Acne, Spots, pimples, zits – whatever you call them, we all fall victim to these pesky pustules. At one time or another, and the temptation to squeeze them can be a little overwhelming!
So you place a finger on either side of it and squeeze as hard as you can until the little sucker explodes all over your bathroom mirror, for the win!
In fact, over 70% of people said this is exactly what they do! BUT WAIT! Is this really the right thing to do, are you just going to just cause more issues in the long run? Are there any dangers to popping the little bobbled blemish?
In This article, we’re going to sort the truths from the myths and the facts from the misconceptions.
What Really Causes Acne?
The appropriately named acne vulgaris – or just acne for short – is a result of the skin’s natural processes and structure. As mammals, our skin is covered in countless hairs, which grow from hair follicles – tiny holes in the top layer of our skin.
Attached to the top of each follicle are sebaceous glands, which produce sebum – a waxy, oily substance which coats and moisturizes our skin. But if the glands produce too much sebum, it can combine with dead skin cells to clog the follicle. Bacteria that live on the skin can then infect the plugged pore – including the dreaded CUTIBACTERIUM OR PROPIONIBACTERIUM acnes, which grow slowly as it feeds on the sebum and produces fatty acids that deactivate the enzymes that prevent inflammation in skin cells.
This triggers the body’s immune response and sends white blood cells into the rescue. As the white blood cells degenerate, they build up with the bacteria and form that icky yellow-white substance doctors call PURULENT EXUDATE. It’s better known as pus.
Even though bacteria are essential to their formation, and despite what you might have heard, zits are NOT contagious, you can’t catch them from someone else. But ANYONE can get them, and they’ll appear ANYWHERE there are sebaceous glands. But there are more sebaceous glands on the face than anywhere else.
The oiliest areas tend to be your forehead, nose and chin – known as the T-zone.
Only Teenagers Get Acne, Right?
Since spots require excess sebum to form, hormones play an important role in acne because they affect how productive our sebaceous glands are. This is why 85% of teenagers are afflicted with acne – because when we reach puberty, hormones hit hard.
In particular, higher levels of testosterone cause the glands to produce more sebum. That’s why adolescent boys tend to have much worse acne than girls. But it’s not just teens, I’m in my 30s and I still get the little blighters!
However, adult women are much more likely to get acne than adult men because of hormonal changes. Studies estimate that past the age of 25, 3% of males suffer acne compared to 12% of females.
The good news is the older you are, the less likely you are to have spots – however, just because you escaped them as a teenager, doesn’t mean you can’t get them later in life.
- ADULT ACNE IS USUALLY ON THE LOWER HALF OF THE FACE;
- TEEN ACNE IS TYPICALLY ON THE UPPER HALF.
- ADULT ACNE IS ALSO DEEPER AND APPEARS AS CYSTS, OR ‘UNDER THE SKIN’ PIMPLES.
What Type of Acne Do I Have?
You may think a zit is a zit, but there are a whole host of varieties and these are the five main types of acne.
The mildest type is the comedo, which comes in two forms: whiteheads and blackheads.
These are small, pussy pores on the surface of the skin. The only difference is that in whiteheads the pore is closed, but in blackheads the pore stays open, oxidizing the pus and turning it a discreet dark colour.
However, both white- and blackheads can become inflamed and form pimples, or pustules. These are larger and redder, with a defined circular centre of pus.
Papules are noticeably different because they form bumps under the skin with no visible centre.
Deep in the skin, cysts are very large, soft lumps filled with pus. They’re often painful…
But not as painful as nodules, which are hard, deep lumps that can cause dark spots.
Both cysts and nodules can lead to scarring, and can be so big they look like boils.
Should I Pop My Pimple?
IT’S OK TO POP PIMPLES… ISN’T IT? Should you pop them? Ask any doctor and they’ll tell you that you should never pop a spot. DR. Michele Green, Cosmitic Darmatologist:
“Doing it incorrectly can lead to permanent scarring…”; “if the pimple contains infected pus, this can spread bacteria into other pores, causing further breakouts.” ; “Another risk of trying to pop pimples — and failing to do so — is that it can cause severe inflammation and clog the pores even deeper”.
The deeper the pussy plug, the more damage it can do. and he continues: “Sometimes when patients attempt to pop these on their own, it leads to more destruction to the surrounding skin.”
In fact it’s best not to touch spots at all – especially in the Triangle of Death. Also called the Danger Triangle.
You must never play with or pop spots in this area because the veins that run behind our eye sockets feedback into the cavernous sinus in our brain.
Whenever we pop a spot, dirt and bacteria from our fingers and the air can infect the open wound. To contain the infection in the Danger Triangle, clots form in the veins behind the eyes – which in turn put pressure on the brain.
This is Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis, and it kills 30% of people who get it. If it doesn’t kill you, you might instead have partial or full paralysis, simply go blind or – in worst-case scenarios – get meningitis.
If You Are Going To Pop Acnes, How Do You Do It?
