Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr. Zac Turner talks about pimples.
Question: Hello Dr Zac, I have a simple one for you! I’m a pimple enthusiast, my favorite part is when the pus spurts out. My mom always tells me never to pick them because it’ll stay on my face longer, but I think that’s rubbish. I think the moment it turns white, it’s ready to go.
Can I pop my pimples to my heart’s content, or do I have to listen to my mom? – Emily, 21, Sydney
Answer: Thank you for your question Emily. A few things to unpack here. First, let’s see what pesky pimples actually are, and then I’ll tell you what the best skin care products are to treat them.
Pimples, or acne, are caused when the pores in our skin produce excess oil or sebum. The sebum then mixes with sweat, dirt and dead skin cells, which get trapped in the pores themselves. When the mixture rises to the top layer of your skin, this is what you call “turning white”. If the clogged pore is exposed to air, it turns into a blackhead.
There is a whole list of possible factors that contribute to pimples or acne, including sand, dirt, sweat, salt water, chlorine, and sunscreen. Diet can also help and some people find that limiting their intake of processed foods and dairy products reduces acne.
Now let’s get to your popping habit. I don’t think there’s a dermatologist out there who would recommend popping a pimple yourself. There’s a medical procedure to safely pop a pimple that only they know about, and a DIY approach puts you at risk of infection and scarring.
When you squeeze a pimple, you push bacteria and pus deeper into your skin, causing more swelling and redness. Also, when you squeeze a pimple, you trigger a reaction where your skin scabs over, which in some cases leads to scarring. More often than not, you’ll make the button more visible than it already was.
You have to understand that our body is a sophisticated organism with detailed processes for running things. If you are patient, your skin will heal on its own and the pimple will dissipate. Popping a pimple is like asking your skin to do a quick, cheap job. You wouldn’t be asking your home builders to do shitty work, so you shouldn’t be asking your skin to do it either!
Saying that, I understand that for face-focused people, especially adults, we may have little patience for pimples and acne. If it appears on your face and you need it to clear quickly, I recommend applying a benzoyl peroxide gel or cream once or twice a day. This is readily available at pharmacies and grocery stores.
My only area of leniency for patients to try is based on the concept rather than the plot of “through the eye of a needle (blunt part of a needle where the thread passes)”. What you do is pour hot water/clean or sterilize the “eye” and then lightly press that end onto the pimple tip with the help of the surrounding circumferential pressure and if that does nothing after cleaning it, leave it alone! Or at least at least…until tomorrow. Literally wait at least another full sleep before trying again.
Another trick to reduce the size of a pimple is to apply an ice cube directly to it for quick bursts of 30 seconds.
You can also use a gentle facial cleanser in the morning and evening to ensure that no more pimples appear on your face. If you work outdoors or exercise regularly, I recommend adopting a daily skin washing routine.
Finally one thing I always say to my patients, stop touching your face! Our hands are littered with bacteria and other things that can cause pimples.
Emily, I really hope you reconsider your love of popping pimples, because it’s not going to end well for you. Be patient and love yourself – pimples and all!
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Dr. Zac Turner holds a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a physician and co-owner of the Concierge Doctors telehealth service. He was also a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist in addition to being a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering.