Sunday, 6 December 2015

Cheat Sheet - How to POP a spot

As much as any dermatologist will tell you not to pop, the fact is that you do. We do. You know you do, I know you do, the industry at large knows that you do, but they pretend that you don't. I know there are some of you that do manage to restrain yourselves, but you're in the minority and up there with those people that don't lick their lips when eating a donut or chew when eating a fruit pastille.
You exist, but the rest of us don't know how you manage it.

I'm a popper. Always have been, nothing more satisfying to be honest. And although some of you do seem to show great restraint, I know most of you pop because you tell me so - usually with a faint look of 'Don't shout at me' eyes.
As if! If it's the right time, I always pop. With that in mind, I offer you my way to pop. All risk is your own.

But before we go any further, for the sake of being professional, balanced and fair, here is my lovely friend Dr Sam Bunting telling you why you should not pop:

'Of course the correct answer is never pick a spot in the first place-treat them with an anti-inflammatory acne preparation containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide (no need to go higher than 2.5-5%); allow it to dry and then cover with concealer. Then – and this is key – divert attention away from the trouble zone. So if the spot is on the chin, work a mesmerising smoky eye. If it's on the forehead, rock a red lip. Remember to assess your face from what I call conversation distance – a good 1m away from the mirror (absolutely NO magnifying mirrors); remember no one every inspects you as closely as you’d like to think.
If you have been tempted to pick and its red and raw, it’s important to interfere as little as possible, to reduce the risk of pigmentation and scarring. This is especially true if the spot had not come to a white head and formed a pustule. Until the erosion has healed over, it will be almost impossible to get make-up to adhere and it may well cause secondary infection.  Wipe with a gentle antiseptic like witch hazel and apply light pressure for a minute. Then apply an anti-inflammatory acne preparation that will form a film over the area and leave it be. Don’t apply make-up until the skin has healed properly.'

That's the Dr. I love her. But I still pop.

Please bear in mind: Popping is not picking. They are two very different things.

How so?

Popping - 'Ooh I see a whitehead! Where did that come from? I think I can get that out. Let me have a go. Yep. Excellent.' *carries on with routine*

Picking - 'Ow. That red lump on my chin is KILLING ME. I must be due on. Bloody hormones. I'm going to get it out. *attempts to pop red lump for ages*
'OWWW. Ugh. I'll try again later. Ooh there's another one! Maybe that one will come out. *prods second bump until it bleeds*
'OOWWWW. Ugh. No joy. Why does my skin hate me?'
*plays with it all day with dirty fingers, doesn't leave it alone*

If you fall into the latter category you're making the simple mistake of opening the oven door before the cake has risen. A little patience changes the outcome.

A few simple guidelines will give the best result (although do bear in mind that every skin is different) and they will probably go against everything you've read from brands trying to sell you products. Nothing new there so let's crack on.

