How To Pop A Pimple

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I'm sure there will be a time—hopefully in the not-so-distant future—when I will be self-possessed enough to notice a zit emerging somewhere on my face, acknowledge its presence with a curt nod, and move on with my day. That, or I'll finally give up dairy and stop seeing pimples entirely. (I hear that works, but am unwilling to try, so preach another day, friends.) Either way sounds like a nice future, given that I'm currently nursing a gash in my forehead in a foreign country—a gash that used to be a pimple and now can't heal quickly enough.

Some background on this particular blemish: At first, I thought it was just a congested pore. I cleared it (using some tips from this very handy guide), dabbed some spot treatment on, and didn't give it another thought. But a few days later, the redness wasn't gone. In fact, it was getting worse—puffy, engorged. No longer just a congested pore, this guy was going to be a whitehead. Goody.

Now, there are fates worse than whiteheads. Cysts, for instance! I say this because, while we're all but powerless in the face of a cystic breakout, a whitehead has an endgame—it says it right there in the name. You can track its lifespan and plan your course of attack. Usually no big deal. But as I mentioned, I'm writing you from London and I didn't want to arrive on this side of the Atlantic without proper battle gear.

So I shot out an email to Renée Rouleau, aesthetician and woman after my own pimple-popping heart. (Her Anti-Cyst Treatment is my constant companion.) What follows is Renée's guide to getting your pimple up and out of your face responsibly. Read carefully—this isn't the sort of thing where you can get partial credit.

On Sep 17, 2017, at 12:44 PM, Emily Ferber wrote:
"Renée I need your help. Leaving for London in 5 hours and have a pimple brewing in the middle of my forehead. Can I plan on popping this sucker? Is it even ethical for me to email you this? Thanks in advance for any advice..."

On Sep 17, 2017 at 12:48 PM, Renee Rouleau wrote:
"Hey Emily!

Yes. It’s right up my alley. And yes, perfectly ethical because so many people do it—albeit incorrectly. I'm actually on a boat leaving an island in Greece right now, so I have some time to take you through this. That work? What kind of pimple is it starting to look like?"

On Sep 17, 2017, at 1:02 PM, Emily Ferber wrote:
"It was red, but I can tell it's starting to fill up. If I had to guess, it'll come to a head by the time I touch down from my red-eye on the 18th."

On Sep 17, 2017 at 1:15 PM, Renee Rouleau wrote:
"The first thing I have to say is: Don't pick at it. Yet. I love picking at the skin—so I get it. For the longest time I would always justify it by saying “My hands are licensed. I know what I’m doing.” As I’d have an oozing mess of a face.

But you should only pick when the time is right—when you have a visible whitehead. Sounds like you have a pustule, so the infection will work its way to the surface of the skin. Once the whitehead is truly visible (or what I like to call “ripe”) then it’s fair game to remove it. This is when that Zit Care Kit I gave you comes in handy. [Ed note: Renée gave me this little pack of a needle/lancet, some Q-tips, and rubber finger condoms for bacteria-free zit removal when she was in town back in August.] Make sure whatever you prick the skin with is sterilized—DON'T DO THIS ON THE PLANE. Then you're going apply a warm, damp washcloth to the affected area for two minutes.

With the skin moist from the washcloth, pierce the skin with a lancet straight down into the center of the blemish to create an opening. (You have to go down fairly deep in order to get to the heart of the infection so give it a little push.) Wrap the fingers that you’ll be using for the squeezing process in tissue.

Position your fingers at various angles then squeeze the blemish until the infection is released. (Seeing blood and a clear liquid is normal.) If nothing comes out after three tries, leave the blemish alone and wait another day. Don’t apply any spot treatment that is drying as it will create a barrier of dead cells to prevent the infection from releasing easily.

Once the infection is successfully removed, apply a drying spot treatment with a cotton swab. Keep doing that until you're fully healed.

Of course, before you do any of this, you must ask yourself this: What is more noticeable, a closed bump or an oozing, bleeding scab? A bump is smooth, can be camouflaged with makeup easily and is only glaring in certain lights. A scab, on the other hand, is a rough surface that doesn’t take well to makeup and becomes impossible to hide during the healing process and for a long time after. You really must only squeeze a blemish when it’s absolutely white and visible on the very surface of the skin to prevent the least amount of damage and scarring.

Does that help? Travel safe!"

All that said, I probably still only get partial credit. I waited the whole flight, got to my hotel, and squeezed in one go. Too amped up on caffeine, I skipped the warm wash cloth, which is probably why I scabbed more than I would have liked. That said, the infection is gone and I'm two days into the healing process. The scab is annoying, but I prefer it to a painful bump, that's for sure. Thanks, Renée!

—Emily Ferber

Next up: How to fix a pimple, fast. Read all about it here.

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