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.

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:


Extraction tools

Dr Pimple Popper

Learn more about types of spots and how to deal with them over on the Skin Rocks Column.