What you will need:
'Clean' everything. Clean hands. Clean skin. Clean flannel. Clean tissue. Acids. Cotton wool or on a ready made pad. A good quality (non-mineral oil) facial oil.
  • Slipping it into your routine is the easiest way. AM or PM. Not lunchtime in the loo at work.
  • Cleanse. With a flannel. If the flannel doesn't knock the head off the spot that's your first sign that it may not be ready. If it's sore, it's probably not ready. I steer clear of sore spots. They're still working their way up the dermis food chain and causing inflammation along the way.
  • If you can see white, it's not sore or too tender and everything is clean, take a tissue, rip it in half and wrap it around the forefinger of each hand.
  • Finger placement is also crucial. 
  • One of the biggest mistakes made when popping is to go straight in from RIGHTNEXTTOTHESPOT. You put your two fingers on the spot and you just push your fingers together, so that you're so close, you literally just get a little teeny whitehead, then everything almost gets pushed back down into the spot. Not good.
  • Do NOT use your nails. Pads of fingertips only.
  • Put your fingers either side of the spot, to the best you can, depending on where it is, obviously. You should be able to SEE the spot. Gently push downwards and then at a 90 degree angle towards the bottom the spot, start to push upwards. If it's ready, it will come up and out. Gently repeat. When the white stops, and it's spouting pink, STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP.
  • If you see blood (it's already too late but..), STOP. 
You're in scarring territory. Show restraint.
  • Now you need to move quickly. Take your pre-soaked acid toner cotton pad, or ready and waiting acid pad and apply it firmly to the spot, using a similar pressure as when you've ripped off a plaster or a wax strip. Hard pressure. Hold it down for a few seconds. Turn it over and repeat. There should be no bleeding. If there is, keep the acid on it until it stops. I have been known to walk around making a cup of tea holding a pad soaked with acid on to an overly pronged spot waiting for it to calm itself. The bigger the spot, the longer you hold acid on it.
  • Note: this may sting like a MOFO. Stinging is good. I know I say it all the time but stinging is good. The acid will be helping to kill the bacteria, aiding a quicker healing time and making sure the skin is prepped ready for the oil. You'll have a 'Kevin at the sink in Home Alone' moment. Embrace it.
  • Yes, oil. I don't use drying out products. You dry out the spot, you also dry out the area surrounding the spot causing a ton of inflammation and dehydration and frankly, making a prime breeding ground for bacteria and scarring. A Juicy Lucy skin is harder to scar. A dried-out, shrivelled up area will scar easily. Simples.
  • Take your acid pad off, and put your chosen oil on the area.
  • Massage it firmly in. You can't be mamby-pamby at this stage. Be firm. Good strong pressure massaging all around the spot and over the spot.
  • Depending on the rest of your day/evening, finish your routine, but I try and do this either on mornings that I'm not wearing makeup and am working from home, or in the evenings at teatime.
  • It's best to do it when you're at home with a little time afterwards as you're going to repeat the oil application as soon as it has all absorbed...
    Apply, wait, absorb, apply, wait, absorb. Repeat at least three times if you can. 
  • Throughout the day or the next morning you will find that the spot erupts a little goo, like a mini-volcano. Wipe away with acid and reapply the oil. This sounds time-consuming but I promise we're talking seconds, not hours. And it's worth it if it speeds up the spot healing process and helps prevent scarring.
  • IF you have a ready spot but you have to go to work, do everything as above, apply your moisturiser over the area, don't avoid it - and then proceed with your makeup. Powder is your friend. Once you get home, cleanse immediately and do it all again. You may find the rest of the spot just throws itself at you willingly, or that it has calmed significantly to be almost invisible. Just DON'T be tempted to start on it like you're climbing Everest with a pickaxe. 
The reason I do oil and not drying products is because in my experience, drying out doesn't always work and causes more damage. Using oil does one of two things: it either swells up the spot and forces the 'head' of the spot to show up the next morning, or it settles it down and almost disperses the remnants. 

Sidebar: you can of course, use extraction tools, but you can't use them where you can't see the spot - and you need to know how much pressure is too much. If popping is your thing and you haven't already discovered her, watch Dr Sandra Lee aka Dr Pimple Popper. Be warned: you may gag.

More info on products/people mentioned here:


  1. Hi Caroline, Is there a particular oil that is good to apply? (Loved your You Mag article BTW!)

    1. In the breakouts Cheat Sheet Caroline mentions the Clarins Lotus Facial oil! Hope that helps!

  2. I'm definitely one of those people who, as soon as I find a spot, I have to investigate! That, however, how caused me to have a few Scars from when I was a teenager. Mrs Hirons, are product recommendations for healing scaring/making it less noticeable?

    Great post! XX

  3. Brilliant post. Thank you for the step by step guidance.
    Do you have any advice on pre-teen / teen skincare? My 11 year old is currently losing that perfect baby skin and developing a few tiny spots between the eyebrows. Want to start off the teens on the right foot.
    Thanks in advance X

  4. Yes I pop. I don't get many spots but when I do they are magnificently epic. And patience is the key waiting till its just right.
    I would have been afraid of putting oil on the spot but I'll definitely try it out next time.
    I highly recommend Vichy Dermablend stick foundation and powder for spot covering. They just stick to the spot plain and simple. Cover the spot put on too much powder leave and then brush off the excess. Sorted for the day.

