Is Popping Pimples Bad for Your Skin?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

We've been warned by our dermatologists, estheticians, and even our mothers—do not pop pimples. But is popping a pimple really all that bad for the skin, and are there ways to safely do so?

This article answers that question upfront and lists several of the concerns related to pimple-popping. It also offers tips on ways to care for acne so that you are not faced with skin damage or scarring.

should you pop pimples?
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Popping Pimples and Inflammation

Yes, popping pimples really is as bad for our skin as the experts (and your mother) say it is. A pimple occurs when excess sebum (oil), dead skin cells, and bacteria become trapped in a pore. This leads to the development of red, tender bumps with white pus at their tips.

While your instinct may be to squeeze a pimple, consider what is happening under the skin.

When you have a pimple, the pore is already swollen and under a lot of pressure. When you squeeze it, you can force the debris from the pore deeper into the follicle (the structure that anchors each strand of hair to the skin). That can cause the follicle wall to rupture, spilling the infected material (including pus) into the lower layer of skin, called the dermis.

This can result in even more inflammation than before, with increased redness, swelling, and heat in the surrounding skin. The break in the structure of the skin can also promote infection which can, in turn, lead to the formation of an even larger pimple and/or a new pimple right next to the one you just popped.

Popping Pimples and Blemishes

Have you ever popped a pimple thinking you "got" it, only to have it come back a few hours later bigger and "angrier" than before? You're not imagining things. The damage you're seeing isn't just happening below the surface of the skin but on the surface as well.

This is especially true if the pimple forms well beneath the surface of the skin. Popping a papule (a pimple without a white head) forces the skin to literally break open to release the pus. This leads to the formation of a scab and the darkening of the surrounding skin.

Doing so frequently can lead to the formation of acne nodules (hardened acne lesions in deeper tissues) or acne cysts (deep, pus-filled lesions that look similar to boils).

Popping Pimples and Scarring

Popping pimples can cause more than a swollen spot or a scab; it is a surefire way to increase your chances of developing acne scars.

Every time your skin is damaged, there's a possibility that tissue will be lost in the course of the healing process. That is how you get depressed or pitted acne scars. The greater the damage, the greater the chance of tissue loss.

Even if depressed scars don't develop, dark marks—called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—can. This occurs when severe inflammation damages cells known as keratinocytes, causing them to release large amounts of a pigment called melanin.

If the damage is minimal, the darkening of the skin will often reverse. But, if the damage is severe or ongoing, the discoloration may lighten but not entirely disappear without treatment.

Safer Ways to Care for Pimples

Picking at pimples can spread infection and worsen your acne. Clearly, a "hands-off" policy is the best choice when it comes to caring for acne-prone skin.

With that said, it's natural to want to get rid of pimples and get rid of them fast. Fortunately, there are safer ways to do so.

Acne Spot Treatments

Instead of popping a pimple, try over-the-counter (OTC) acne spot treatments. These products are dabbed on existing pimples to help them dry and heal. These include products containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur.

There is also a product called Differin made with a medication known as adapalene. It is currently the only topical retinoid acne treatment available over the counter.

These OTC remedies work best for relatively minor pimples. If you have a really big pimple that won't go away, you may need to see a dermatologist. Spot treatments are unlikely to be of much help with more severe blemishes.

Safer Blemish Extractions

We all have at one point or another popped a pimple even we knew we shouldn't. Occasionally squeezing a blemish, while not great for your skin, is normal and understandable.

But, when squeezing pimples becomes a compulsion, you may have a condition known as acne excoriée (or excoriated acne). People with excoriated acne pick at their pimples, real or imagined, to the point of seriously damaging their skin. You can learn to stop this behavior, but you will likely need the help of a professional, particularly if acne is causing ongoing anxiety or depression.

If you can't avoid popping a pimple, you should at the very least learn how to do so safely by speaking with a dermatologist. You may also want to consider booking an appointment with a dermatologist or esthetician experienced in professional pimple extraction.

Among some of the things you should never do when popping pimples:

  • Never use your fingernails or another hard object to squeeze a pimple.
  • Never force a pimple to pop.
  • Never pop a pimple that doesn't have a white or yellow "head."

Recap

Instead of popping a pimple, try using an over-the-counter acne treatment containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, or adapalene. If you can't resist popping a pimple, ask your dermatologist to show you how, or book an appointment for a professional pimple extraction.

Summary

Popping a pimple is something you should make every effort to avoid. Doing so can cause a hair follicle to rupture, forcing the contents of the pimple into deeper tissues. This can lead to skin inflammation, scarring, discoloration, and the formation of new pimples in nearby areas. In some cases, the damage caused to the skin may be permanent.

Instead of popping pimples, try over-the-counter acne medications or seek professional pimple extraction by a dermatologist or esthetician. If you can't resist popping a pimple, ask your dermatologist how to do so. Severe acne often requires treatment by a doctor.

A Word From Verywell

If you are prone to severe acne, the best thing you can do is use acne medication every day.

Over-the-counter acne products can help treat minor breakouts, but, if they don't work after two or three months, see a dermatologist. They can offer many prescription acne treatments or procedures that can help clear pimples and improve the overall quality of your skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a zit?

    The slang term "zit" is another way to describe a pimple. Zits usually form on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders.

  • How do pimples form?

    Pimples start to form when pores on your skin are blocked by a combination of sebum (naturally-produced oil that moisturizes the skin) and dead skin cells. Bacteria within the pores can cause inflammation and the development of pus.

  • How do I stop popping pimples?

    One way to stop is by visiting a dermatologist. Dermatologists can offer treatments that help clear pimples without causing undue damage to the skin. They can also offer education to help you understand how to safely treat or prevent pimples. This, in turn, can reduce the anxiety that can lead to pimple popping.

Was this page helpful?
4 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. Well D. Acne vulgaris: A review of causes and treatment options. Nurse Pract. 2013;38(10):22-31. doi:10.1097/01.NPR.0000434089.88606.70

  2. Davis EC, Callender VD. Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of color. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010 Jul;3(7):20–31.

  3. Grant JE, Brian OL. Excoriating (Skin-Picking) Disorder. In: Phillips KA, Stein DJ, editors. Handbook on Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

  4. MedlinePlus. Acne.

Additional Reading
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)."Questions and Answers About Acne."

  • Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris."Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016 May;74(5):945-73.