HOW TO | Pop a spot

YES, I'M really doing a post on how to pop a spot/zit/pimple at home. Having been prone to acne my entire post-pubescent life, I've learned a thing or two about how to and how NOT to pop a spot.

Every magazine you read, every dermatologist you visit will simply say don't do it because it's bad for your skin. Guess what? NO S**T! Did you need a medical degree to figure that one out? Those of us with acne can give you the exact medical reasons WHY it's bad. We pore (heh) over articles and studies about it. We, maybe even more so than you, understand. Yet we still choose to get rid of them because, boy, let me tell you, I'd rather pop it than have a giant whitehead waving hello to the PR Director of a skincare company while I'm walking in for a meeting. Counter-intuitive? Not at all. We ARE judged by our appearance, like it or not. Acne has a detrimental affect on that appearance, especially post-secondary school when it's not an acceptable trait to have. [editor's note: Fully aware that full-on acne is different from an occasional spot. Not downplaying how awful acne can be!]

And, really, you silly dermatologists, where do you get off? Did you go to the George Bush School of Abstinence Is The Only Way? As with teenagers and sex, you can teach them that they shouldn't do it, but it ain't going to stop them from bumping uglies.

Same with acne (although clearly without the resultant illegitimate child)... teaching people to simply not pop a spot because it's bad for your skin results in all sorts of heinous skin atrocities being wrought on poor, undeserving complexions at home due to simple ignorance. I've met people who literally scrape off the whitehead with their fingernail (ew), will go at it with unclean hands and fingers, who don't know what they can and can't pop and thus attack everything on their face with the same zest for destruction. I've even known someone to try to pop... a mole. Preaching pimple-popping abstinence leads to to all sorts of unmitigated skin disasters. Shame on you.

I have little faith in thee of the white lab coat from my experiences with them thus far. Sundry skin docs have put me on every single antibiotic out there. Guess what? None worked but I bet I am ever more immune to the effects of that not-insignificantly lifesaving drug Penicillin, from which all of these antibiotics were derived. The last derma I saw had horrible red, tight, blotchy skin (not a confidence-inspiring calling card), didn't touch or even look at my skin before writing scripts for an antibiotic (surprise) and cream made by (again, surprise) the same pharma company. She didn't ask about my lifestyle. Clearly not the brightest star in the sky, she was preoccupied with the twinkle of her useless diamond (Don't believe me? Even in the '80s The Atlantic exposed the diamond myth) than my complexion. Or apparently her own skincare regime. Turns out she gives anyone with acne the EXACT SAME SCRIPT. Fact (I did my research).

Anyway, my skepticism is alive and well, thank you very much.

The case for learning how pop a spot is that you're going to do it ANYWAY even with everyone telling you not too (yes, you are, because walking around with whiteheads is grosser than not), like teenagers and sex ed. in American, and, like the aforementioned, you better know how to do it safely (as safely as possible at least) unless your prepared for the unwanted result. 

So I've taken matters into my own hands, literally. Regular facials (with blackhead extractions) seem to help when done by the right hands (mainlyHiroko at Spa MergeSarah ChapmanEmma Hardie and Vanda Serrador. If anyone else wants to have a crack my complexion just email me at beautywoome AT gmail DOT com). I exfoliate like a mad woman, am gentle because of rosacea (the derma didn't even ask me about it though it was flared in its full, fiery glory during that visit!), use few products... and you better your a** I take care of those whiteheads when they crop up.

Top tips for how to pop a spot:

Popping a spot correctly is all about getting results with minimum pressure and damage. You don't want to mangle your complexion, you simply want to gently coax out the offending knobbly bit and get the skin healing as quickly as possible. Softly softly is the catchphrase for this sort of operation. 


Figure out if it needs to be popped. Do you have to be somewhere right now? Is it impossible to cover? Going at your skin with a magnifying mirror for an hour in the evening for a laugh is not a good idea. Anything that's offensive to the visible eye at two paces should probably, if possible, be taken care of. Leave the rest alone and either exfoliate more, get a facial (especially if you live in a city) and realize that those pores you see when you look in the mirror are NATURAL and not in need of poking or pinching. 

WASH YOUR HANDS AND NAILS unless you want to get even more bacteria on your skin.

Cleanse your face very well. You don't want old makeup, pollution, bacteria et al on your face or near a popped spot either.

