This Is What’s Actually Coming Out of a Pimple When You Pop It
If you’ve spent hours in front of a magnifying mirror popping, picking and prodding at skin bumps and blackheads (guilty!), chances are you’ve seen some stuff come out of your pimple. Those prone to picking have probably squeezed it all, from yellow pus to blood. And while we don’t advise popping your pimples (it can lead to scarring, infection and hyperpigmentation), we were curious about what exactly comes out of them — especially when the pimple is not ready to be popped. Think: a clear, oily liquid. To find out exactly what is oozing out of your blemishes, we consulted with New York City-based board certified dermatologist and Skincare.com consultant Dr. Sapna Palep.
What Happens Inside Your Pimple When You Pop It?
While you may see a clear liquid that looks like oil oozing out of your pimple, what’s actually happening inside the blemish is a little more complicated. “Every hair follicle has an oil gland attached to it called a sebaceous gland that gives us lubrication and oil,” says Dr. Palep. “If for any reason dirt, pollution, grime or compression (like sleeping on one side of your face) blocks the hair follicle, sebum starts to back up and can’t get out.” What happens next will determine the first stages of your pimple.
For example, if when the pore starts to widen, oxygen enters and oxidizes the sebum, it can turn it black and produce a blackhead. Or, Dr. Palep explains that sebum can also combine with dead skin cells to become an attractor for P acnes bacteria that live on the hair follicle. “When that happens, the P acne hair follicle takes the opportunity to create an infection,” says Dr. Palep. This results in a red bump on the skin. And while your pimple may start small, it doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. She explains that aggravating and traumatizing pimples, even if it simply starts as a closed comedone, can lead to more inflamed and irritated breakouts.
What Is the Fluid That Comes Out of Your Pimple?
Even though what’s inside your pimple is a mix of sebum, dead skin cells and P acnes, that’s not necessarily what you're squeezing out — especially if your pimple is a cyst, nodule or hasn’t reached a head. In short, you’re pushing out a byproduct of inflammation. Once P acnes are present in your pimple, it creates inflammatory acne. “Inflammation is a bunch of pus and neutrophils, a type of inflammatory cell,” says Dr. Palep. “There’s fluid that’s involved in inflammation; what you’re seeing when you squeeze a pimple is the fluid that all the inflammatory cells are in.” Essentially, when you try to pop an inflamed pimple, you are squeezing out the carrier fluid, or the start of the inflammation.
If you’ve seen a fluid-blood mixture ooze out of your pimple, Dr. Palep explains that it is called serosanguinous fluid. “As you’re sitting there traumatizing the pimple, blood gets mixed in there.” While it may be tempting to play with a pimple that has just started to form, Dr. Palep warns against it. Eventually, pus, a white or yellow fluid of compact inflammatory cells, will form and gradually make its way to the head.
Should You Pop Your Pimple?
“If it’s the first two days and your pimple is red and tender to the touch, you don’t want to pop that at all; you have bacteria on your fingers and you’ll just infect yourself,” says Dr. Palep. Beyond that, it’s best to use hot compresses, let your pimple naturally run its course or see a dermatologist.
If you are going to pop your pimple at home, though, Dr. Palep has a few tips: “Wait until the end of your shower, when your face is fully steamed and pop it between two Q-tips,” she says. For this to work, however, the whitehead has to be ready to go and at a head. If your pimple is large, painful and cystic, you may be a candidate for a cortisone injection, a type of steroid injection, from your dermatologist.
After You Pop Your Pimple
To help reduce the size and redness of your pimple at home, use a spot treatment, like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment or the CeraVe Acne Control Gel. Soothe the area after applying the spot treatment with Thayers Blemish Clearing Balm to help heal the spot and prevent future breakouts.
Photo: Chaunte Vaughn