Most Embarrassing Questions: Sweating It Out at the Gym

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Q: Is it OK to pop whiteheads?

A: Attention to all of you who secretly delight in popping whiteheads (we know you’re out there): It’s not a good idea. Whiteheads form when oil, or sebum, mixes with dead skin cells and causes bacterial growth just below the skin’s surface. (Blackheads form similarly but are partly open to the skin’s surface.) Squeezing out the white stuff can result in scarring, pitting, or darkening of skin around the trouble spot.

If you absolutely can’t resist fiddling, apply a hot towel to the area, and then gently push on either side of it using two sterile gauzes. If nothing comes out, leave it alone. (You’ll create a scar if you keep pushing.) Apply hydrogen peroxide or an antibiotic ointment like Bacitracin to the spot.

You can ward off future whiteheads by using a mild, exfoliating facial scrub, non-oil-based makeup, and skin products labeled noncome­dogenic (they don’t block pores).

If whiteheads continue to— ahem—pop up, dermatologists have special instruments that can remove the spots without damaging skin, and they can also prescribe suitable medications. An exfoliating facial from a trained aesthetician may help too.

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