Acne: No Casual Matter…

It can be such a temptation. A pimple starts as an underground lump on your face. It grows and it begins to hurt, so you get an overwhelming desire to relieve that pain and make the thing go away, especially when it becomes red or sprouts a whitehead. Once you give in, it leads to some grotesque feeling of gratification, thinking you’ve “cleaned” it out. Am I grossing you out?

Good. Because I, like every dermatologist, esthetician and parent, will tell you to STOP. Stop. Ruining. Your. Face.

And no, I’m not only talking to adolescents here. Those of you who kept (or continue to keep) up this practice know the habit doesn’t just go away once you’re through college and well into your adult years. The practice of popping, gouging, pushing, prodding, and brutalizing your face continues, making you wonder how others walk around with clear complexions. Expecting the emollients, hot towels, and products I use to suddenly clear up your face won’t stop you from attacking the next zit that comes along. It’s like thinking you’re going on a diet, you use every excuse in the book to eat the next available doughnut to “treat” yourself, and then you are bummed that you don’t see a difference on the scale. The common denominator in all this is YOU.

You don’t have to believe me. I’m just your esthetician – not even your mom. But don’t you want to know the truth? Does popping zits actually make things worse or is it just another age-old myth?

Why do we pop zits in the first place? The clear-cut answer is because zits make us feel ugly and depressed. A study published in the 2006 edition of the Journal of the American of Dermatology found that out of 387 dermatology patients who completed the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview, 37 patients (9.6%) suffered from major depression. A report in 2000 in the same journal found that of 268 dermatology patients, 11.9% suffered from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), that is, they had a preoccupation with feeling ugly or having a nonexistent flaw in their appearance. What does all this tell us? The only way we can stop the practice is to control the impulse to correct a bodily flaw. That takes awareness, discipline and a lot of positive self-talk, but I have seen patients of mine make that leap. The won’t let that zit control them. They finally got it through their heads that their zit(s) are NOT as noticeable to everyone else as they appear in the mirror. 

But what if you simply can’t help yourself? Will it make the acne or zit worse? Let’s take you on the journey of what happens after you pop a zit:

(1) Your skin will (try) to begin the repair process. First, it will want the bleeding to stop. Then inflammation starts to disinfect the area, causing more cells to grow to replace the damaged ones. Finally, the skin will begin to renew itself. But what do you do during that process? Do you leave it alone? Nah. You keep at it, forcing your skin to start and stop the process many times over. It’s like continually going back to the starting line, like the movie Groundhog Day until you (hopefully) learn your lesson.

(2) Squeezing a pimple immediately triggers more of the traits of acne, which include inflammation. It also affects the pores surrounding the target zit, leading to the premature breaking of a pore that is congested with excess oils and proteins. In other words, zits beget more zits when you pop them! Dermatologists tell us that pimple popping can aggravate acne because your skin contains a community of pores; what you do to one pus-infected pore will affect it neighbors.

(3) Can a zit ever be popped “correctly” –?   The answer is yes, when performed by trained professionals. Estheticians and dermatologists know which pimples are ripe for popping and use sterile devices to relieve them while avoiding affecting surrounding pores or tissues.

So next time you’re sitting there watching TV and you gouge your face with unclean fingernails (let’s face it – few of us go around disinfecting them on a regular basis), what you are really doing is inducing acne. Acne-inducing pimple squeezing happens when you attempt to pop a pimple that is still beneath the surface of the skin and bordered by healthy, non-infected pores. The likelihood of scarring (sometimes permanently) is very high as well, making that momentary stab of relief become a lifelong pit on your face.

Bottom line: Let the pimple wear out its welcome. When left alone, a blemish will heal itself in 3 to 7 days. Popped improperly, it can linger and look for friends, making you wish you’d put a sock over your hand when watching television all those weeks ago.



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