How to Pop a Pimple (+ Treat & Conceal it!)


Zits happen…and when they show up in all of their glory (i.e. red, swollen skin + an ugly white-head), panic sets in. Of course, a great skincare routine is the first line of defense to prevent and manage breakouts, but what you do with that pimple you see in the mirror right now is just as important when it comes to speeding its healing time.

To help you deal, we’ve put together this straightforward survival guide to popping a pimple the right way, plus tips for treating and concealing it afterwards.

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To Pop or Not to Pop

There are magazines and even skincare professionals, who say you should never pop a pimple, and we understand their concern—you really can hurt skin if you don’t pop a pimple the right way…and if it’s not the right kind of pimple to pop. Over-squeezing and aggressive puncturing or picking can cause serious scars that can last far longer than your zit would have.

But the truth is, no one wants to walk around with a “ripe” zit on their face and you shouldn’t have to…

Thankfully, it turns out that popping a pimple correctly can actually reduce inflammation and the likelihood of scarring, while simultaneously speeding up the healing process—but only if you do it right!

You'll know the offending blemish is ready when you see its “whitehead,” staring back at you in the mirror. If you don’t see a whitehead, abort mission. Trying to pop a pimple that isn’t ready will do more harm than good, and this is particularly true for cystic acne—deep, red swollen bumps far below the skin's surface (see our article Cystic Acne Agony for more info on how to treat this type of breakout).

With whitehead in tow, you can follow these gentle steps to popping a pimple:

  1. Buy a comedone extractor. Beauty stores (such as Sephora and ULTA) carry them, as does Paula's Choice Skincare (Professional Blemish Extracting Tool).
  2. Cleanse your face with a gentle water-soluble cleanser. Do NOT use cold or hot water (that will inflame the breakout and hurt skin’s ability to heal ).
  3. With the cleanser, lightly massage skin with a soft, wet washcloth to remove dead skin cells—this makes extracting the pimple easier—but don't overscrub.
  4. Dry your skin gently. Do not use the comedone extractor or squeeze when your skin is wet because it's more vulnerable to tearing and creating a scab, which can cause scarring.
  5. Center the comedone extractor’s opening over the pimple. Then gently (and we mean gently), and with very little pressure (and we mean very little pressure), push the comedone extractor down on the whitehead and move it across the bump. That should release its “contents.”
  6. You may have to repeat this one or two more times, but that’s all you want to do, as you can easily damage the skin and exacerbate the breakout.
  7. Remember to be gentle; the goal is to remove the whitehead without creating a scab or damaging the surrounding skin (scabs are not any better to look at than a pimple).

Post-Extraction Acne Care

After extraction, follow up with a 2% salicylic acid (BHA) exfoliant and a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide treatment. Combined, the salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide help diminish the breakouts you currently have + prevent future occurrences by unclogging pores, reducing inflammation, and killing the acne-causing bacteria. [1-6]

If you find you have particularly stubborn breakouts, consider a higher percentage BHA spot treatment (try RESIST BHA 9). You can also experiment with a higher strength 5% benzoyl peroxide product.

How to Conceal a Pimple

Once you've extracted and treated your pimple with well-formulated anti-acne products, now it's time for the magic of makeup…

  1. Prep with a mattifying serum. (If the skin is dry the concealer won't go on smoothly over the area.)
  2. Select a matte, neutrally-toned concealer that matches your skin tone exactly—avoid peach, pink, green, or ashy colors. A good option to consider is Smashbox’s 24 Hour CC Spot Concealer.
  3. After applying your foundation, use a concealer brush (synthetic hair with a flat, rounded point) or your fingertip and gently dab a small amount of concealer onto the center of the blemish, then begin blending softly outward, creating even coverage that sheers out to the unaffected skin around the blemish. If you need more coverage, let the first layer of concealer set for about a minute before adding more, starting at the center and using the same technique.
  4. Set the concealer using a gentle dusting of powder. (A small, soft eyeshadow brush is perfect for applying a layer of powder over a concealed blemish.)
  5. Reality check: The above steps can do much to hide the redness of a post-popped blemish, but the temporary bump that remains is something that can’t be hidden by makeup. Just do your best to conceal it, and then your best and try to forget about it.

Even if you rarely breakout, zits can pop up when you least expect it, and now you have an action plan to take care of them!

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Products for Acne Breakouts.

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References Cited

  1. Hartmann A. The influence of various factors on the human resident skin flora. Semin Dermatol. 1990;9(4):305-8.
  2. Bowe W, Shalita A. Effective Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2008;27(3):170-176.
  3. Kornhauser A, Coelho S, Hearing V. Applications of hydroxy acids: classification; mechanisms; and photoactivity. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2010;20(3):135-142.
  4. Bowe W, Shalita A. Effective Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2008;27(3):170-176.
  5. Sagransky M, Yentzer B, Feldman S. Benzoyl peroxide: a review of its current use in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2009;10(15):2555-62.
  6. Simonart T. Newer approaches to the treatment of acne vulgaris. Am J Clin Dermatol.. 2012;13(6):357-64.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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