Read This Before You Even Think About Popping A Pimple

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
If you’ve ever undergone extractions (you know, removing all the gunk from your face) — whether you did it yourself or with the care of a pro — you know how cathartic it can be. Feeling that pus leave your skin is a form of therapy. After a good session, you somehow feel lighter — and, of course, zit-free.
The benefits of extractions don't stop there. “You will get much faster healing of acne lesions and blemishes with extractions,” says Neal Schultz, MD, a New York City dermatologist and host of DermTV.
But unlike in talk therapy, with your skin, there are issues that are better left untouched — some people even think you shouldn't go there at all. There are exceptions, though: “You can only extract something with pus, a whitehead, or a blackhead,” Dr. Schultz says. “If it’s just inflamed, like a cyst, there’s nothing to extract.”
So before you give your skin some tough love, see what a few of the top people in the biz have to say. Here, they'll break down everything you need to know about extractions — like when and how to do them yourself, when to see a pro, and when to leave your face alone.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
While a majority of pros agree that extractions are beneficial, attempting to manhandle the wrong type of blemish can backfire. As a general rule, only work on blockage you can see, like blackheads and pimples with pus. If the clog is covered with a layer of skin that may look like a whitehead but is much harder, that’s milia and should be left alone. A medical professional can use a metal blade to extract a milia — it’s not a job for an amateur.

Cysts start as infections deep in the pores, so you can’t extract the blockage from them either. Picking will just cause scabbing, which is much more difficult to conceal with makeup than bumps.

Mary DeRolph, an aesthetician at La Prairie Spa in New York City, explains that aggressive squeezing or using anything to cut the skin can cause infection, bruising, and scarring. There is also potential to spread bacteria, so attempting to extract the wrong kind of blemish with the wrong technique can cause long-term damage. When in doubt, leave it alone!
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Like the search for a hairstylist who really gets your look, finding a facialist with the right touch can be a process of trial and error. But you can avoid some of the "error" part by doing a little research first.

“Call a spa and ask who’s gentle at extractions,” suggests celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau. “You can even say you have sensitive skin or an important event coming up, so you make sure you end up with someone who’s not too aggressive.”

Rouleau also suggests chatting up the receptionist when you’re booking an appointment. “The front-desk staff know the different styles of the aestheticians and can help guide you to the person who handles extractions best.”

Another way to find a trustworthy aesthetician? Ask how much experience she’s had. “Ideally, you should try to book an appointment with someone who’s had at least two years’ experience because they’re probably more skilled,” Rouleau says.

If you're really not thrilled about being poked and prodded, you can always request no extractions.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
“No one wants to walk around with a big whitehead on her face,” says Jessica Wu, MD, a Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face. “But not everyone has time and resources to go to a professional for extractions, either.”

So while it’s always advisable to trust an aesthetician or a dermatologist with your face, it may not be the most realistic plan for everyone. “You don’t need four years of medical education to properly and safely extract blemishes,” Dr. Schultz says. “But without proper technique, you will do more harm than good.”

If you have an important event coming up, though, then you should visit a pro. You'll want to ensure you avoid complications and heal in time — a blemish takes about five to seven days to heal after an extraction.

Some experts aren't as enthusiastic about extractions, though. Mary Schook, an aesthetician in New York City, says that some of the well-intentioned practices we use for improving our skin can actually hurt more than help. She explains that extractions can often cause damage to the underlying structures of the skin — no matter how well-trained the person doing them is. And the pores will just fill back up, she says; it's a never-ending cycle.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
If you do decide to DIY, remember that just as you warm up before a workout, you have to get your skin prepped for heavy lifting. “The skin must be cleansed and exfoliated prior to any extractions,” DeRolph says. This removes debris that could potentially cause future breakouts, as well as helps clear the path to the pore. Washing with a gentle exfoliating cleanser, like Murad's rich, creamy AHA/BHA formula, helps soften and clean the skin.

“After a shower is an ideal time to do extractions because the hardened oil has softened,” DeRolph says. If you’re not fresh out of the shower, use a warm towel as a compress or steam your face over a bowl of hot water first.

