Is It Ever Safe to Pop Whiteheads & Pimples?

One of the most common skincare questions! Pimples are a skincare issue most people face, and popping them often seems the quickest route to getting a clearer complexion. Here we will discuss the techniques, risks and alternatives to popping your pimples!

Risks when popping pimples

There are multiple risks when popping a pimple – it’s really easy to push the infection deeper into the skin, leave an open wound (which lets more bacteria under the skin!) or cause scarring. It’s especially important to know the type of acne you are dealing with – some types will respond well to being popped (with the correct technique) whereas some will just become angrier. These angrier spots need to be identified and left well alone!

Types of acne

In total there are 8 types of acne, which can make deciding whether to pop, or not to pop more difficult. Using the link above, and the following information you will be able to make a more informed decision. 

  1. Whiteheads: Aka closed comedones, which occur when a pore becomes clogged and the top of it is closed. There is a small amount of gunk inside the pore, which is best treated by hydrocolloid patches – you can find out more about these patches here. 
  1. Blackheads: Aka open comedones, which occur when a pore becomes clogged and the top of it is open, allowing the contents to become oxidized – and look black. The best way to treat this is using skincare which contains salicylic acid, as it will dive deep into the pore and begin to clear it.
  1. Hormonal: This often occurs in young adults during puberty, or in adults due to health conditions involving hormones such as PCOS. Regulating the hormones often helps, so seeking advice from a doctor is important. Retinoids can be very useful for adult hormonal acne.
  1. Fungal: Caused by an overgrowth of yeast, which infects the hair follicle – it often looks like lots of tiny whiteheads which can be quite itchy! Typical acne products don’t work on this type, with treatment options of anti-dandruff shampoo and MCT oil.
  1. Papules: A smaller type of inflammatory acne, where the pore becomes clogged and the skin around it inflames. They feel hard to touch, and rarely contain pus. Skincare products containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are great options to treat papules
  1. Pustules: A bigger type of inflammatory acne, which again occurs because the pore is clogged and skin around it is inflamed. However this differs from papules, as they contain pus, but can be treated in a similar way – benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
  1. Nodular: Similar appearance to papules, but often more severe and deeper within the skin. They will feel like hard lumps under the skin. This makes them harder to treat at home, so a dermatology referral is important. 
  1. Cystic: The most severe type of acne, appearing like large red spots, which are even deeper under the skin. Again, dermatologists have a large role to play in treatment – oral medications, topical use of retinoids, and professional extraction may be necessary to relieve pain. 

How to know if it is safe to pop a pimple

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The most important thing is to check is if the spot has a head to it – the yellow/white area at the top of a spot. You should be able to identify the one next to the corner of my mouth. 

These are the safe spots to pop, and have a minimal chance of scarring. Obviously, I’d always recommend not popping the spot – but sometimes it’s causing pain or is just so close to bursting itself, it’s worth doing so using the correct method. 

Other spots that are okay to extract are blackheads, which are usually around the nose as there are many pores here (with the potential to clog), but sometimes on the chin or cheeks. It’s also important to know the types of spots not to pop – these are the deeper, and harder spots, such as papules, pustules, nodules or cysts. If you try to pop these it will make the acne worse, and risk scarring. These spots also have an increased chance of pushing th acne further into the skin, spreading the infection and worsening acne.

How to safely pop a whitehead

  1. Wash your hands, and also your face (ideally using a face wash containing exfoliating acids.) This allows some unclogging of the whitehead, and makes sure we aren’t going to push more bacteria and dirt into the pore (which of course would aggravate the acne more!)
  2. To make the contents of the whitehead come out more easily I would recommend applying a warm, clean washcloth to the spot for a few minutes, as it helps to make the sebum and oils inside the whitehead more fluid. This means when you apply a small amount of pressure, the liquid should come out much more easily than the solid version.
  3. I personally wrap my fingers in tissue, but you can also use Q-tips. You want to place a finger (or Q-tip) on either side of the whitehead, and push directly down gently. Once you have pushed down, you can slightly push together – which encourages the whitehead to empty outwards, and limiting how much could get pushed further into the skin. This stops the infection spread,
  4. Hopefully, if the spot is ready to pop, the gunk will empty from the whitehead. When this happens, wipe the area, so the bacteria and dirt are removed from the skin. 
  5. To ensure the pore is as empty as possible, we will repeat step 2. The moment you see any blood, stop. 
  6. It’s important to now follow proper aftercare, as discussed in the next section

