Every article on healing pimples warns, “Whatever you do, do-not-pick!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely broken this skincare rule countless times.
In fact, I have a compulsive disorder known as dermatillomania, which is more commonly known as “skin picking.” If there’s a bump on my skin, I can’t just let it be and forget about it until it heals -- I must get rid of it, even if that means hurting my skin. Skin picking disorder or not, I think a lot of us have a hard time leaving pimples alone.
As a result of having to manage my skin picking, I’ve mastered some tactics that stop skin tearing, accelerate skin healing, and prevents scabs and scars. See, skin damage mostly comes from attacking your skin without implementing the proper skin prep or having the right tools. While I certainly don’t recommend picking your skin, I have seven steps for minimizing damage while extracting clogged pores.
Identify the pimple type
First and foremost -- identify the type of pimple you’re dealing with.
Cysts & Nodules: Absolutely do not pick cysts, they’re impossible to extract since they’re fluid-filled sacs. Cysts can only be dealt with by a professional dermatologist who drains them with special tools or injects them with cortisone. Cysts can go away on their own over time, but all you can do is apply warm and cool compresses to reduce swelling. Nodules are similar to cysts because they’re deep in the skin and are better treated by a derm. Trust me, picking at these extreme forms of acne is just a losing battle since they’re too deep in the skin.
Pustules: Cute name right? Pustules are exactly that, pus. These types of pimples are easy to extract and treat at home because they’re not deep in the skin.
Whiteheads: Whiteheads are a result of a plugged hair follicle, resulting in an inflamed pore full of pus and oil. These are also easy to extract at home with the right methods.
Blackheads: Instead of being red and irritated like whiteheads, blackheads are oxidized sebum in your skin. They’re also easy to address at home.
Using a gentle exfoliating scrub or peel
Preparing your skin makes a huge difference in the success of your extraction. Before you even touch your pimple, encourage it to come to the surface of your skin by using an exfoliating scrub or peel. Peels with exfoliating chemicals like hydroxy acids, salicylic acid, and enzymes will remove dead skin cells on top of your pimple while also working within the pore to purge the infection. I recommend Drunk Elephant’s Baby Facial.
Peels with exfoliating chemicals like hydroxy acids, salicylic acid, and enzymes will remove dead skin cells on top of your pimple while also working within the pore to purge the infection.
P.s. Make sure you wash your skin and let it cool for 20 minutes before applying a peel. Peels can be irritating on freshly washed skin.
Steam your pores
After your chemical peel, give your skin a couple of hours or even a whole day to relax before you steam your face. It’s important to steam because it's harder to extract from cold skin --- the infection is basically cemented in your pore. Steaming will soften the infection and loosen up the walls of your pore so the oil and pus will come out easier. To steam, bring a pot of water to a gentle, low boil. Drape a towel over your head and lower your face close to the steam. Make sure you’re not too close! If it feels scorching hot, reduce the heat.
Use the right tools
Fingers are the main reason we end up with ripped skin and eventually scabs. Fingernails dig and tear skin while fingers slip and rip. There’s a reason why aestheticians use special tools to extract without damaging the skin. Using tools could be hedging on the “professionals only” territory, but since they’re much less damaging to use than your fingers, it’s better to have them on deck than not. Comedone extractors apply pressure to the area surrounding your clogged pore, allowing it to pop out without excessive squeezing. I highly recommend this extractor I found on Amazon, which allows me to easily remove deep, stubborn clogged pores.
Comedone extractors apply pressure to the area surrounding your clogged pore, allowing it to pop out without excessive squeezing.
If you do use your fingers, make sure you cut your nails short and keep them clean! If the pimple or blackhead isn’t budging at all, leave it alone for a couple of days and repeat the exfoliating/steaming process before attempting extraction again.
Using alcohol-free witch hazel toner
After you’ve extracted, make sure you cleanse the area with your regular face wash. Bacteria from your clogged pore can be spread around your skin, creating more pimples. Once your skin is cleansed, use an alcohol-free witch hazel. Witch hazel is known for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, promoting healing and redness reduction. Apply it a few times over the course of an hour. I recommend Thayer’s Rose Petal Witch Hazel.
Generously apply Aquaphor
Now, this is where “healing overnight” really comes in. Whether you successfully extracted a pimple with minimal damage or you ended up tearing your skin (we’ve all been there), applying Aquaphor is vital for quick healing and preventing scabs. Anyone who’s attacked a pimple knows the worst part is trying to cover it up with concealer the next day after a scab has formed. By applying a huge blob of Aquaphor to the extraction site, you allow it to heal without developing a scab.
By applying a huge blob of Aquaphor to the extraction site, you allow it to heal without developing a scab.
Use a bandaid as you sleep
The Aquaphor will rub off as you sleep, so cut down the wings of a bandaid to leave just a tiny bit of the adhesive. Apply the cotton side of the bandaid to Aquaphor on the damaged spot of skin. This method keeps the Aquaphor on your skin, so your skin can stitch itself together as you sleep. When you wake up and take off the bandaid, your skin will have healed over to reveal smooth, new skin. This will allow you to apply makeup as needed without having to cover up a bumpy scab or dry skin. Pro tip: Use a generous amount of Aquaphor before sticking on the bandaid, as the cotton side will absorb it a bit.