Never pick a pimple.
We’ve all heard it before.
Then a big whitehead practically begs you to be squeezed. And once you start examining all your pores up CLOSE in the mirror, of course you need to get those blackheads on your nose too. Oh, wait, another spot on your chin that you didn’t even notice before—that’s gotta go. No pore is safe now!
20 minutes later, you look up and there are now several very red, angry spots and one is even bleeding. Ugh.
Step away from the mirror and back to clear, healthy skin with these dermatologist tips for what to do after picking a pimple.
So, what should you do if you've popped a pimple and made it worse?
"Well, you know what I'm going to say. Number one is to leave it alone," says dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee — also known as Dr. Pimple Popper. Try to keep your fingers off of it— keep it nice and clean.
What kind of cleanser should you use after picking your skin?
Dr. Lee recommends using salicylic acid cleanser on the infected area can help prevent new pimples from popping up. It might be tempting to try and scrub away any evidence of picking, but she says to avoid using harsh exfoliators (chemical or physical) on a scab or bleeding pimple — and always keep the area clean (avoid touching with dirty fingers or makeup brushes). "Don't pick a scab because this can pull of healthy skin cells that are growing underneath and can slow down the healing process and also it increases the risk of permanent scarring,” she adds.
Should you put anything on the picked spots?
If you feel like you need to do something to try to make it better quicker, Dr. Lee recommends using a spot treatment containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid like the SLMD Acne Spot Treatment from her skincare line. "A spot treatment can also help you keep your hands off it, prevent infection, and speed along the healing process."
If the pimple appears more swollen and painful after picking, should you ice it? How long?
(We don’t want to say told you so—but told you so. This is why you shouldn’t pick!). Apply a cold compress to the affected area for five minutes or so to reduce swelling, advises Dr. Lee.
If it's more of an open wound (bleeding, etc.) than just a squeezed pimple, should you do anything different?
Again—if you’re picking your skin until it bleeds, STOP! "You can cause a pimple to get worse, and certainly increase risk of infection and scarring," says Dr. Lee. If you’re bleeding, she says to “gently blot the area with a clean tissue or cotton pad and clean the area with alcohol.”
Once the blood has stopped, she advises applying a spot treatment containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid as mentioned above. "Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial so it acts to help prevent bacteria from growing in the area," she explains. Most importantly, leave it alone and let it heal (have we said that enough yet?)
How can you help it heal more quickly?
"If you have a scab, please resist the urge to keep picking at it and opening up the wound again," advises Dr. Lee. Continue to moisturize and let it heal. "if you need to use concealer to cover it, make sure it's an oil-free, non-comedogenic formula," she says. "If the area has turned brown or red, this is often temporary but can persist for a few months—a retinol serum can help to increase skin cell turnover and fade these spots over time. And of course, you should wear sunscreen every day to prevent further damage/dark spots," she adds.
What kind of moisturizer should you use on picked skin?
Many acne medications dry you out so it’s not uncommon to require more moisturizer than usual if you are using such medications. Dr. Lee says hyaluronic acid serum is a great option, as it won't clog pores and draws moisture into dry, irritated skin.
Always check with your doctor before you try new treatments.