How to clean a pore after popping a pimple

It’s important after popping a pimple to make sure we clean it, so more bacteria and dirt don’t get into the pore – reinfecting it! The steps below help to limit the risk of reinfection

  1. Make sure to wash the area with a really gentle cleanser (preferably with hyaluronic acid) we don’t want to irritate it, just make sure it stays clean. 
  2. Next apply a pimple patch, made of hydrocolloid. This has 2 benefits, firstly it forms a barrier from the environment (so bacteria and dirt are less likely to re-enter the pore) and secondly the hydrocolloid absorbs moisture – meaning any left over ‘gunk’ is absorbed by the patch.)
  3. The next day you can use your normal skincare products, but make sure they are not comedogenic. Ideally you will be using hydrating and gently exfoliating serums, an oil-free moisturizer and an SPF which suits your skin type. Personally, I find mineral sunscreens safest for my skin. 

How to extract blackheads

Blackheads, whilst looking very different to whiteheads, will use a similar method of physical extraction. Before extracting, it’s important to know the difference between blackheads and whiteheads. Once you are sure of the acne type, and that we have blackheads – we can begin to treat them. When extracting the blackhead follow the same steps as for the whitehead.

Blackheads often re-occur much more than whiteheads, if they aren’t properly treated everyday. One of the best ways to do this is with skincare, specifically, these cleansers are brilliant for blackheads. When looking for cleansers to treat blackheads you need to look for ingredients such as exfoliating acids, (AHA/BHA/PHA) Benzoyl Peroxide and charcoal. If you find your blackheads are particularly stubborn, avoiding SLS, drying alcohols, and fragrances may be a good idea. 

When to see a dermatologist for whiteheads?

As with any condition, once it becomes particularly bothersome, it is worth consulting a medical professional. One or two whiteheads, every now-and-again, isn’t normally worth seeking out a dermatologist, as they can usually be treated at home.

If you find yourself in pain from the whiteheads, or they begin to affect you mentally, definitely speak to a dermatologist. They have many more options available to help control your acne. 

Other treatments

  • Wash your bedding, especially your pillowcase, twice a week. This will help to remove any bacteria and dirt which builds up on the bed sheets. Anything that regularly comes in contact with your face should be clean – so you may wish to sanitize your mobile phone also
  • Double cleansing, which involves washing your face with an oil-based cleanser first, which helps to dissolve any makeup or SPF, then use an oil-free cleanser (like the AHA/BHA one above) Make sure to pat your skin dry afterward, with a clean towel.
  • Altering your diet may also be useful, such as limiting refined sugar and alcohol. You can find lifestyle and diet tips in this ebook.
  • If all of the above aren’t working for you, the dermatologist may prescribe oral medication such as Accutane or Hormonal control pills. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you squeeze whiteheads?

Yes, with the proper technique and aftercare. Follow the steps outlined above, and you should be fine.

How long does it take for whiteheads to go away?

This depends if you pop them or not; if you pop them with the proper technique, they will likely go within 3 days, but if they can’t be popped (or you don’t want to!) then they usually disappear on their own within 7-10 days.

Originally Published: November 04, 2022

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Analyzed by Beth Cooper
I'm a beauty content creator from the UK, on both Instagram and TikTok. I adore exploring new beauty products, whilst also learning the science behind the skincare (I'm a major science nerd - currently studying a Bachelors Degree in Health Sciences!) I'm passionate about making acne care accessible for all, whilst empowering people to feel like they are good enough and beautiful with or without their acne. It's such a complex condition, so getting good information to people is so important to me, years of those horrendous internet DIYs really damaged my skin! Read more of Beth's articles.

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