  5. Any recommendations on the scarring which happens afterwards. I have a pretty big scar when I tried to squeeze out a blackhead. And can I apply argan oil?

  6. I am a real picker but hereby promise myself to do your cheat sheet everytime I get a pimple. And no picking on blackheads.... Thank you Lady Hirons!

  7. Hi Caroline, this is really helpful, thank you. Do you have any recommendations for a) the anti-inflammatory acne preparation that will form a film over the area like the Dr recommends; and b) for a really good non-mineral facial oil like you recommend?
    Thanks v much

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. If this comes up again, sorry.

    Favourite cheat sheet so far, thank you. Does this method also apply to ther parts of the body?

  10. Great tips Caroline! Good to see you provide a guide that helps us live in reality in the best way possible. Now if only I had this in my life two weeks ago...might not have this pesky sore on my chin now! Haha at least I now know better for next time

  11. Well that's where ive been going wrong, my spots generally always bleed when I pop them, oh well whats done is done, I shall make sure to follow this advice in future! Thank you Caroline as always :)

  12. There's few things as satisfying as popping a big spot. I am definitely a popper and at times a picker... I know I shouldn't play with anything that hasn't come to the surface but it's just so bloody tempting. I'll try and refrain from now on!
    What's your thoughts on blackheads and how to properly get rid of those buggers? Steam and tissued fingers?
    The Beauty Bloss

  13. I am a popper, have been all my life. To be honest, I am picking sometimes too, but I try to stop that. Thank you for offering me advice on how to do it "properly", because, just like you said, I don't think I could ever manage to just not do it.

    Linda, Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

  14. OMG I live Dr Sandra Lee aka Dr Pimple Popper! She is the best! I had cystic acne as a young adult and yes I do have some scars from it. I was a picker and popper! :-( But thank God I did get on Accutane quite early and my skin is really nice now but then again I'm 54 now and I would hope I'm past that. I am a skin care fanatic and do believe in keeping my pores clean which helps my skin to look nice. I love facial and have been following you for a while and spend more money on skincare than I do on expensive purses and shoes. Waiting on my May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon to arrive tomorrow to give it a go. You are the best Caroline!

  15. I sometimes pick, sometimes show restraint (lol sometimes), sometimes pop... and for that I have this tiny Body Shop tool (that I treat like a piece of jewellery so afraid am I of losing it) that works if the spot is small. Though even when I pop gently, there's always some blood out as well :( Also wondering.... if it starts spouting watery pink-yellow, and you do the acid+Control Gel+oil... but then a couple of hours later there's pus there again - pop again, or leave it? Why does the pus keep coming back? Why does my skin hate me??
    Thanks for the Cheat Sheet!

  16. May I ask if it's possible for salicylic acid to worsen a spot? I explain myself: I have mild hormonal acne, and when I'm using salicylic acid (PC 2%) on forming spots, it seems to kind of prevent it from coming to an head and it transforms into kind if cystic acne, sore bumps way deep into the skin. They eventually go away after MONTHS, but they leave ugly, deep purple hyper pigmentation even though I haven't touched them. Am I doing something wrong?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Great article, Caroline. I've never really suffered from spots and over the past couple of years have really learned NOT to interfere. I agree that Clarins Lotus Oil is amazing for this. It takes care of every little irritation almost over night. I've also had to stop eating sugar in the last few years, and this has also made an enormous difference.

    I second the request for advice for 11 year olds... I start seeing small spots and blackheads on the nose. I don't want to make my son too self concours, but I know he notices.
    He has a history of eczema (which has been gone for the last few years!!!) and has lactose intolerance and hay fever (grrrrr.....) and I've been told he simple has "atopic skin".
    I've bought him the Weleda gentle cleanser and the Weleda skin food and I've always used organic super gentle washes and shampoos (because of the eczema, obvs).

