Popping pimples is like underage drinking — you’re not supposed to do it, but you’re most likely going to do it anyway. 

I’ve done both and lived to tell the tale, but I am not here to condone the latter. Pimple care is right up my alley, though. 

I’ve always struggled with breakouts but thanks to mask-wearing and the accompanying maskne, I’ve been working harder than ever to quell crops of pimples appearing on my skin. I’m not about to put my or anyone else’s life in danger just because I’m vain, though. I’ll keep wearing my mask, but I’ve amped up my routine to prevent or get rid of breakouts faster, which usually includes a little popping.

Over the years, I’ve taken pieces of advice from professionals and my own experience to create a routine for popping pimples without damaging my skin.

When to do it 

If there’s a clearly defined white head on it, you’re good to go. If there’s only a tiny white dot and it hurts to touch, it is not ready. Wait another day to avoid scarring.

I believe the best time to pop a pimple is in your nighttime skin care routine. This gives the zit on a jumpstart to heal in our sleep, without being exposed to the outside world.  

Prep your skin

Cleanse your face and wash your hands before popping. You don’t want to run the risk of any more bacteria getting in there from dirty hands.

Pores don’t open and close but steam will loosen what’s inside of them and the same goes for a pimple. Pop it after a shower or use a hot compress or a facial steamer (which is a lifesaver, by the way) to soften it up.

Wrap tissue around your pointer fingers. Do not use your bare fingers or nails (which can cause broken blood vessels and/or infection.)

How to pop it

Skin care expert Caroline Hirons has a great method for “popping a spot,” as she calls it. Use the pads of your fingers to push down on either side of the pimple. Then gently push inward, toward the bottom of the pimple. (Don’t squeeze the pimple itself — Hirons noted this actually just pushes everything back into the blemish.) As the gunk inside comes out, gently repeat this motion. When you see pinky-colored goo, stop. If you see blood, immediately stop. 

Immediately soak a cotton ball or pad with salicylic acid (I like Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner.) and hold it on the pimple for at least a minute or two. (Longer if it’s a bigger pimple or if it started bleeding.) It will probably sting, but stinging is good, Hirons said. This means the acid is killing the bacteria and helping it heal quicker. 

After care

I immediately stick a pimple patch on the pimple.

You also can use pimple patches to forgo popping altogether as they’re made to draw out oil and pus from the blemish. If you have that kind of self-control, you’re amazing. Thankfully, for monsters like me, pimple patches are tiny Band-Aids for your zits, made of a hydrocolloid dressing that provides a moist and insulated healing environment.

I like to use Ollie Belle Cover Dot Acne Care for most popped pimples because, after just one night of use, the open wound on my face turns into a flat, pink dot. Occasionally, if it’s a giant pimple or has more gunk inside of it, a patch with salicylic acid and tea tree oil like Peace Out Acne Healing Dots, will help shrink it faster.

When it comes to my skin, where there’s one pimple, there will be more. My popping routine ends with patting an acne-fighting oil into my skin (avoiding the patch) to curb breakouts before they start. Dazey Green Tansy Face Oil has been my go-to recently, which contains a blend of botanical oils to help soothe stressed out skin, including antibacterial and antifungal blue tansy and soothing, balancing CBD (cannabidiol.)

Combined with a patch in the first 24 hours, using this oil for the next few days over the affected area also will help the blemish heal without any crustiness or scabbing.

What if I do have a scar?

By some chance you notice some scarring, ingredients like vitamin C, retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, niacinamide and tranexamic acid can help fade them. Also, wearing sunscreen every single day helps to protect scars from darkening.