How Do I Know If I Got All the Gunk Out of My Pimple?
I know it’s wrong, and I hate to admit it, but I am a pimple popper. The second I notice even a bit of pus underneath the skin, I wash my hands and start prodding and squeezing away at the whiteheads, cysts and pustules that made a red, inflamed home on my face. I should know better (I have pretty bad discoloration), but I can’t help it. Recently during a popping sesh, I started thinking, How do I know when all of the so-called gunk inside my pimple has successfully been removed? To get the answers I was looking for, I turned to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Howe of Wexler Dermatology.
What Is the Gunk Made Up of, Anyways?
When it comes to squeezing out the “gunk” in your pimple, you’re probably thinking of pus. But that’s not all that’s inside your pimple. Dr. Howe explains that every pimple starts with the formation of something called a plug, which is a keratin protein that blocks the pore. When the plug is located deeper in the skin, as opposed to closer to the surface, the blockage is more profound, and the contents of your pimples are more complex. “Because there’s this blockage, oil that’s constantly produced by our glands will continue to be produced and then that stagnant pool of oil allows bacteria to grow,” he says. “It eventually expands like a balloon and the pus bursts whether we push it with our fingers or if it just breaks open.” Dr. Howe goes on to explain that once the initial burst occurs, the material in the pimple that is below the surface becomes loosened and prompts a response in the body that creates more “gunk.” “Your body thinks it’s an infection and the pimple will get red, inflamed and swollen.”
How Do I Know When Everything Is Out of My Pimple?
Sad news for all you fellow pimple poppers: It’s difficult to tell when everything is out of your pimple. Unless you or your dermatologist visibly sees the plug, which presents as a harder substance released after the pus is emptied out, it’s nearly impossible to tell if everything is out of your pimple. While the initial burst of pus is a release of the buildup that has reached the surface, the majority of the “gunk” is too deep within the skin to be expelled through popping. Instead, continued pushing on the pimple will actually just make your blemish larger and last longer. “For that little bit of payoff, you’ve got the tip of the iceberg, but when you’re squeezing really hard and it’s hurting, the underwater part of the iceberg is breaking open,” says Dr. Howe. “So you get out a little, but much more of that same stuff (think: oil, pus, bacteria) is being ruptured free into the tissue, and you’ll wake up with a blown-up pimple the next morning.” He explains that once these contents are loose, meaning they’re no longer contained within the follicle, the body views this “gunk” as a foreign invader and sends antibodies, and as a result, inflammation, to fight the infection.
The only way to ensure all the gunk is out of your pimple is to visit your dermatologist. They have tools, as well as steroid injections, that are designed to effectively and safely remove the contents of your pimple while simultaneously preventing inflammation from creeping up. “We [dermatologists] have a comedone extractor that you can’t use on yourself, and we’re able to apply a very small amount of pressure to empty out your pimple,” says Dr. Howe. “And if I feel that I did have to apply a bit of pressure, I know to follow up with a steroid injection to prevent it from swelling up.”
Signs You Should Stop Popping
While the initial pus might be easy to expel, it’s best to not push on your pimple any harder. Once you start to notice blood or a clear liquid oozing out, step away and let the pimple heal. “That clear liquid is just the normal water that’s in your tissue. If you see that, you’re not getting anything,” says Dr. Howe. “And if you see blood, it’s proof that the structure of the follicle is ruptured.” Instead of continuing to squeeze, let the pimple heal on its own, use a hot compress and a spot treatment. We like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment.