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There’s one piece of advice that nearly everyone hears during their teenage years: don’t pop your pimples. But do you actually know what the consequences might be for picking at that blemish?
Here are a few startling things that can happen if you don’t resist the urge to pop your pimples.
First of all, here’s what a pimple actually is.
In most cases, a pimple crops up when a pore becomes blocked with excess oil and dead skin cells, both of which feed the growth of bacteria and cause a small infection in the pore.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there are actually a few different kinds of pimples. One common type is called a pustule. This is the kind with a red or pink inflamed border and a yellow or white center. As the name implies, pustules contain pus. This is the substance that comes out when you pop a pimple.
Other types of pimples include blackheads, whiteheads, papules, nodules, and cysts. Blackheads are actually open at the top and are generally not inflamed. Papules are closed and can be hard and red, while nodules and cysts lie deep beneath the skin and are often painful.
It’s rare, but popping a pimple might actually kill you.
Though it sounds too weird to be real, dermatologists advise patients to never pop a pimple in the so-called “danger triangle.” This is the area that extends from the corners of your mouth to the bridge of your nose.
Why is prodding a blemish in this area so risky? According to Healthline, the blood vessels in this particular zone are actually connected to areas of the skull where infections can spread quickly and become serious.
“If there were a serious skin infection in this area that went untreated, and then subsequently tracked back to the brain, it could theoretically prove fatal,” Jeremy Brauer, MD, clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, told Men’s Health.
Though dermatologists believe that the likelihood of a lethal infection arising from a popped pimple is pretty slim, there’s no harm in trying extra hard to avoid any self-surgery in the “danger triangle.”
You’re probably not getting all the pus out.
Squeezing a pimple might result in a satisfying release of its contents, but dermatologists caution that you’re likely leaving some of the gross stuff behind.
According to Verywell Health, putting pressure on a pimple inadvertently forces debris from the pore deeper into the follicle. Even worse, this sometimes causes the follicle to rupture and spill infected pus into the lower level of your skin.
This means that even if you see material emerging from the top of your pimple and the pore looks clear, you may have trapped infected goo deep within your skin.
You might create new pimples.
In what sounds like the plot of the scariest horror movie ever, dermatologists say that popping one pimple might actually lead you to develop more.
“The bacteria, oil, and debris that are being contained by the acne papule, pustule or cyst once released, can spread and lead to more acne,” dermatologist Sejal Shah told Allure.
Plus, popping pimples usually involves a fair amount of face-touching. Unless you’ve thoroughly scrubbed and sanitized your fingers before hunting down that zit, you might be spreading bacteria and grime to clean pores in the process.
Trying to pop a pimple might make it worse.
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If you’re a veteran pimple-popper, you know that going in with the best intentions doesn’t always guarantee optimal results.
According to Teens Health, trying to pop a pimple by squeezing or applying pressure might just push pus deeper into your skin. This could prolong the time it takes for a pimple to heal and even make the blemish look more noticeable.
Continually pressing, scratching, and squeezing your skin can also irritate surrounding skin, making the entire area look more inflamed and unsightly that before.
You could end up with permanent scarring.
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This is probably the number one reason people cite when they explain why you shouldn’t pop pimples.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, picking at pimples can cause long-lasting scarring to occur. Though some scarring may fade after months or years, special treatments such as laser surgery are occasionally needed to completely rid skin of scarring.
When you’re dealing with a pimple, patience is key. Leaving a blemish alone means you’re less likely to be left with a permanent souvenir from your breakout.
Your skin might develop pitting.
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Popping pimples can have long-term effects on your complexion, including depressed scars known as “pits.”
“Every time your skin is damaged there’s a possibility that, as the skin heals, tissue will be lost. That’s how you get depressed or pitted acne scars. The greater the damage done to the skin, the greater the chance of tissue loss,” esthetician Angela Palmer told Verywell Health.
Pitted skin can be hard to disguise with makeup or skin products, so it’s best to avoid this outcome if you can.
You could also cause permanent dark marks to form on your skin.
- Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDER
In addition to light-colored scarring on the skin, popping your pimple might lead to something called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, this is when a dark patch develops on the sight of healed blemish. This process seems to affect darker skinned people more frequently and with greater severity, but it can happen to anyone. Lighter skinned people sometimes find that red patches develop rather than darker spots.
Unfortunately, this hyperpigmentation can take months or years to fade and refraining from popping your blemishes doesn’t always prevent it. However, it is less likely to happen if you don’t mess with your pimples and let them heal on their own.
The pimple might continue to look red and inflamed.
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If you’re trying to make a blemish look less noticeable by poking and prodding it, you’re unlikely to succeed. All that pressure and squeezing increases inflammation and irritation at the site of a pimple and could cause it to appear puffy and raised even if you do extract its contents.
Dermatologist Allison Arthur previous told INSIDER that applying some over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream might help tone down inflammation. You can also add a bit of Vaseline to prevent the popped pimple from scabbing.
You’re literally tearing your skin open and interfering with the healing process.
You wouldn’t scratch at an open wound or pick at stitches from surgery, would you? Popping a pimple is actually pretty similar.
“If you think of pimples as areas of skin where your body is trying to heal itself, it should deter the urge to pick,” consulting dermatologist and celebrity skin expert Erin Gilbert told Allure.
Give your body a chance to patch itself up and don’t try to help it along by creating an additional wound in your skin.
It’s actually probably OK to try and extract a blackhead on your own.
If you’re absolutely determined to rid yourself of pimples at home, there is one kind of pimple that you’re probably fine to tackle solo.
Dermatologist Doris Day told Self that gently squeezing a blackhead to extract its contents is generally fine because this type of pimple is already open to the surface. This means you don’t have to break the skin yourself in order to get at the contents of the pore.
Using a blackhead or comedone extractor – a small tool that looks a bit like a hook on a stick – is the best way to gently push the contents of a blackhead to the surface of your skin.
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