The Dermatologist-Approved Way to Pop a Pimple at Home

Updated: Nov. 30, 2019

Most of the time, you'll want to leave those bad boys alone, but if you must play dermatologist, this step-by-step guide will help you avoid enlarging, infecting, or scarring your blemish.

There is nothing more distracting than a giant zit. Whenever a glaring red spot shows up on our face, we often can’t stop ourselves from compulsively staring at it, touching it, and trying to cover it. Immediately after the emergence of a new pimple, the mission is often clear: Banish that sucker immediately.

And yet we all know better than to pick at a zit that isn’t “ready” for termination. Dermatologists warn that if we get overzealous, we risk causing cuts, infections, and scars. It’s also important to note th not all pimples are actually poppable. “You should not attempt to pop or pick at red, angry cystic acne breakouts,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City. “These painful cysts and nodules should be treated by your dermatologist if they’re not improving in a day or two.”

Timing is everything

The most critical (and sometimes most excruciating) thing to remember: Do not try to pop your pimple before it is ready to be cleared. By poking and prodding at a zit before a firm, white head is visible, you’ll further irritate and damage the surrounding skin. Though your pimple may seem huge at the start, it’s only going to magnify and become more obvious if you act too early.

The time to remove your pimple is when you see a clear, white head emerging from the top. This means that the pus is now at the surface of your skin and ready to be drained.

How to pop your pimple safely

If you’ve determined that you’ve waited till the right moment, here’s a step-by-step guide to safe squeezing:

1. Thoroughly wash your hands to eliminate bacteria and avoid contaminating the open wound. Once your hands are completely clean, dry them using a fresh towel. Dr. Zeichner notes that you should also trim and clean under your nails. “Not only can dirt under your nails cause infections, but the trauma from your nails can damage the outer skin layer,” he says.

2. It’s important to also clean the zit. Use a cotton swab to apply rubbing alcohol onto the pimple. This will disinfect, soothe, and prepare the little monster for extraction.

3. Take a fresh cotton swab or Q-tip in each hand and get ready for the extraction. Do not try to squeeze it with your fingernails, as this is an easy way to cut yourself. Using the cotton swabs, press down on opposite sides of (not directly on) the white head. You may feel a moment of slightly piercing pain, then the pus should easily come out. If it’s not quickly excreted, the pimple isn’t ready to be removed, so don’t try to force it. Instead, give the pimple more time and resist the urge to tinker.

4. If pus does come out, you’re almost free and finished. Clean away any discharge with a new tissue, and apply more alcohol to the deflated zit. This may sting, but it will help prevent infection. Dr. Zeichner also suggests applying an antibiotic ointment over the area since popping a pimple effectively creates an open wound.

Congrats, you know how to properly pop a pimple! And check out these surprising home remedies for acne, so you’re always armed and ready to target those spots.