Unpoppable Pimples Are a Thing — Here’s What You Need to Know

August 04, 2020
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | skincare.com by L'Oréal
Unpoppable Pimples Are a Thing — Here’s What You Need to Know

Even though the practice goes against our better judgement, we’re guilty of going on the occasional pimple-popping expedition. Let’s face it: when your whitehead or pustule is ripe and seemingly ready-to-go, it’s tempting to want to push out the pus. But sometimes our pimples put up a fight and refuse to be popped. No matter how hard we push on our pimples (yes, this is a very bad habit — don’t do it), no greasy liquid or yellow pus oozes out. Is it possible to have an unpoppable pimple? To get the answer, we turned to board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entieré Dermatology, Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin and board-certified esthetician, Nicole Hatfield

Can a Pimple Be Unpoppable? 

There are various types of pimples, including ones that are unpoppable. “The pimples that are not able to be popped consist of nodules or cysts, which are inflamed lesions that are deeper within the skin where bacteria is trapped within the pore,” says Hatfield. “This inflamed, hard bump is oftentimes filled with pus and blood, but it doesn’t have an exit route to be effectively extracted.” She explains that either the pus has yet to rise to the surface of the skin or the inflammation is too intense for the pus to even reach the surface. Regardless, the pimple should be left alone. “We are often too rough on our skin and have a hard time knowing when to stop, which can worsen the breakout, cause scarring and even spread bacteria or infection.”  

To help soothe inflamed cysts, Dr. Levin says icing the area can be helpful. “If it’s just pain you’re experiencing, then icing the area can help relieve some of the pain, reduce inflammation and close down some of the blood vessels so you have less inflammatory cells and blood heading to that area,” she says. “But if it’s a large pimple heading to the point of an abscess, applying a warm compress for around five to ten minutes, coupled with an anti-bacterial wash is helpful.” We like the CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

Are You Mistaking Your Pimple for Something Else?

While cysts and pustules could be what you’re dealing with, Dr. Levin adds that your “unpoppable pimples” may not be pimples at all. If you’re noticing small bumps, as opposed to inflamed blemishes, it’s important to consult with a board-certified dermatologist. “Small red bumps could be indicative of a rosacea-like pimple,” she says. “Rosacea patients tend to have on and off symptoms of burning, stinging, redness and dry skin that’s correlated to some form of trigger such as heat, spicy foods or wine.” Doctor’s note: Red bumps can also be indicative of a small growth, like an angiofibroma, or in more serious cases, basal cell skin cancer, which can resemble small red bumps that won’t go away. Make sure to consult with a board-certified dermatologist.

If you see white or skin-colored bumps on your skin, you could be dealing with milia, a collection of keratin proteins that present most commonly on the eyelids, under the eyes, the nose, the forehead and the cheeks. “There are many factors that can cause milia, such as dead skin cells building up and getting trapped in the pores near the top of the skin’s surface. If it doesn’t get expelled naturally, it can become milia,” says Dr. Levin. “Because they’re small little cysts, you can’t pop them out — they actually need to be extracted by a dermatologist.” She explains that the most important takeaway, regardless of the type of blemish you see on your skin, is to steer clear of popping and picking at a blemish, especially when a pus-filled head isn’t in sight. Consult with your board-certified dermatologist to discuss treatment options. 

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