What’s Poppin’?

acne, extractions, at home extractions, how to pop a pimple
Don’t do this at home! But since you are going to anyway, I’ll help you.

I recently received a request to write a blog post about which pimples can be popped (the technical term is “extracted”). I’m nothing if not accommodating, so here we are. I’m not only going to help you identify which pimples can be extracted, but will very begrudgingly teach you how to properly do extractions, because I know that you will do them with or without my guidance. I’ve heard stories of people extracting with their fingernails, with safety pins, with needles, etc. And that’s not extracting–it’s tearing the skin and causing damage. I’m like the mother who lets her teenager and their friends drink at her house because “they’re going to do it anyway and it’s safer at home,” except this blog post is legal and does not contain questionably bad esthetician-ing.

It is always preferable to have extractions done by a licensed esthetician. These skincare experts have been trained in the proper techniques for extractions. They know which pimples are the right candidates and how to extract without scarring the skin. (I’m saying this as a licensed esthetician who did extractions almost daily during my six months of schooling.) Acne scarring is often caused by people incorrectly doing their own extractions. Textured acne scarring can not be fully covered by makeup, and scarring that causes hyerpgmentation (dark spots) is a bitch to cover with makeup. Widespread acne scarring can really only be removed via lasers and other in-office dermatologist treatments, which are considerably more expensive than going to an esthetician for a facial. So that’s something to keep in mind if you pick and pop without abandon.

However, I understand that facials are not in the budget for everyone. So I’ll admit that extractions can be done at home but only only only if you know how. If you have true acne–not just an occasional blemish or two–I’d suggest putting your focus on clearing up your acne instead of extracting every day for eternity. (Maybe even read my Breakout Star blog post for tips on how to treat and prevent acne.) But if we’re just talking a few blackheads on your nose or a whitehead every couple of months, those can be taken care of at home if you absolutely can not get to an esthetician.

I’m going to Glamour style Do’s & Don’ts you here, but please leave a comment if you need clarification.

The Do’s & Don’ts of Extractions

Do thoroughly wash your face and hands first. (No halfass five second cleansing. Because I’ll know.) You will be opening up the blemish and your poor little pore will be vulnerable, so you don’t want any dirt, oil or makeup pushed into it. If that happens, another blemish or an infection can occur. And that’s on you.

Don’t attempt to extract any papules, cysts, nodules or milia. If a blemish does not have a white head or black head, it can not be extracted. The sebum/dirt/bacteria in these types of blemishes is several layers down and impossible to reach via extractions. If you try, you will likely cause some serious damage to your skin and end up with scarring. Need help identifying them? Here are some pretty pictures for you.

papules, acne, extractions
Papules. Red, inflamed and NOT TO BE EXTRACTED.
cystic acne, pimples to pop
Cystic acne. Red, swollen and painful to the touch. NOT TO BE EXTRACTED.
nodular acne
Nodular acne. Swollen, protruding and painful. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.
milia
Milia. They have a pearlized white center but feel hard to the touch. The substance in milia is entrapped keratin, not sebum, so they can not be extracted at home. DO NOT TOUCH.

Do know which blemishes are okay to extract. Blackheads, which are most commonly found on the nose and chin, are fine, as are whiteheads and pustules. End of list. Pustules and whiteheads are “ready” when the white area is raised, soft and very pronounced. Attempting to extract before the white area is at this stage is futile. You can attempt a blackhead extraction if you see one, but some blackheads are too deep and can not be extracted, so don’t force it.

Don’t forget to steam first. After cleansing your skin, put a warm washcloth on the target blemish. (I prefer to do extractions after a shower when my skin has already reaped the benefits of some steam.) Leave it there for 10 minutes. The steam from the washcloth will temporarily open the pores and soften the sebum inside the blemish, making the extraction itself easier. This is an essential step in the process. If you skip the steam, you risk the scarring.

Do wrap your extracting fingers in tissue first. I use my two index or my two middle fingers for extractions, depending on the area where the blemish is. Use whatever digits you want, but keep your fingernails the hell out of it. If you prefer, you can use two cotton swabs instead.

