You know you shouldn’t, but you went ahead and did it anyway; you popped the zit that’s been bothering you for a couple of days now. Sure, it felt great to see it reduce to half its size at the time but now you’re wondering how long it’s going to take to fully heal, and what the chances are of the scar staying on your skin. We’ve all been there, done that, and we know how much of a struggle it can be to deal with persistent post-acne scars. Mumbai-based dermatologist Dr. Madhuri Agarwal explains everything there is to know about popping a pimple, the after-care and most importantly, scar prevention.
Understanding the life cycle of an acne bump
Before you get into popping and scarring, it helps to understand how your acne bump forms to begin with. A pimple goes through three stages: the initial, middle and the final one. “The initial stage is triggered by excess oil production due to hormonal changes such as excessive androgen, no matter your age. This stage can last for a few days or even a few weeks if you’re dealing with the kind of bump that lives under your skin. “Then starts the middle stage where the pimple comes to the surface as a red visible papule known as inflammatory acne.” This is where the P.acnes bacteria starts to attack your skin and grows into an angry spot and can last for upto a week. The white fluid that fills up your bump is from inflammation and your body’s immune response to the bacteria growing there. This, of course, is the stage where it is most visible, increasing the urge to burst it in an attempt to subside it. The final stage of the pimple is when it dries out and starts to scab, on its way out of your skin, bringing the possibility of leaving a scar.
Is it ever okay to pop a pimple?
If you thought we were about to let you in on a loophole, we’re not. No situation makes popping a pimple okay or less harmful for your skin. “When you try to pop the pimple, you may end up pushing the P.acnes infection deep down in other oil glands and deeper layers of skin. This would further lead to newer pimples and worsen the scarring once the pimple heals.” When in doubt, leave your bump alone and don’t pop. Instead, “when an acne bump has come to head, use an ice cube on the bump for 20-30 seconds on and off to bring down the inflammation.” You can follow this up with a spot treatment with acne-busting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, sulphur or salicylic acid. This is also when pimple patches can help by treating your bumps and making sure you’re not tempted to touch or pop them—you’ll notice a smaller bump within 24 hours.
You gave in and burst your pimple, now what?
Here’s your step-by-step guide to treating an acne bump that you’ve popped.
- First, stop poking and prodding the spot to avoid scarring.
- Clean the area with a gentle cleanser—especially if there is a little blood—so there is no reinfection and the possibility of a worse scar.
- Avoid products containing Vitamin C, retinoids or any kind of exfoliants on that area to prevent further irritation and deepening of the scar.
- Use a basic, fragrance-free, lightweight moisturiser to soothe the area and apply a non-comedogenic broad-spectrum sunscreen.
- You can also opt for an in-clinic procedure with your dermatologist like a chemical peel, dermal infusion, Q-Switched lasers and IPL light to resolve the damage and prevent scarring. These procedures also help to prevent future zits.
- After the pimple is popped, you can use an acne patch to mop up the residual fluid that’s around for a couple of days. This will aid in reducing scarring as well.
How to treat a scar that’s been left behind by a pimple you intentionally burst
Unfortunately, once you’ve got a scar that refuses to disappear by itself, it’s time to get the experts in and let them do their job. “The best way to treat scars caused by a pimple is with a dermatologist as the scars can be deep with textural changes and worsen with time if not treated immediately. “In-clinic procedures such as chemical peels, micro needling, intradermal radiofrequency, non-ablative and ablative resurfacing lasers will reduce the scars permanently and improve the overall quality of your skin. Topical creams containing centella asiatica, azelaic acid, retinol and mandelic acid can be added to at-home care to treat the scars. Always use sunscreen as UV light can further degrade the scars.”