It’s so easy to start squeezing, popping, and picking when you notice red marks and small bumps on skin. However, there’s probably not much worse you can do when any kind of blemish pops up. You’ve probably been told something similar since you were a young child… “Don’t pick!” “Don’t squeeze!” “Don’t scratch!”
This wise advice applies to anything that pops up on your skin.
Popping Bumps on Skin Can Make Matters Worse
If you pop a bump, you run the risk of two things: irritation and scarring. Sure, you want nothing more than for that nasty zit to go away – but if you give in and squeeze, it could stick around for far longer.
Many skin problems, including pimples, can lead to major confidence issues – especially in teens and young adults. These conditions can affect social aspects of friendships, dating, and just getting out in general.1
But if you engage in behaviors like popping that can lead to scarring, then you could be fighting these issues for years – or even the rest of your life, as some scars never fade away.
Bottom line? Don’t do it.
Your best bet is to keep a regular routine in which you cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize, and generally take the best care possible of your skin. If you need extra help, consult a dermatologist.
Let’s go over some of the most common skin blemishes that cause bumps on skin, and the reasons why you should never ever pop them or pick at them…
A whitehead is caused by a pore that gets clogged with oil or sebum and closes up. It then bulges out from your skin, looking like a raised white or yellow dot. If this oil is allowed to build up, then more blemishes and severe, persistent breakouts could result.2
Squeezing and popping a whitehead can turn this kind of skin bump into an inflamed pimple, which can easily lead to scarring. It can also spread oils and bacteria, leading to more breakouts. Any kind of extractions should be left to a dermatologist or professional esthetician. Even some of the professional tools and methods are not ideal for certain skin types and will leave bruising and/or scars. This is why it’s so critical to consult the pros for any kind of skin issues.3
These bumps on skin are similar to whiteheads, except with this type of blemish, the pore remains open. Melanin in your skin reacts with oxygen, leading to a darkening – hence, the term blackhead. Many people think that the dark color is due to dirt and germs, which just simply isn’t the case.
As with whiteheads, too much rubbing, squeezing, or popping of blackheads can irritate and inflame your skin. And it can block surrounding pores even further, making matters worse – in the form of more blackheads and blemishes. Popping both blackheads and whiteheads can also push pore-clogging oils even deeper into your skin, which can lead to more irritation, and even larger blemishes, in the same spot.4
3. Cystic Blemishes
This type of blemish is characterized by a bump under skin – often, a very large one. These bumps on skin are often the really big ones that you can feel, and sometimes see, seemingly just under the surface. Trying to pop cystic zits can be even more damaging than trying to pop some other kinds of blemishes.
Since this kind of skin bump is much deeper in your skin, and is much more irritated. The potential to do permanent skin damage by popping or squeezing cysts is high. Let the pros (your doctor or dermatologist) handle these types of blemishes.5
4. Ingrown Hairs
Ingrown hairs occur when the hair shaft becomes stuck under the surface of your skin. This is more common in individuals with curly hair. And while you may want to squeeze, or even try to pluck the hair out, you can cause a lot of damage and more irritation by doing so. There are other methods to help an ingrown hair, but if you are concerned about one, then it’s never a bad idea to let your doctor check it out.6
Regular exfoliation may help ingrown hairs. This can be as simple as using a loofah in the shower or even a gentle scrub.
These are small, harmless cysts that can occur on your skin anywhere there is a hair follicle. Unlike a whitehead, milia will not pop. While there is still much research going on, it is believed that milia is caused by improper growth at the root sheath.7
If you’ve successfully popped milia, then you’ve actually only caused damage to/ripped your skin. This can lead to further irritation and nasty scarring, so don’t pick at these (or any other) bumps.
6. Cold Sores
If you’ve experienced cold sores and tried to pop them, then you likely know that this can lead to more cold sores around the area. The fluid in these blisters contains the herpes virus that causes cold sores. This is one bump that you definitely never want to pop or pick at. See your doctor, instead. A cold sore, or a breakout of several, will usually heal in about 10 days if you don’t pick.8
7. Keratosis Pilaris
This is an excess buildup of keratin in the skin, and it presents as small bumps, or plugs in the hair follicles.9 Picking, popping, or squeezing these bumps can lead to worsening of the condition, as well as red marks and scars.
This is simply a fatty lump under the skin that can feel like a cystic blemish. They are generally harmless, but lipomas can become painful if they get too large. Popping one can lead to more irritation and red marks – and it can even introduce or spread bacteria.10 Always let your dermatologist handle lipomas.
Other Ways to Battle Bumps on Skin
The three most important factors in keeping your skin healthy from the outside are proper cleansing, exfoliation, and moisturizing. Let’s give a quick rundown of just why these three steps are so important:
Regular cleansing will help to keep your skin and pores free of dirt, oil, and bacteria that can lead to more breakouts. You should wash your face twice a day – morning and night. What type of cleanser is best? Different skin types need different needs. Consider consulting your dermatologist, or a professional esthetician, to help you make this decision.11
Regular exfoliation can help slough away the top layers of dead skin cells that can lead to clogged pores, breakouts, and the temptation to pick or squeeze blemishes. Just as with cleansers, different skin types will require different kinds of exfoliation.
There are essentially two types of exfoliators: chemical and physical. Chemical exfoliators include acid peels with ingredients like glycolic/lactic acid or retinol (ideal for aging skin). Physical exfoliators include topical scrubs. Your specific needs and skin type will help determine which is best for you. You may also benefit from a professional service, like dermabrasion, or, if you have sensitive, scar-prone skin, something much more gentle might be in order.12 Again, leave this choice to the pros, and heed their advice.
While many people with oily skin or frequent breakouts might want to skip this step, it’s one that everyone should be doing daily.
Even if you have oily skin, the right moisturizer will help to prevent your skin from producing even more oils that lead to small bumps and red marks.
Better yet, there are tons of products on the market today that are made just for oily or blemish-prone skin.13
Using a serum alone or under your moisturizer is also a great way to battle bumps and the red marks they can leave behind.
Another great option is to see a dermatologist or professional esthetician. These trained professionals have the knowledge, tools, and skills to properly perform a pore extraction, if needed. Getting regular monthly facials may also be a great help if you’re battling frequent blemishes and breakouts.
Stop Popping and Picking at Your Pores
The takeaway here is very clear: don’t pop skin blemishes! It doesn’t matter what kind they are. If you notice a bump, don’t pick, pop, or squeeze. Most bumps on skin will go away on their own within a few days to a week. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, or if you feel you may be suffering some sort of skin condition, see your doctor or dermatologist right away. Don’t wait for conditions to worsen.
How to Fade Hyperpigmentation (and what causes it?)
Should I Use Heat Or Ice On Pimples? Which Is More Effective?