They say you always want what you can’t have.
“Don’t eat this because it will make you fat!” “Don’t cross that bridge because it’s falling apart!” “Don’t pop that pimple because it will scar your skin!” But how many of us order that cheeseburger, tread lightly to the other side, or squeeze zits on our face?
Chances are you’re in this group with a lot of us.
Don’t worry, though–it’s human nature to chase unpleasant emotions. Professor Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania has done extensive research on this “benign masochism” phenomenon, exploring the how and why behind humans’ desire to feel negative emotional responses. He says that in most cases, people like to push the boundaries and see how much they can get away with. Intellectually, we know we’re pretty safe at all times in modern-day civilization, but our evolutionary lizard brain has hardly been rendered obsolete. We’re still testing the waters and seeing how far we can push the limits before we get a push back.
Val Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has a much more innocuous theory: people like to test out new dangers in safe, controlled environments. Pimple popping accomplishes precisely that; we can see what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to managing acne. However, the risk of damage is still pretty low (unless you consider facial scars a big deal). “When you go on a roller coaster, you’re learning skills about safely experiencing fear and danger. You’re taking your emotions out for a ride and experimenting with them. It’s good training for the real thing,” she says. Testing these new methods of handling danger can be beneficial, too. If we learn what not to do in a safe environment, we can acquire skills that might help us in more dangerous, more severe situations.
None of this makes pimple popping a sensible choice for busting acne, though. If the pimple head isn’t fully raised and stretched under a thin layer of skin, trying to pop it could push it further under the skin. Here the pimple could become more inflamed and spread to other areas as a bacterial infection. With this in mind, proceed with caution.
But if you can’t fight the urge to pop that pesky pimple? If that’s the case, then we do have a few pearls of wisdom you should keep in mind.
The safest way to pop a pimple is not to use your fingers–wait, what? Hear us out: dabbing some benzoyl peroxide on your zit is an extremely useful acne-buster. You can find benzoyl peroxide at any drugstore, and they range in concentration from 2% to 10%. Benzoyl peroxide works by breaking up the bacteria that are concentrated around the head of the pimple. If you have sensitive skin, though, then be careful; benzoyl peroxide can dry skin out if it’s used too much on the same spot.
Popping works best on a type of acne called comedones, or in layman’s terms, blackheads and whiteheads. They usually have a rough and bumpy texture. While comedones have an open head, the debris inside is generally tightly packed. Therefore, they need professional extraction. Thankfully, dermatologists across the country perform this routine procedure daily. While it’s not entirely foolproof–the pores could clog with debris again–it is very effective at removing non-inflamed comedones. Keep in mind that comedone extraction only works on non-inflamed acne. Tampering with inflamed comedones could make your outbreak much, much worse.
Comedone extraction sounds simple enough to try at home, but it’s much better if you go to a professional to get it done. Both dermatologists and estheticians perform this service, so save yourself the hassle and let someone who knows what they’re doing take the lead. If you have any concerns about how your skin might react to this procedure, consult a dermatologist and see what they have to say. If they tell you your skin is the right candidate for comedone extraction, then go for it! If not, you might want to think twice about trying to rid yourself of those unsightly blemishes.
No matter which direction you choose, remember that pimple-popping only alleviates the symptoms. If you want to tackle the root of the problem, examine your diet to see how much processed, sugary, or fried food you eat. If you eat a lot of these foods, chances are you’re triggering inflammation and making your acne worse. The good news is that a healthy diet low in sugar, processed foods, and dairy can help your skin reverse the inflammation and give yourself the glow you’ve been after for so long.