Having hardened material coming out of your skin after popping a pimple can be alarming. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, we’ll discuss the different types of hard pimples, the causes of a hard pimple core, and what you can do to tackle these forms of acne.
Table of Contents
What Causes a Hard Pimple to Form
In general, acne forms when the pores become clogged with debris, including dead skin cells and excess sebum. This clog can be caused by a multitude of factors, including hormonal fluctuations, diet, genetics, medications, and lifestyle factors.
Hard pimples develop underneath the surface of the skin, and are considered inflammatory acne by the dermatology community. Hard pimples develop when impurities get trapped in the pores and harden. Sometimes these hard pimples types of pimples can be filled with pus. They can also be swollen (which can contribute to the hard feeling of the blemish), red, and painful.
Common types of inflammatory hard pimples include pustules, nodules, and cysts. Papules are also a form of hard inflammatory acne, but unlike the other forms, these blemishes form on the skin’s surface.
What is the Hard Stuff Inside of a Pimple
More often than not, when you pop a pimple, liquidy white or yellow gunk (made up of oil, dead skin cells, and other debris) will come out of the skin. However, if you’ve noticed harder material coming out of a pimple after popping it, it may just be that this same material has solidified within the pore.
Typically, you won’t be able to successfully pop nodules or cysts, since they are deeper under the skin (and it’s very likely you’ll end up harming the healing process by attempting to pop them – we’ll talk more about why below). However, there are different forms of acne that may expel this hardened material when you pop them.
Comedones are smaller bumps that form at the surface of the skin (unlike the other deeper forms of acne mentioned above), near the pore opening. This is a form of non-inflammatory acne. There are two categories of comedones: open comedones (also known as blackheads) and closed comedones (also known as whiteheads).
Blackheads With a Hard Core (Open Comedones)
Open comedones have an opening at the surface. When the debris is exposed to oxygen, it can become gray or black in color – hence the name. When you pop a blackhead, the gunk inside may be somewhat hardened.
Whiteheads With a Hard Core (Closed Comedones)
Unlike blackheads, whiteheads are closed at the surface. Since the material inside the pore isn’t exposed to air, the tip of the bump maintains a lighter colored appearance. Just like with blackheads, when popped, the gunk inside may be somewhat hardened.
Pimples With Hard White Pus
If you have a pimple with hardened white pus, it is likely either a pustule or a papule (both of which are forms of inflammatory acne). Pustules are further underneath the skin, and are filled with pus. Papules, on the other hand, are closer to the surface of the skin, and don’t actually contain pus. Papules can develop into pustules.
Both of these forms of acne may be tempting to pop (especially pustules, which will have a yellow or white tip). However, it’s best to let them run their course and resolve without intervention.
What is the Difference Between Hard vs. Soft Pus in a Pimple?
Pus is different from the hardened material you may have popped out of a pimple. Your immune system produces pus as a response to inflammation in the skin (which can sometimes be caused by a pore diet). Some forms of acne contain pus, whereas others don’t. Pus will only appear in some forms of inflammatory acne – you won’t find it in whiteheads or blackheads. The types of pimples that contain pus include pustules, cysts, and nodules. If a pimple contains pus it is much more likely to scar (at least in the short term).
Despite the fact that these pimples may have liquidy or “soft” pus, they can still feel hard to the touch. This is due to inflammation and swelling. As good as it can feel to “pop” you should usually let the acne calm down on its own.
Best Way to Treat a Hard Pimple
Treating hard pimples depends on the specific type of acne you’re dealing with, as well as the severity. Papules, pustules, and other milder forms of hard acne typically can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription-based topical treatments. This can include formulas made with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinol and azelaic acid. You’ll want to continue using your treatment(s) to not only treat current breakouts, but also to reduce your risk of experiencing future breakouts.
More severe forms of acne – such as cysts and nodules – typically require treatment under the care of a dermatologist, especially when they are persistent. Depending on your specific situation, they may prescribe topical products to manage these breakouts, as well as oral treatments, such as isotretinoin, oral contraceptives, or antibiotics.
When Should You Be Concerned About What is Inside a Pimple?
If you’re dealing with persistent hard pimples, it’s best to meet with a dermatologist who can establish a treatment plan and determine whether they are a sign of a more serious underlying condition. This is especially true if you’re dealing with discomfort from these blemishes, including redness, pain, and general inflammation.
Best Ways to Treat and Prevent Pimples Long Term
The best way to prevent pimples and chronic acne in the longterm is to develop an acne-friendly diet and skincare routine. First and foremost, you need a cleanser that will clear away pore-clogging debris from the skin, as well as a moisturizer that will keep moisture levels balanced for optimal skin health.
Once you determine a skincare routine that works for your skin type and lifestyle, you can look into adding treatments to your routine that will help treat and prevent acne. Some of the most effective ingredients for acne-prone skin include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, and retinol. Always introduce one new product at a time into your routine, and monitor for at least a week to see how your skin reacts (keep in mind that it will likely be at least a month before you see a change, and around three months to see the full results).
Acne is multifactorial, and often a skincare routine alone won’t eradicate all blemishes. Diet plays a role in acne, so eating skin-friendly food (and cutting out foods that may be triggering breakouts) can be beneficial. Limiting your alcohol intake may also play a role in your skin’s health.
As mentioned, you should also meet with a dermatologist if your acne (inflammatory or not) is persistent and isn’t responding to the products you’re using and the lifestyle steps you’ve taken. A medical professional can help get to the root cause, and may prescribe treatments (oral and/or topical) that will help you get your breakouts in check.
How to Properly Pop a Pimple
Popping pimples typically isn’t advised, especially in the case of hard pimples and deeper, inflammatory forms of acne – and even more so in the cases of pimples that are filled with pus. Attempting to pop these pimples (which typically won’t be successful anyway) can make inflammation even worse, and can increase your risk of scarring and pushing the debris deeper into the pores. You may also spread bacteria and pore-clogging debris and trigger other breakouts, and can increase your risk of infection.
If you do decide to pop a pimple, you should only do so on non-inflamed pimples (comedones) that have come to the surface (but again, it is best to just let them run their course). Ensure your skin is clean before getting started, and do the extraction with a comedone extractor (ideally have a licensed medical professional do this). If you use your fingers, you’re more likely to damage the skin and spread bacteria. That said, you can still cause harm with an extractor, so be sure to go in with a gentler touch. If the pimple isn’t budging with a low amount of pressure, just let it be – going in harder will cause damage. After popping the pimple, you should clear away the debris and then apply an antibiotic ointment.
If you find hardened material coming out of a pimple, it’s likely just solidified dead skin cells, sebum, and debris. All of this material can clog pores and lead to acne, and may become more solid when it is trapped in the pore.
If you pop a pimple and blood comes out, the first thing to do is clean the area with a gentle cleanser. Since you’re dealing with an open wound, it’s important to apply an antibiotic ointment like neosporin. This will speed up healing process, and decrease the chances of a bacterial infection. You should ensure you avoid touching the spot with your hands as it heals. If you’d like, you can cover it with a hydrocolloid bandage to ensure bacteria doesn’t spread from your hands to the wound. As it is healing, avoid applying any more aggressive topical treatments, such as exfoliants and retinoids. You also won’t want to apply makeup to the spot during this time. You can, however, continue to apply a moisturizer, which will support the skin’s overall health and help with the healing process.
Generally speaking you should try to avoid popping pimples, since doing so greatly increases the chances of infection or scarring. Instead, you can use a spot treatment on active pimples to help with the healing process. You can also use a cold compress on inflamed acne to calm swelling and redness and reduce discomfort.