At-home extractions: Yay or Nay?

There are two types of people in this world: those who are uncannily disciplined and don’t touch a pimple regardless of how bad it is, and then those who absolutely can’t stand the sight nor feel of a zit and will do anything possible to destroy it (carefully, right?) as soon as it bothers them. If you fall under the latter, you’ve probably heard from person #1 to not ever touch your face, and more importantly- to never pop your pimples. Alas, you do it anyway because you can’t resist the urge and it’s probably not doing any real harm anyway.. right? Well, if you haven’t already heard- it’s a well known verity in the skincare community that picking at or popping zits can damage the skin. What is this based on, though? Is it actually a truth? We talked to 18 licensed estheticians and dermatologists to get to the bottom of it and well, let's just say it’s an illusive conclusion.

What do the pro's have to say?

Let’s get straight to it- is it harmful to pop a whitehead or extract blackheads without a professional? Short answer: yes, but it depends. It mostly depends on how you do it and how you treat your skin before and after. Generally speaking though, the consensus is: just don’t. Licensed Aesthetician, Drini Evans, weighs in on whether or not at-home pimple popping is okay.

      “As a licensed professional, I will always advise against popping a pimple on your own because the average person won’t do it correctly, and because it can cause even more inflammation underneath the skin which can inspire new “friends” to pop up.”

Furthermore, such intense pinching and picking at the skin can cause damage, hyperpigmentation, and permanent scarring. Diving a little deeper on bacterial spread, Board Certified Dermatologist Geeta Patel educates us on the basics.

      “If you push some of the contents inside the pimple deeper into the skin, which often happens, you increase inflammation. This can lead to more-noticeable acne. Some people develop acne scars and pain as well. When you pop pimples yourself, you also run the risk of getting an infection from the bacteria on your hands.”

This concludes that bacterial spread (therefore, worsened breakouts) comes from two sources: direct exposure from bacteria on your fingertips, and unintentionally pushing the ‘contents’ of a zit deeper into the skin and surrounding pores.

Why is it harmful to do it yourself?

If you’ve had a facial though, you’ve also probably had extractions done. If you know, you know that they are no walk in the park- it’s painful and definitely feels like your skin is taking a beating. So what’s the difference between a professional squeezing your pores and doing it yourself at home? It really boils down to how a professional is trained to prep the skin, handle different areas of the skin, and treat the skin following an extraction. 

Of the aestheticians and dermatologists we spoke to, 18 agreed it’s best to leave extractions to the professionals, however only 3 insisted it to be the only way. The remaining 15 offered advice on how to safely perform an extraction at home. Generally, the consensus was that although as professionals they would never recommend it, they recognize it’s nearly impossible to prevent a client from popping a zit at home. Instead, they offer their best advice to prevent their clients from damaging their skin. Licensed aesthetician Tess Zolly breaks down her recommended procedure must an at home extraction be done.

      “Before extracting, I would recommend a warm shower with steam, and an enzyme exfoliation to soften the skin. Out of the shower, be sure to always wrap your (clean) fingers with tissue. Never use your nails to extract— it’s more of a gentle rolling motion at the base of the breakout. You can apply gentle pressure, trying a couple angles. If nothing comes out after three tries, walk away and come back to it another day. A complete extraction of a whitehead includes the whitehead, a little blood, and clear lymph. Follow up with an antibacterial product such as a salicylic toner. Another great option? Ice in a bag as a spot treatment to calm that inflammation!”

Other aestheticians and dermatologists had also recommended other tactics such as to prep with a warm compress for 10-15 seconds, to use two q-tips on either end, to only attempt twice, or to only apply pressure for 3-5 seconds. Although some tips slightly vary, they all fall within the same line: be gentle and do not force it. Equally as important is to make sure both your hands and face are clean prior to- and be sure to properly prepare the area and care for it diligently afterwards with ice and spot treatments.

What's okay to handle yourself, and what's not okay?

So we’ve learned that popping a pimple can cause more harm than good, however, it is acceptable under specific circumstances and when done using a professional's advice. Are all forms of acne safe to extract on your own, though? Nope. Definitely not.

Acne comes in different forms, and attempting to pop stubborn or deeply embedded pimples is a certain path toward permanent damage. Medical aesthetician Lauryn Colquitt confirms what you may already be thinking: definitely do not touch cysts or pustules.

      “Whiteheads and blackheads are more easily removed while cysts and nodules should without a doubt be left alone. Cysts are very deep within the skin and if “popped” can erupt under the skin leading to more breakouts and deep pitted scarring.”

All aestheticians and dermatologists interviewed were in unison on which types of acne are okay, or not okay to attempt to extract. It’s concluded that whiteheads are the safest to extract at home, blackheads (although tricky) are somewhat safe, but extracting pustules and cysts should never, ever be attempted on your own.

The verdict:

Before you go looking in the mirror to inspect your skin, remember, clogged pores and acne are totally normal. The best thing you can do is preventative treatment and leaving extractions to the pros. Good news is that getting a facial once a month can actually make a noticeable difference, since the skin cells renew every 27 days. If a whitehead appears and you absolutely must get rid of it, just do it very carefully. Scarring and pigmentation damage is far more difficult and expensive to treat than acne. Talk to your derm or your aesthetician on how to best deal with acne as it comes and goes. In the meantime, resist the urge to pick at your skin and try your best to leave zits and bumps alone. Perform at home extractions only following the advice of a professional. Your skin will thank you in the long run.


Prep: Warm compress, steam, hot shower.

Extraction: Q-tips, fingers wrapped in gauze, metal extraction tool.

Spot treatments: ice compress, salicylic acid gels or creams, benzoyl peroxide creams.

Do: wash hands and face prior, use a warm compress, apply gentle pressure no more than 4 seconds, push in an upward motion, gently pull apart.

Don’t: touch with dirty hands, use pressure with fingernails, attempt more than twice, press too hard and for more than 5 seconds, neglect to prep and treat after.

Acne to never extract at home: Bumps under the skin with no head, cysts, premature whiteheads that are painful and red, clogged pores.