    Just read your interview (it's also on line) ! Congrats! You come across so well and the photos are wonderful!

  18. Thanks to this post I found myself completely engrossed in Dr. Pimple Popper videos over my morning coffee. She is amazing! I may have to go out and buy a blackhead extractor loop and then convince my mom to let me have a go at her back.

  19. Hello! Thank you for the refreshing post, it was very informative. Would you recommend using a numbing cream to help minimize the pain associated with large red lumps? Thank you.

  20. Thank you for this. As you say although we know we're not supposed to I'm pretty sure the majority of people are poppers so it's good to know how to do it properly. I thought acid was the last thing you would want to put near an open would, I always thought killer stinging meant 'nooo bad, get it off as soon as possible' but I'll remember this for the future.

  21. I wish I never watched spot popping video now Feeling ill but couldn't stop watching ha ha ha

  22. Dr pimple popper is strangly satisfying and addictive to watch . Weird .
    Thanks for the advice X

  23. Desperately need help from anyone who can offer it!

    Over the past couple of months I've been getting spots of my forehead (I'm now 20 and had perfect skin throughout my teen years so this is odd for me) however the contents of the spots is hard, almost like blackheads. And no matter how long I wait for them to form a 'head' they just stay put under the skin. Therefore to remove them it can be painful and it breaks the skin so I always end up bleeding.

    If I leave the spots they stay put and don't ever want to go away however trying to remove them is a horrible process and makes my skin look and feel gross. Can anyone recommend any products that might soften the contents of my spots or know of the cause? I'd appreciate any advice whatsoever!


    1. Could it be something you've been eating? Maybe a food intolerance you haven't discovered yet? Try removing milk and sugar and see how you go... It doesn't sound like something just skincare can solve!

    2. Do you use acids on them? I get the same ones on my forehead. The only things that help for me are acids, and oil - like a Clarins Face oil, or any other good oil - no mineral oil!!!
      Alpha H Liquid Gold is great as a spot treatment. I cleanse my face and acid tone, then dab Liquid Gold over the spots. Let it work 5-10 min., and then apply oil. You can use any acid like this - should be an acid high in % though. I also use the La Roche Posay efficlar duo cream, but only directly on the spots, not on bigger areas, as it is quite drying on my skin.
      You need to just wait. Don't try to pop them, or remove in any way. They are hard and they stay hard, but eventually they go down or come to the surface. But they hurt like a mo fo!! Good luck.

    3. I suffered from those types of spots on my forehead a few years ago, and then decided to cut out dairy. I've never had one since! I remember reading a 'spot map' once, explaining what the placement of spots on the face might be due to, and funnily enough it said forhead=dairy.

    4. Are they like little round, hard balls, almost like tiny pearls, when they come out? Sounds like milia if so (Google it if you're not familiar). Total bugger to get rid of and the usual advice is to get a preofessional to remove them. Otherwise could be a type of pimple that just has more trouble surfacing than elsewhere on your face.

      I've battled with these too (as has my husband) and for me one of the causes has been using products that are too heavy for my face. Mineral oil, shea butter, etc seemed to be the worst. So perhaps switch to a good facial oil, a light moisturiser (no shea butter!) and an acid toner. Plus maybe some professional help on the most stubborn sods! :)

      Fringes, diet, etc may aggravate too, but try changing one thing at a time before blaming them on one possible cause of many.

      Good luck!

  24. I know you've talked about the Aesop spot treatment before but are there any others you recommend? It's maddeningly difficult to get where I live.

  25. Sending my thanks-- for just being you. I thought I was an expert at putting the squeeze on spots but I was oh so wrong. This is now bookmarked and will be used as a reference or more like a pep talk. How do you feel about coconut oil after the acid?