So even though you’ve heard all the warnings, you still decide you really must pop that pimple! So how should you go about it?
Well here’s how to do it according to dermatologists.
Firstly, only pop whiteheads, blackheads and pustules. Leave papules, cysts and nodules alone.
Next, wash your hands to make sure they’re free from nasty bacteria. It’s also worth washing your face and patting it dry, too. Then put a warm compress on the acne for 15 minutes.
Now I imagine you think that this steam opens up your pores. This concept however is a myth, pores don’t function as a muscle opening and closing at will. They can dilate when they’re clogged full and cold water can tighten your pores, but what we’re aiming to do here is loosen the excess sebum and help it exit the pore more easily.
Alternatively, you could squeeze the spot after a warm shower – the point is, your skin should be freshly cleaned with water and relaxed by gentle heat.
The next step is best explained by Dr. Rachel Nazarian of the Schweiger Dermatology Group. “Gently pull the surrounding skin away from the pimple, and push down with light pressure – don’t press down on the middle white OR black part – the central white core or black core should drain out easily. If not, leave it alone. It’s not ready.”
By stretching the surrounding skin rather than squeezing it, you reduce the risk of pushing the pus deeper into your skin and making things worse. If your spot successfully bursts, it’s recommended to use a cotton ball or gauze strip to drain it.
Finally, sterilize the open zit with a gentle antimicrobial agent like witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Avoid putting other skin products straight over the wound, because this might lead to infection.
Do Other Methods Actually Work?
Of course, it’s perfectly possible to get rid of spots without popping them. You may have heard that you can treat spots with household products like baking soda, lemon juice or toothpaste. This is a BAD idea.
DR. Michele Green, Cosmetic Dermatologist explained to us: “Both [baking soda and lemon juice] can cause severe irritation and sensitivity.” “Toothpaste contains… baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, menthol, essential oils [and] triclosan… that cause pimples to dry out. [But] over-drying and even burning can occur on the skin from applying it to pimples.”
Hydrogen peroxide is a particularly risky idea. It’s bleach. Why would you put that on your skin?!
The best thing is to consult a doctor about which treatment will help your particular pimple problem. They might recommend skincare products that help to kill skin bacteria and break down dead skin cells that can clog up pores.
If your acne is very bad, your doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics or topical retinoid medicines. Derived from vitamin A, which helps decrease inflammation, regulate skin cell production and possibly decrease sebum excretion.
But retinoid medicine takes months to work and can have severe side effects. If you want to avoid chemical treatments, you might be tempted to try some anti-acne tools like a round loop extractor or a blackhead remover vacuum.
Scientists are divided on the efficacy of the acne hoover, and the extractor tools are only a short-term solution at best.
Is There a Cure? Can You Prevent Acne?
Unfortunately, there’s no official cure for acne, so with all this in mind, a better approach would be to try to reduce your chances of actually getting spots.
Adult women who develop spots from periodic hormonal imbalances often find that the oral contraceptive pill doesn’t just prevent pregnancy – it prevents acne too because the estrogen in the pill helps regulate hormone levels.
Some of you are probably expecting me to say that the idea that touching your face causes your acne is a myth, but sadly it can be true.
Most of us do it without noticing, but touching your face is a common cause of breakouts around your chin and jawline… …because you are bringing bacteria to your skin, as well as applying pressure to it.
So it’s worth keeping your hands and even your mobile phone clean, to prevent spreading germs to your face. And while washing your face will help, don’t do it more than twice a day.
A 2016 study showed that washing your face more than twice a day will make bacteria clump together and effectively lock onto your skin, which will actually make your acne worse.
If you wear make-up or apply lotion or use sunscreen, be careful to use non-comedogenic products. That’s a fancy way of saying they won’t clog up your pores and encourage acne.
You’ve probably heard that a diet of greasy fast food is a culprit to causing acne. Well, believe it or not, there’s currently no proven direct link. So far, research has not found any foods that cause acne.
On the flip side, a 2020 study found that people suffering spots on their face are twice as likely to have consumed high-sugar drinks and eight times more likely to have eaten a high-fat meal in the past 24 hours than people who aren’t suffering spots.
But the American Academy Of Dermatology states finds that whilst there’s some disagreement between the scientific community; studies have connected high levels of insulin in the body with worse acne. The more insulin in your system, the more likely you’ll have spots.
Therefore diets that are high in refined sugar may increase the likeliness of acne because the body will produce more insulin to break down carbohydrates. there is not enough data to recommend dietary changes for acne patients. It’s not the food’s fault, it’s your body’s pesky hormones.
Another widely held diet myth is that drinking water will somehow flush acne through from the inside out. While you should keep hydrated for your own health there’s no direct cause and effect of hydration vs acne.
A 2007 study of students in Singapore found a correlation between acne and psychological stress.
Stress doesn’t cause acne, but it can make it worse. So if you want to avoid bad acne, just… relax. Good advice for life, really.