Taking a look in the mirror can be a gamble. Can you spot the bump on your face? Or better yet, can others spot the bump on your face? Without thinking, and in a moment of desperation, you follow your instincts and decide to squeeze the bump in the hopes of it clearing up. However, experts agree that when it comes to most bumps and blemishes on the skin, a hands-off approach is best.
“Popping anything causes your skin to physically break apart, making it more susceptible to infection and an even bigger problem than what was originally there in the first place,” said Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York City.
These are eight skin bumps you should definitely steer clear of popping, picking or poking:
8. Ingrown Hairs
These troubling bumps can be extremely frustrating, but you should avoid picking at the bumps along your bikini line. “Ingrown hairs occur when the hair shaft becomes trapped beneath the skin’s surface,” said Joel Schlessinger, M.D. board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf advisor. “The red bumps that follow are often itchy and inflamed, but it’s never a good idea to use tweezers or manual force to pluck them.”
By squeezing the bumps, you will only cause inflammation and make the irritation much worse. Instead, apply hydrocortisone, which reduces redness, itchiness, and irritation, and wash the affected area with an exfoliating cleanser to help the hair from the bump reach the skin’s surface.
7. Cold Sores
Unless you’re looking to spread cold sores, you should opt to leave them be and let them go away on their own. “Picking at cold sores could very easily lead to the formation of another sore, and popping them releases a blister-like fluid that contains the same virus and can easily spread to other areas,” said Schlessinger.
Small cold sores can heal on their own with the help of OTC treatments. But if you notice that cold sores are frequently popping up or spreading to larger areas, Schlessinger says you should see a doctor. Also, avoid kissing anyone until the cold sore has died down to help avoid spreading it.
Have you ever noticed a small white bump on your face that refuses to pop, no matter how hard you try? These small white bumps are known as milia and are truly unpoppable, at least without the help of a dermatologist or esthetician.
Milia aren’t dirt, oil, or grime, but rather tiny, harmless cysts, said Schlessinger. “Picking at them often has little to no effect and attempting to pop them will likely leave your skin red, irritated, and inflamed, with the milia still intact,” said Schlessinger.
“If it’s bothering you, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist, who will likely extract it with a heated, sterilized tool,” said Engelman. Although milia tend to generally clear up on their own, you can use a retinoid cream to help smooth them out faster.
5. Keratosis Pilaris
Commonly known as “chicken skin”, this condition is genetic and is caused by a buildup of keratin, the protein that protects skin, hair, and nails from infection and other harmful environmental toxins.
“The buildup forms a plug that blocks the opening of the hair follicle,” said Engelman. “Squeezing or picking at these lesions causes worsening effects like redness and the potential for scarring as well.”
Try using a chemical exfoliant that has salicylic acid or glycolic acid to calm the inflammation down and gradually smooth out the bumps over time. “If that doesn’t work, see a dermatologist or an esthetician, who can properly treat you,” advised Engelman. Treatment options are known to include the use of topical medication tretinoin (Retin-A) to exfoliate the area and treat the redness.
“Blackheads consist of the same thing as whiteheads–pores that become clogged with oil–except the oil has oxidized after being exposed to the air, giving it a black or brownish hue,” said Schlessinger. “Squeezing them forces the bacteria even deeper and causes trauma to the skin.”
What to do? Use ingredients that are meant to deal with blackheads like salicylic acid and retinol. These types of exfoliators help promote cell turnover and prevent dead skin cells from further plugging up your pores.Related: 11 Signs of Melanoma Skin Cancer
To remove the oil and dirt from clogged pores without picking at your blackheads or applying pressure, use an exfoliating face wash like Biore Complexion Clearing Warming Anti-Blackhead Cleanser. “It will work to bring the blackhead to the skin’s surface, leaving you with a fresh face in just days,” said Engelman.
3. Cystic Acne Pimples
Cystic acne pimples occur deep in the skin, forming red, tender nodules that can be very painful, but also difficult to treat with OTC meds. “The inflammation that accompanies cystic acne can hinder the healing process and often lead to permanent scarring that’s impossible to eliminate,” said Engelman.
Picking at this bump doesn’t make things easier. “The cysts occur so far beneath the skin that you won’t even come close to reaching the bump and you’ll be left with a bloody spot that’s impossible to cover up with makeup,” said Schlessinger. Instead, book an appointment with a dermatologist, who can properly treat the acne without causing scarring.
These can be some of the easiest and often most satisfying to squeeze and clean up. But if you’re looking to remove these annoying bumps, its best to leave them alone. “Whiteheads keep acne bacteria contained to one area while the blemish heals, so when it is squeezed, it releases the contents of the blemish–often a mix of acne bacteria, oil, and skin cells,” said Schlessinger.
Keep in that these whiteheads can easily spread the bacteria they are filled with throughout your face or deeper into your skin. The best thing to do is to leave them alone, says Schlessinger, or opt for a spot treatment to dry the whitehead if you are looking for an immediate fix.
A lipoma is a fatty lump underneath the skin that can feel like a cystic pimple. These lipomas are non-cancerous and usually harmless, although they can be painful if they grow too big.Related: 9 Vitamin Deficiencies That Show up on Your Skin
Although Dr. Pimple Popper “pops” these lipomas for her clients, you should avoid doing this yourself at home. By avoiding the dirty work, you can save your skin from breaking, becoming red, and potentially introducing bacteria to the area. Your best bet is to visit a dermatologist.