SOFTEN YOUR SKIN FIRST. Honestly, facialists do it and you should to. Only pop spots after a steamy shower or steaming your face over a bowl of hot water for a while. The skin will be less likely to tear like mad, it'll be easy to coax out those whiteheads (or giant blackheads). Less pressure means less of a mess to clean up after. 

Pop it very neatly. I hear a collective wince as I say this, but sometimes I'll lance a spot at its apex with a sterilized needle. Why not? My old derma used to do it too. I take a very thin needle (sewing is fine), hold it over the hob, let it cool and then gently press the spot from both sides while I just slightly just prick the top. It beats having the skin burst open, don't you think? 

Wrap cotton wool or tissue around your finger tips. It's easier to pop a spot because your fingers will grab your skin better when covered meaning you can use less pressure meaning there's less chance for damage.

Use heat. Often times before I pop a spot (but after I've SOFTENED MY SKIN), I'll apply a heat compress because it brings everything right up to the surface of the skin. Again, it means you have to use less pressure and there's less a risk of mangling your skin. Ice helps to reduce swelling but it doesn't help with the healing process so only apply it if you need to conceal and bolt out of the house.

Apply a triple anti-biotic cream (Neosporin in the US. It has been my spot savior through the years) if you've mangled your face (peeled off a bit of skin (possible), horribly pinched it with your knuckles (shame on you and possible), scratched it, etc.). They help cuts and scrapes heal quickly so why not a lacerated spot?

Gently exfoliate as regularly as you like. It sloughs off dead skin cells and you want to get rid of the flaky build up on that old spot as quickly as possible. Plus, makeup will sit better on top of a spot that's not craggy.



Just crop up at the bathroom mirror have a browse around your face and then put finger tips to zit without any preparation. You'll have three in place of that one thanks to all the grime on your fingers.

Arbitrarily squeeze and scrape at it. Be gentle. Coax it out. If you apply a tiny bit of pressure around the outer edge, you'll be able to see where the apex of the spot is. All the pressure will be alleviated from that point when you pop it so press around it, not on top of it.

Use your knuckles! Lord, I have seen this many times with friends who have had deep, cystic-looking spots. That is way way way too much pressure and you are going to seriously hurt the area.

Scrape off the whitehead. Yes, the skin might be thin on top and it's an easy way to make it disappear but you'll have a scab (or more spots) in the place of that single whitehead instead.

Apply heaps of makeup right after! If I'm at home, I'll apply a healing mask and if I need to go out, I make sure I only apply make that will help, not hurt, the spot. So mineral makeup with xinc oxide and titanium dioxide (natural sunscreens and great for combating acne), aloe, jojoba, etc. Healing is the keyword. Set it all with powder (like Jurlique Citrus Silk Finishing Powder) to keep it from sliding away as make seems want to do on freshly tinkered with spots.

Stop halfway. By this I mean, don't just squeeze a little bit out and leave it. Honestly, most spots will bleed when you're truly done popping them (gross, I know). If you just extract a bit of the whitehead, you're going to have a bigger, angrier, more infected spot in its place in no time. Make sure you gently apply pressure until it's done.

Pick at it afterwards, especially if you're not able to see it (e.g. while sat in front of the TV). It'll take longer to heal and will surely leave a mark.

Freak out. Yes, slight acne as well as a random, occasional spot (not the full-on, debilitating variety. That is much harder to bear) is a downer. I had it so bad on my back in high school that I would hide under two towels (one for those pock-marked shoulders) post-shower after morning soccer practice. I was mortified by it. BUT, as my mom said, it's not the end of the world and those with worse acne will have no sympathy for you. 

Think you can always do it alone. Sometimes (as with cystic or really stubborn and widespread acne) you need a doctor's help. 


You can pop a spot at home. Whether you should is another issue. But because you can, and most likely will, we want to help! It's a dirty business, as you've no doubt gleaned from this, but sometimes it's a necessary one as well. Stats show that acne among adult women is on the rise (joy) so, in a bid to put an end to the pimple-popping abstinence madness, go forth armed with the knowledge that you don't have to sit in the boardroom with crop of whiteheads on your chin. Nor do you have to poke and prod at them like a curious chimp would a kitten. You can actually do a bit of whitehead mitigation on your own.

I would also advice a good diet (I don't care what 'they' say, you are what you eat), exercise, good skincare and the rest of that stuff WITH being at the ready to occasionally pop a spot when duty calls.

Read my little rant on adult acne here.