I am probably the first person to admit I may have some obsessive compulsive tendencies, especially when it comes to popping things. As a child, I had the disturbing habit of popping all the un-bloomed fuchsia blossoms on the plants in the garden (I think I have finally resolved this issue). But even now, if given a piece of bubble wrap, I will pop every bubble on that sucker. So when I see a pimple on my face, it takes a 1000 Jiminy Crickets and all the self-control in the world to not start popping.
When I hit that wonderful time of life called puberty and my first hormone-crazed pimple appeared, my Mom rushed me off to the dermatologist for a stern talking to and some medicated cream. Now I don’t know how my teenage years would have differed without this early intervention, but I can tell you I definitely did not have a pimply puberty (thank goodness!). This miracle was probably due in part to some genetic luck, in part to the smelly medicated cream I had to use every night, but also in part due to the advice my dermatologist gave me, which was NOT TO POP A SINGLE PIMPLE, no matter how tempting. So why is it so important not to pop pimples?
Basically pimples are clogged pores that contain a nasty combination of dead skin cells (that are being shed constantly from your top layer of skin), sebum (the oily stuff your skin produces), and bacteria. Yes, I said bacteria; your skin is full of gross, sebum-loving, toxin-producing bacteria. So, when you pop a pimple, the least harm you do is to spread the germs to the surrounding superficial areas of your face, thus creating more pimples. The worst-case scenario is that you accidentally push the pimple-producing debris further into the pore causing the follicle to rupture, producing an infection under your skin (in the layer known as the dermis). The debris now trapped under the skin can create painful nodules and cysts (which have to be treated by a dermatologist). As the infection continues to fester, these infected pores may eventually lead to scabbing and scarring. And if that’s not enough for you, the popping often causes inflammation that turns the tiny pimple into a huge red blemish, about ten times worse than the original pimple and twenty times harder to cover with make-up. (think about that the next time you try to pop a pimple before a big date).
Though it’s easy enough to say, “Just don’t get any pimples,” it’s rather unlikely that you won’t have a few blemishes arising from hormone fluctuations or plain old stress. So my best advice is to wash your face well (don’t exfoliate too hard or dry out your skin too much as both, counter-intuitively, will make acne worse), avoid popping the few pimples that dare show up, if you’re really self-conscious about it, slap on some cover-up (like me), and if you find those problematic zits unbearable, see a dermatologist for a medicated cream that can be used as a pimple-eliminator.
So, here I am 10 years later sans facial scars (save for the unfortunate spider incident and the time the picnic chair decided to use my forehead as a landing pad), all thanks to three little words – do not pop! Trust me, I know it’s hard to resist the temptation, especially as a young person who doesn’t want an unsightly pimple, but it’s all for the best; popping usually only makes things worse. Though dermatologists do not have Ten Commandments like the Bible, I feel, if they did, not popping pimples would be up there. Besides, “Thou shalt not pop,” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Margit Lai Wun Juhasz
Mount Sinai Medical Student