“Steam increases the temperature of the skin, which softens the blockages in pores, making it easier to perform extractions,” Rouleau explains. “That’s why aestheticians usually steam before extractions.”

Make sure you don’t go into extractions cold, so to speak. If you don’t relax the skin and soften the oil plugs in the pores, you’re going to use more force, which results in more damage.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
When it’s time to do the actual extracting, there’s one method the experts say offers the safest, and most satisfying, results. “You use the same approach whether you’re extracting oil, pus, dead skin, or ingrown hairs,” Dr. Wu explains. “The goal is to make an opening to allow the clog to be removed with minimum trauma to the skin.”

First, be sure to wear gloves or have your fingers wrapped in tissue to prevent dirt and bacteria from entering the pores. And do not use your fingernails as tools — the sides of your fingers will do the job.

Apply pressure to the perimeter of the blemish and press vertically, rather than horizontally. It may help to use one finger to press, while moving the other in a scooping motion (like putting your hand under a bowling ball, Dr. Schultz says) to lift out the blockage. You want to avoid pushing the skin together, which forces the clog downward.

You can try moving your scooping finger to different spots in order to dislodge the blockage. “If you cannot extract anything after three attempts, move on,” DeRolph advises. “If the blockage is impacted, you may need a deep-cleansing facial to remove it.”

After you clear the pore, apply witch hazel on a cotton pad and leave your skin alone for at least an hour to allow it to adjust.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
“The surface of a pus pimple is very weak and should rupture with very little force,” Dr. Schultz says. “So there’s no need to be aggressive.”

That means you shouldn’t feel pain while undergoing extractions. The process may be uncomfortable, but you don’t want to suffer. Stop what you’re doing — or tell your aesthetician to lighten up — if you feel eye-watering pain. “Metal tools can often be more painful,” Rouleau says. “But it all depends on the hands of the aesthetician.” Don't be afraid to speak up!

You may also feel pain because your skin is no longer warm. “After 10 or 15 minutes your skin will cool down, so you need to do another warm compress or round of steaming to keep the skin and oil soft,” DeRolph suggests. Often, 15 minutes of extractions might be all that your skin can handle regardless, so don’t spend hours poking at your face.
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To reduce redness after a treatment, Rouleau recommends this soothing gel mask from her eponymous line. Packed with hydrating glycerin, anti-inflammatory oat kernel and flower extracts, and the powerful anti-irritant bisabolol, there’s a reason Rouleau affectionately refers to this formula as “topical Valium.”

Renée Rouleau Bio Calm Repair Masque, $49.50, available at Renée Rouleau.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Using force on a blemish that isn’t ready or that you're not able to extract can cause damage below the surface, and even rupture capillaries. This can make the infection much worse, spread the bacteria to other pores, and extend the time of the breakout.

If blood or clear fluid comes to the surface while extracting, Dr. Schultz says to stop immediately. DeRolph adds that putting a cool compress on the area is a good idea, too. You can also apply arnica cream to reduce bruising, but the best thing is to leave it alone. If the blemish looks worse the next day, you might want to see a dermatologist for a cortisone injection.

Also, be warned: A facial might cause more breakouts, even if the aesthetician did everything right. “If your skin isn’t used to stirring up bacteria during extractions, you might see breakouts,” Rouleau says. “That’s why you shouldn’t have a facial within a week of an important event.”
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
You can take preventative measures to reduce the number of extractions you may need. Keeping your skin moisturized helps limit the number of dead skin cells that settle into pores. Try Sisley's Global Effect Pore Minimizer to hydrate and control oil.

Purifying mud or clay masks can help pull oil out of pores, but they tend to be drying, DeRolph warns, so limit them to once a week.
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Regular exfoliating can be helpful, too, as long as you don’t overdo it. A weekly treatment with this unique clay-based formula — which stays soft on the skin instead of drying like most clay masks — helps absorb excess oil and exfoliate. Consider it a weekly therapy appointment for your complexion.

Bliss Multi-'face'-eted All-in-One Anti-Aging Clay Mask, $50, available at Macy's.
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