Don’t force it. Start by gently applying pressure on either side of the center of the pustule/whitehead or blackhead, by first pushing downward then upwards on the area. Some articles tell you to use a needle to pierce the center of the white area, but absolutely do not do that. For whiteheads/pustules, if they are ready to be extracted, applying pressure as described will cause the center of the white area to burst open and the pus/debris will come out easily. Keep gently applying pressure until no white pus comes out. For blackheads, the black area turns white once it has been released from the pore. Keep gently pushing until it comes out completely.

Do stop after five minutes if nothing has been extracted. This either means the blemish was not ready, or it was not the type that can be extracted. This is not one of those situations in life where extra time and effort will yield the best results. Show some restraint, my friend.

Don’t forget about the Golden Age of Hip Hop. Biggie, Big Pun, Nas, Jay-Z, Li’l Kim, DMX, Foxy Brown, Mobb Deep, Busta Rhymes, Noreaga, etc. This has nothing to do with properly performing extractions but is equally important.

Do use an astringent on the area post-extraction. Witch hazel or alcohol free toner on a cotton pad works great. This helps wipe away any bacteria that came out during the extraction.

Don’t put makeup on after extracting. You’ve opened your pores after steaming and slightly irritated your skin by pushing on it, so leave it alone now. It might be a little red and definitely mad at you, so step back. I do my extractions at night so my skin has time to calm down while I’m snoozing.

Do know that extractions are not the answer if you break out a lot. If that is happening to you, you’ve got to address that first. I said this earlier in the blog post, but my how people have short term memories/retain what they want to retain.

Don’t just not wash your makeup off every night then extract the inevitable whiteheads and blackheads. That’s lazy, bro. If you get your skin into good shape, extractions will be something you only have to do once in a while. And even then, at home extractions should be a last resort if you can’t get to a licensed esthetician.

This is the first blog post I haven’t felt 100% great about because I know that going to a pro is the best route for extractions. I might catch some heat from fellow estheticians for this, but I maintain that it’s better than people doing extractions at home incorrectly. If I can save someone from bad extraction skin scarring, I feel like I’ve done my job.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

 

You’re On Acid, Man

Sensitive skin, breakouts, acid mantle

When I first heard the term “acid mantle,” I thought, Is that a metal band I have no right listening to? Or a shelf above a fireplace stacked with LSD? Turns out it’s neither. It’s a very fine, slightly acidic film on the top of the skin. It acts as a protective barrier against bacteria, viruses and contaminants that might have otherwise penetrated the skin. It’s made up of the water, sebum and perspiration that our bodies naturally produce.

You’re probably thinking “Why are you telling me this, Allison? I read this blog for product reviews, makeup how-to’s and your brilliant writing, not biology lessons.” I’m telling you because knowing what the acid mantle is and how an unbalanced one might be causing your breakouts, dry skin or skin sensitivity could be helpful to you. Even if you have normal skin, it’s important that you know about the acid mantle, as you are stripping it off every time you wash your face (which I know you now do regularly, as I’ve repeatedly suggested), and that can make you sensitive to products that otherwise wouldn’t irritate your skin.

You know how your skin can feel a little dry and tight after cleansing? That’s the feeling of the acid mantle being stripped away. Your more likely to get that dry, tight feeling–some people call it the “squeaky clean” feeling–when you use cleansers that contact astringent ingredients. A healthy skin has a pH balance of around 5.5, which makes it acidic. When the skin gets too alkaline from being stripped (or from systemic issues), that can cause the acid mantle to thin out. A depleted acid mantle makes it easier for bacteria, pollutants and allergens to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. That means an increased chance for breakouts, allergic reactions and overall skin sensitivity. If you have sensitive skin, there is a good chance your acid mantle is on the fritz. And since a messed up acid mantle can cause breakouts, it’s something to think about if your blemishes seem to be coming from nowhere.

In normal function, the acid mantle rebuilds itself after it has been stripped away, but it takes a little time. That’s why I suggest waiting 15-20 minutes after cleansing before applying most products. Some moisturizers or hydrating masks are fine, but with something more potent like retinol or Vitamin C, you should wait before applying. If you’ve ever experienced stinging or irritation after applying a product, and you’ve applied that product immediately after washing your face, it may not be the product that’s the problem. If you’ve had a major reaction, don’t use that product again, but if it was just minor temporary discomfort and redness, it may be worth trying it again but doing so 15-20 minutes after you wash. (I recommend applying to only a small area so you see if your skin reacts.)

