How to Get Rid of a Pimple

Popping a pimple can lead to scarring, infection, and more pimples. There are other ways to get rid of a pimple.

Pimples—those pesky bumps on the skin that develop when pores become clogged by things like excess oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells—can sometimes seem to appear at the most inopportune times. The lesions can be red at the base from inflammation and then white or yellow at the top due to the pus inside the lesion. The goal is usually to get rid of the blemish as quickly as possible.

Although it’s pretty tempting to take matters into your own hands and pop the pimple, this DIY method is not recommended by healthcare providers. That’s because squeezing a zit can actually make the situation a lot worse.

Here’s what you need to know about why this hands-on approach can backfire—and what steps, such as icing the area or using a bacteria-killing product, to take instead.

A woman looks in the mirror and pops a pimple

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Should You Pop Pimples?

It may seem like the most convenient choice at the time, but popping your own pimple can cause damage to the skin and make the area look even worse—potentially leading to more breakouts, skin discoloration, and scarring.

Each time you take the pimple-popping approach, you run the risk of pushing the pimple’s content (like pus) deeper into the pore. This can:

  • Increase inflammation
  • Make the pimple more noticeable
  • Cause a scar
  • Cause pain

Popping pimples at home on your own can also lead to an infection from the germs on your hands.

How to Get Rid of a Pimple

While popping a pimple isn’t the answer for getting rid of the blemishes, there are other at-home remedies that may help.

Before you start treating a pimple with one of these remedies, wash your face. That way, you’re clearing the area of acne-causing bacteria and allowing topical products to sink in and do their job.

Resist the urge to scrub aggressively or use a harsh cleanser. Instead, use a mild, fragrance-free face wash. Use your fingertips to apply the cleanser with water, rub it in gently, and rinse with lukewarm water before patting dry with a soft towel.

Apply a Product With Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is often recommended as the first product to try when treating mild to moderate acne, which may include pimples. Available at your local drugstore, benzoyl peroxide works by killing bacteria that cause breakouts. It can come in several forms, including a lotion, cream, gel, liquid, or bar.

Benzoyl peroxide is an example of a skincare product that works well on skin of color since it won’t cause light spots on the skin like other products might.

Applying a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide to the pimple up to twice daily can help speed up healing. It still may take four to six weeks for your acne to clear, though.

Keep in mind that benzoyl peroxide can sometimes cause irritation, dryness, or flaky skin. That dryness and flakiness can actually worsen acne, so start with a product that contains only 2.5% benzoyl peroxide. If the 2.5% benzoyl peroxide causes this reaction, reduce your usage to once every other day.

Apply a Retinoid

Another first-step treatment option for acne is a retinoid. Available in over-the-counter and prescription forms, these products are made from vitamin A. An example is adapalene gel (Differin). Retinoids work well to clear out blocked pores and reduce inflammation, keeping new blockages from forming.

Retinoids can be used in combination with products that have benzoyl peroxide. They are also a good option for skin of color since retinoids won’t cause light spots.

Try Spot Treatments

Spot treatments aim to do exactly as the name suggests: treat the spot where the pimple is. That means they’re best for a minor pimple here or there as opposed to an acne breakout with many pimples. Unlike a cleanser that’s washed off fairly quickly, spot treatments are applied to and remain on the skin, delivering concentrated ingredients straight to the root of the problem.

There are a few options:

  • Benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid spot treatments: Spot treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are typically pretty safe bets since these ingredients are already effective for fighting pimples in other formats, like a face wash or topical product. Just be sure to watch for the dryness or itchiness that sometimes happens with their use.
  • Natural spot treatments: Spot treatments that contain natural ingredients like tea tree oil may deliver some anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties straight to your blemish. But while tea tree oil (and other similar products) may show some promise for treating acne, more data is needed before it can be officially recommended.
  • Pimple patches: Pimple patches are tiny pimple-sized adhesives placed directly on the blemish. They are hydrocolloids, a type of patch that promotes wound healing by not only providing a physical barrier from germs but also absorbing excess fluid. A zit patch can also protect the area by keeping your hands away from the pimple to pop it. 

Hydrocolloids are used in healthcare to promote wound healing of other types, but the pimple versions sometimes contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. There hasn’t been much scientific research backing their use for pimples, specifically, and research on them is only as recent as within the last two decades.

Apply Ice

Just like you might ice a muscle sprain or other injury, experts recommend applying ice to a particularly deep or stubborn pimple to help reduce pain and inflammation.

Try wrapping an ice cube in a washcloth or paper towel, and apply it to the affected area for up to 10 minutes. Repeat two more times, and be sure to take 10-minute breaks in between icing sessions so the skin doesn’t get too cold.

For the most effective results, test out this remedy as soon as you notice the pimple developing.

When to Visit a Healthcare Provider

If you’ve been using a pimple-treating product—and following the directions closely—for four to six weeks and you don’t see an improvement, add a second pimple product that targets a different potential cause of acne. For instance, if the first product got rid of bacteria, you might then want to try a product that clears clogged pores. This way, you can figure out what was causing the pimple and better treat it.

If your attempts to tackle pimples at home haven’t been successful at alleviating pain or reducing their size, swelling, and redness, it may be time to check in with a healthcare provider, such as a dermatologist.

To remove a large pimple, a dermatologist may perform an incision and drainage. For this procedure, the provider will use a sterile needle or surgical blade to open the pimple and remove what’s inside. This is different from popping a pimple at home because the dermatologist uses clean instruments and is trained to do such a procedure.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend other treatments to help treat the pimple and prevent future ones, like a short course of prescription antibiotics or even laser or light therapy.

How to Prevent Pimples

Good skincare and lifestyle basics are important to help control existing pimples and prevent future breakouts. The key is to be consistent and patient. It can take at least four weeks to see the results of any new acne treatment.

Here are some acne prevention tips to consider implementing: 

  • Wash your face twice daily and after sweating
  • Use a gentle cleanser with the tips of your fingers
  • Avoid aggressively scrubbing your skin
  • Rinse with lukewarm water
  • Stick to alcohol-free skin products as well as products that say “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores"
  • Keep your hair out of your face
  • Be mindful of using tight hats or headbands
  • Avoid oil-based makeup products
  • Don’t use tanning beds

Also, avoid touching your face. That includes popping, touching, or picking at your pimples. Again, this can lead to infections and scarring and delay the healing process. It’s best to let your skin heal naturally—with the help of pimple products and ice—and try not to stress, as elevated stress levels may worsen existing acne.

A Quick Review

Pimple popping is tempting, but it comes with a risk of infection, scarring, and more breakouts. If you have a pimple, it’s best to wait it out while taking a different healing approach. To hopefully see clearer skin more quickly, apply pimple treatments, avoid touching your face, use a cold compress, apply spot treatments, and wash your face. If your pimple is still lingering after four to six weeks and switching treatments hasn’t helped, contact a dermatologist. They can recommend different treatment options, which may include an in-office procedure that can drain the pimple.

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