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.
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 🙂