If you wash your face with bar body soap,stop that right now. That stuff is super alkaline and will really strip your acid mantle and dry out your skin. Please switch to a facial cleanser, which will be way more gentle on your skin.

Repeatedly using harsh products and stripping the acid mantle, especially if you then immediately apply a product, will likely set you up for skin sensitivity, dryness and/or breakouts. It’s so easy to not use bar soap and to wait 15-20 minutes to apply products after cleansing. These are pro tips I’ve giving you, folks. I like for people to be able to put their best face forward, and it all starts with skincare. So be nice to your acid mantle! It’s only trying to protect you.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

 

Breakout Star

Acne, acne treatment, blemish treatment

I like a little imperfection. A crooked smile, a beauty mark, or two different colored eyes can make a face more interesting and beautiful. I think a lot of people are with me on this. But there is one imperfection that everyone hates–a blemish. One zit can be a bummer and widespread acne can take a real toll on a person’s confidence.

Luckily, there are ways to prevent and treat all types of blemishes. The culprits are always either dirt, oil, bacteria or a combination of them. Hormonal imbalances can spark breakouts, as can food allergies, sleeping with makeup on and using the wrong products for your skin. Let’s talk about the different kinds of blemishes and what you can do to prevent and treat them.

Whiteheads

Whiteheads are small blemishes with a raised white surface. There is little or no redness associated with whiteheads. They are caused when excess sebum (aka oil) and dead skin cells clog the follicle (aka the pore). Whiteheads have a thin covering of cells that trap the sebum and dead skin cells so that they can’t oxidize. Because of this covering, they are also referred to as closed comedones. They can appear anywhere on the face or body. You also might see whiteheads on area that has been recently waxed because the follicles are temporarily opened post-wax and if you touch the area, you can easily transfer oil into the follicles. And if the esthetician uses an oil-based treatment after the wax, that can cause whiteheads.

Treat Them With: A combination of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid is the only acid that can penetrate the follicle and exfoliate from within and benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria inside the follicle. You can get this combo by using a cleanser with salicylic acid, like Vichy Normaderm Gel Cleanser, in the morning and a spot treatment like Clinique Acne Solutions Emergency Gel Lotion at night.

Blackheads

These blemishes look like tiny black dots. They are most common on the nose and chin. They do not have any inflammation or redness associated with them. Blackheads are caused when excess sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria get trapped in a follicle and oxidize. In normal function, that bacteria can make its way out of the follicle, but when excess sebum is present, it clogs up the follicle so the bacteria has nowhere to go.  The melanin in the dead skin cell oxides and turns dark, then essentially peeks through the follicle. There is no layer above the trapped dead skin cells but they can’t be naturally pushed out of the follicle because the sebum has clogged it up. Because there is no layer between the trapped matter and the top layer of the skin, blackheads are also called open comedones.

Treat Them With: Salicylic acid. The chemical exfoliation powers of salicylic acid break down the sebum and push the bacteria and dead skin cells out of the follicle. Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne Eliminating Spot Gel is a great salicylic acid spot treatment. Extractions done by a licensed esthetician are the way to go if you prefer to outsource.

Papules

These buggers are red, inflamed and often painful to the touch. They can appear anywhere on the body but are most common on the chin, neck and jawline. They do not have a white head so they can not be extracted.

Treat Them With: A combination of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid is the only acid that can penetrate the follicle and exfoliate from within and benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria inside the follicle. You can get this combo by using a cleanser with salicylic acid, like Vichy Normaderm Gel Cleanser, in the morning and a spot treatment like Clinique Acne Solutions Emergency Gel Lotion at night.

Pustules

Pustules are like whiteheads on steroids. They have that same raised white surface, but the area around that surface is red and inflamed. They are typically bigger than whiteheads and may appear more yellow than white.

Treat Them With: A combination of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid is the only acid that can penetrate the follicle and exfoliate from within and benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria inside the follicle. You can get this combo by using a cleanser with salicylic acid, like Vichy Normaderm Gel Cleanser, in the morning and a spot treatment like Clinique Acne Solutions Emergency Gel Lotion at night. Don’t attempt to pop these bad boys. Let a licensed esthetician do it, as they have been trained to properly do extractions without causing scarring.

