So You Popped a Pimple. Here’s How to Deal With the Aftermath

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Pimples are often one of the first skin-care issues we come up against. And figuring out what to do with a popped pimple is, usually, the second. As it turns out, there are some very important do’s and don’ts to abide by while your skin heals, which will help avoid infections, inflammation, and scarring.

Why shouldn’t you pop a pimple? Aside from the fact that you’d be interfering with your body’s normal healing process, popping a pimple—or even just prodding around in the area—can cause inflammation and make the area more prone to scarring. And that scarring will end up lasting much, much longer than any pimple would.

“I try to stress upon my patients that the impact [popping a pimple] has on scarring can last so much longer than acne,” Nada Elbuluk, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology (clinician educator), Keck School of Medicine of USC, tells SELF.

You can end up with scars like divets in the skin or hyperpigmentation, “all things that take much longer to go away than a pimple,” Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. “I tell my patients, ‘Take your mirrors down, keep your paws to yourself.’”

But, as Dr. Stevenson says, it’s a “natural habit” to want to pick and prod at that little bundle of pus. Sometimes not popping it just isn’t an option. And, sometimes, a popped pimple just happens by accident!

So, if you did happen to pop a pimple—no judgement here—make sure to use these tips from our experts to keep the area clean and help it heal, hopefully without a long-lasting scar.

1. First and foremost, keep the area clean.

Think of the crime scene like an open wound, Dr. Elbuluk says, especially if you see any bleeding. That means you want to avoid contaminating the area with bacteria that may be on your fingers or just out in the world, which could cause an infection. So, the first step is to wash the area with a gentle cleanser.

2. Also make sure to keep it moisturized.

If you’re bleeding enough, you might need to apply pressure with a clean paper towel or washcloth until it stops before moving on. But once the bleeding has stopped and the area is clean, you can apply a gentle, relatively bland moisturizer to the area.

You don’t want to use anything “that’s going to irritate the skin,” Dr. Elbuluk cautions, so it’s best to avoid any moisturizer that might also be used for antiaging or exfoliating purposes. Seriously, stick with the gentle stuff here!

3. Only use gentle products while it’s healing.

You don’t want to do anything that would interfere with this area while it heals, including using products that might be irritating. The skin is also extra sensitive and vulnerable during this time, so you should stay away from using products like chemical exfoliants or vitamin C serums, which might sting.

“Avoid anything that would cause further irritation, like using scrubs or getting a facial,” Dr. Elbuluk says. “It’s already basically injured skin.” Really, the only things you need to use right now are your gentle cleanser and moisturizer.

4. Avoid picking at or touching the area while it heals.

It’s crucial to avoid the temptation to keep prodding at the wound or to keep touching it. And if the area scabs over, don’t pick at the scab. “People end up in this rabbit hole and keep making it worse and worse,” Dr. Elbuluk says. Interfering with it at this point just makes infection and scarring more likely.

5. You may want to keep it covered, too.

Not only does covering the area with a hydrocolloid bandage, part of a silicone sheet, or thick layer of moisturizer keep the healing skin hydrated and protected, it can also help keep you from picking at it, Dr. Stevenson says.

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