  26. My GAD! I managed 2m18s of the 'best of' pimple popping compilation before I actually gagged.

  27. I'm so scared of popping. My spots always scar whether I pop or not :/ it's so frustrating. I've just received some paula's choice azlaeic acid treatment for fading pink marks for previous spots so fingers crossed. This is my only issue with my skin, the rest of it looks fabulous thanks to your blog & cheat sheets! Much love x

  28. Hi there, this is so timely! I have had acne most of my life but it's been under control recently. However, this last month I have had an explosion of white heads and cysts along my jawline and chin area :( so upset! There are more than I can deal with and I've no idea what's going on. Have been acid toning regularly as well. Does anyone have any ideas/tips?

    1. I have the same thing at the moment, the skin on the rest of my face is clear but around the sides of my chin and under my cheekbones i probably have about 20+ spots. I've been acid toning and using a high quality oil too but nothings working :( every time one goes another appears

    2. I have those as well and I know that mine are because I sit at a desk and put my face in my hands...they clear up when I'm on holiday or have a week away from my laptop.

  29. I have the mother of all outbreaks at the moment - all over my jawline and chin. It won't go away :( I suffered for years with acne but it's been quite good for the last year. I'm acid toning every day as well! Any ideas what could be going on? No major changes in diet etc.

  30. Holy Palm Trees! This couldn't have come at a better time! Living in Hawaii, my very acne prone skin has decided to act the fool right before I shoot a commercial and attend the first of a dozen Holiday parties! And of course, it's on the side of my nose..Uighghh. My skin has been looking fabulous since I started following your amazing advice and then POW...Here's a zit for ya! I Just followed this sheet, but I used my Dennis Gross extra strength acid pads and followed with my Suki Balancing Facial Oil (I don't think I've seen any negatives on your pages about Suki in your info...I actually don't think you've ever mentioned it). Mahalo, Caroline!! Saving the day (or face), as always! Aloha!

  31. Btw...what are your thoughts on the Suki line?

  32. I have to stop myself watching Dr Pimple Popper because I am so addicted. I can lose hours to her instagram...

    Great cheat sheet as ever. Thank you. And for the oil advice. I'd never have thought it...

  33. This is great - thank you! Can you speak at all to those nasty little white seeds that are almost always at the base of my spots? I find that if I don't get that seed out, the spot will continue to puss - gross. What the hell is that little bugger?!?

  34. Hi Caroline, I have a spot on my cheek, its red and quite big, its sore to touch and it has pigmentation around it as though I have tried to squeeze it, but I haven't. Can you tell me what it is or how to treat it please? (My skin has 101 problems but this is truly annoying me) Also if I do have the restraint not to pop a spot what is the correct method of getting rid of it? My routine is Emma Hardie, Ren Milk Cleanser, Alpha H/Pixi Glow, and oskia age defy moisturiser. I have other moisturisers and skincare to rotate when need be. Also I work in a factory where the air is VERY dry, and my shifts are 12 hours long while wearing make up. On my days off I dont wear make up! Thanks in advance!

  35. I would really like to know how best to treat my boys teenage skin too. Bless him.

  36. Haha I can't believe I read this while eating scrambled egg on toast!! I currently have a big red spot on my jawline, period is imminent as I also have the mystery 'bumps' just at the top of my jaw(one side only), that come up and then go down when my period arrives, very weird!
    My current routine is to cleanse, then it's glycolic acid tone, salicylic clearasil pad on the spot only,(recommended on your video ages ago) hydrating tone spritz, then I apply my Vichy Hyaluspot which I've found is amazing at taking them down fast, sometimes they don't even come up fully they just vanish, then a spot of oil on the spot when that's dried in, and then eye-cream, serum and moisturiser. Oh and I'm not a picker,can't do that!!

  37. Oh my God I've being doing it all wrong. I always squeeze and continue to squeeze until I see all the white is gone and by this point quite a bit of blood has come out. Eugh gross I know. I had no idea that could cause scarring! I have a few on my chin that have obviously scarred from doing that and I've been trying to fade them with the Glow Tonic. Thank goodness for you and your blog Caroline. I will stop that NOW!

  38. I know you are probably up to your eyes at the moment but if and when you get time would you mind answering whether this method is ok for cystic acne or are they best left alone completely? Many thanks & have a lovely Christmas. Xx


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