Severe Acne: Cysts, Nodules and Acne Conglobata

Nodules are hard acne lesions which can be felt deep under the skin. They appear on the body, most often on the back and chest, and are painful to the touch. They are red and inflamed and take a long time to disappear.

Cysts, like nodules, start deep below the skin’s surface, but they are softer because they are filled with pus. They develop when the contents of blackheads and/or whiteheads leak out into the surrounding area. The immune system sees this spillage as an attack and forms pus.  Cysts can also take several weeks to fully go away.

Acne conglobata can affect the body and face. It is the most uncommon type of acne and has no known cause. It consists of abscesses and scars caused by cysts and tracts under the skin.

Treat Them With: A visit to the dermatologist or other specialist. Severe acne requires a customized treatment plan that sometimes includes antibiotics. If you don’t want to go that route, try consulting with a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor or an Ayurvedic practitioner. I personally have great results when I go the holistic route for most issues I have experienced, and I did have breakouts that were only eliminated after taking Japanese herbs. Eastern medicine and holistic methods typically treat the systemic root of the problem instead of just the symptoms. I’m no doctor, but I suggest doing what feels right for you.

Tips for All Types of Acne

  1. Wash your damn makeup off… If you don’t consistently and thoroughly remove your makeup, you have no right to complain about acne. Even if you don’t wear makeup, you still have to wash your face every night. If you think your face doesn’t get covered in oil and microscopic debris from pollutants every day, you need a reality check. If you have acneic skin and are not on any prescription acne medication, I recommend removing your makeup first with a makeup remover like Dermalogica PreCleanse then following with Vichy Normaderm Gel Cleanser. If you are on acne medication, please speak to your dermatologist about what cleanser you should use.
  2. …But don’t over-cleanse. It may feel like overcleansing gets your skin cleaner and removes the oil, but when you remove too much oil, your body kicks into overdrive to produce more oil. That excess oil can easily lead to breakouts. Unless you have an extremely oily skin, cleansing only at night is enough. If you are very oily, I recommend using an anti-acne cleanser at night and a gentle cleanser, like Fresh Soy Cleanser, in the morning.
  3. Clean your phone. Your phone screen gets covered in dirt, oil and bacteria every day. When you talk on the phone, you are putting that dirt and bacteria onto your face. Oh, you only text? Unless your hands are always squeaky clean and you never touch your face, you are still transferring that dirt, oil and bacteria. If you have a landline phone at home or work, make sure to regularly clean that off too.
  4. Change your pillowcases regularly. Oil and sweat from your face and scalp can absorb into your pillowcase, creating a wonderful place for bacteria to breed. A fresh pillowcase every few days may help prevent blemishes.
  5. Spot treat correctly. If you are using a salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, only use a small amount on the actual blemish. Do not use spot treatments on unblemished skin, as they will likely cause redness and irritation. Spot treatments are best if you only have a couple of blemishes. They are not meant for a full face breakout.
  6. Mask your feelings. Maybe don’t do that, but consider face masks. If you have combination or oily skin and are prone to breakouts, using a charcoal, sulfur or clay based mask once or twice a week will absorb some of the excess oil that could be contributing to your breakouts.
  7. Exfoliate chemically. As you read above, some types of blemishes are partially filled with dead skin cells. If you regularly exfoliate, you are removing some of the dead skin cells that could otherwise end up inside a blemish. Chemical exfoliants are generally more effective and gentle, so most dermatologists and estheticians will recommend those over physical exfoliants. (If you use prescription retinol, that exfoliates for so you can skip this step.)
  8. Do not pick or pop. The best way to create acne scars is to pop and pick at your blemishes. A licensed esthetician can do extractions for you if you have a blackhead, whitehead or pustule, but you really should not mess with that yourself. Acne scars can only be corrected by laser treatments, and sometimes those don’t even fully do the job. Those treatments can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars so take a look at your bank account next time you are tempted to pick or pop.

If you have acne, I really feel for you. I have been there before and know it’s a serious confidence killer. But there are ways to treat all types of acne and ways to prevent it. Hopefully this post has been helpful for those of you struggling with acne and for those who just want to minimize the chances of getting a blemish.

Have a beautiful day 🙂