment for acne vulgaris using a surgical technique. J Dermatolog Treat. 2019:1-7.  doi:10.1080/09546634.2019.1577948

  5. Rathi SK. Acne vulgaris treatment:the current scenario. Indian J Dermatol. 2011;56(1):7-13.  doi:10.4103/0019-5154.77543

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.