7 Types of Bumps and Blemishes You Should Never Try to Pop

hands off
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When you look in the mirror for a midday makeup check only to spot a giant zit or you-have-no-idea-what staring back at you, it’s absolutely tempting to go HAM on your face. But skin-care experts agree that when it comes to most bumps and blemishes, a hands off approach is best if you’re hoping to nip it in the bud. “Popping anything causes your skin to physically break apart, making it more susceptible to infection and an even bigger problem than what was originally there in the first place,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York City. To keep your complexion fresh and flawless and prevent permanent damage like scarring and broken blood vessels, avoid DIY-ing these common skin conundrums.  

2/8 Getty / Biophoto Associates
Ingrown Hairs

Frustrating? Extremely. Worth picking—even if you just shaved for a blemish-free bikini line? Absolutely not. “Ingrown hairs occur when the hair shaft becomes trapped beneath the skin’s surface,” says Joel Schlessinger, board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf advisor. “The red bumps that follow are often itchy and inflamed, but it’s never a good idea to use tweezers or manual force to pluck them.” In fact, doing so means you’re actually breaking the skin, which can lead to further inflammation and infection, and even dangerous complications like staph infection or sepsis could occur down the road. “Squeezing ingrown hairs will only make inflammation and irritation worse,” says Schlessinger. (Hello, red marks that last for months). Instead, apply hydrocortisone, which reduces redness, itchiness, and irritation—and wash the affected area with an exfoliating cleanser to help the hair reach the skin’s surface.

Cold Sores
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Cold Sores

Unless you’re looking to inspire a whole army of these bad boys, don’t even think about touching them. "Picking at cold sores could very easily lead to the formation of another sore, and popping them releases a blister-like fluid that contains the same virus and can easily spread to other areas,” says Schlessinger. “These blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which can be transmitted from one area to another through touch,” says Schlessinger. “Small sores can heal over time with over-the-counter treatments, but if you notice cold sores that are more frequent or spreading, it’s time to see your doctor for professional treatment.” Also avoid making out with anyone—S.O. included—until the cold sore has become dormant to avoid spreading it even further. 

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Milia

If you’ve ever noticed a tiny white bump—known as milia—on your face that refuses to pop (no matter how hard you try), rest assured knowing it was truly un-poppable—at least without a dermatologist’s or esthetician’s help. “These bumps are hard, white cysts under the skin,” says Schlessinger. “Picking at them often has little to no effect and attempting to pop them will likely leave your skin red, irritated, and inflamed, with the milia still intact,” says Schlessinger. One reason why you’re not getting any result from pushing your two fingers together on the spot is because milia is actually not dirt, oil, or grime—it’s trapped skin cells. “If it’s bothering you, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist, who will likely extract it with a heated, sterilized tool,” says Engelman.  

5/8 Photograph courtesy of American Academy of Dermatology
Keratosis Pilaris

Often referred to as “chicken skin,” this condition is caused by a buildup of keratin, the protein that protects skin, hair, and nails from infection and other harmful environmental toxins. “What happens is the buildup forms a plug that blocks the opening of a hair follicle,” says Engelman. “Squeezing or picking at these lesions causes worsening effects like redness and the potential for scarring as well.” Instead of getting your hands dirty, use a chemical exfoliant that has salicylic acid or glycolic acid to calm the inflammation down and possibly even treat the condition at home. “If that doesn’t work, see a dermatologist or an esthetician, who can properly treat you,” recommends Engelman. 

Blackheads
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Blackheads

We’re thankful that these pesky dark dots on our faces are, at the very least, not red and inflamed, but they still majorly rain on our complexion parade—especially when they colonize in twos, threes, and fours. “Blackheads consist of the same thing as whiteheads—pores that become clogged with oil—except the oil has oxidized after being exposed to the air, giving it a black or brownish hue,” says Schlessinger. “Although picking at—and attempting to pop—them seems like an easy solution, it’s not worth damaging your skin. Squeezing them forces the bacteria even deeper and causes trauma to the skin.” To work the oil and dirt out without picking at your blackheads or applying pressure, use an exfoliating face wash like Biore Complexion Clearing Warming Anti-Blackhead Cleanser ($8, ulta.com). “It will work to bring the blackhead to the skin’s surface, leaving you with a fresh face in just days,” says Engelman.  

Cystic Acne
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Cystic Acne

This type of pimple occurs very deep in the skin, forming a red, tender nodule that’s not only painful but much harder to treat with OTC meds. “The inflammation that accompanies cystic acne can hinder the healing process and often lead to permanent scarring that’s impossible to eliminate,” says Engelman. But picking at them won’t help either. “The cysts occur so far beneath the skin that you won’t even come close to reaching the bump and you’ll be left with a bloody spot that’s impossible to cover up with makeup,” says Schlessinger. Instead, book an appointment with your dermatologist who can properly treat the situation and may even be able to save you from scarring altogether.

whitehead
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Whiteheads

Knowing how seemingly easy these are to get rid of with your own two fingers, it’s incredibly hard to allow them to take residence on your face—even for a few hours. But if you really want to limit their stay, avoid giving them any attention. “Whiteheads keep acne bacteria contained to one area while the blemish heals, so when it is squeezed, it releases the contents of the blemish—often a mix of acne bacteria, oil, and skin cells” says Schlessinger. If that’s not enough incentive to let whiteheads be whiteheads, consider the fact that a tiny pop can result in spreading that bacteria throughout your face. “Along with forcing bacteria deeper into your skin, it can also transfer even more bacteria from your fingers to your face—a.k.a. more breakouts.” And when the acne penetrates further into your skin, it can cause damage to the tissue far beneath it, leaving you with a scar. “Allowing the acne to clear on its own is best, because your body knows how to repair this damage by producing collagen, a substance that gives the skin support,” says Schlessinger. 

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