It doesn't matter how many times we've been told to stop touching, picking and popping zits — most of us wouldn't let a pus-filled whitehead ruin our day.
Even though we know the consequences of picking at our skin — the scarring, the bleeding and the pus — dermatologist Dr. Shannon Humphrey says, realistically, telling people to stop won't actually do a thing.
"We all live in a real world, and sometimes it's difficult to function with a big whitehead on your face," says Dr. Shannon Humphrey, director of continuing medical education and clinical instructor, department of dermatology and skin science at the University of British Columbia. "But there has to be a balance. Be gentle and consult a dermatologist to avoid trauma to the skin."
Even if popping your breakouts reduces the visibility of bumps, it's actually not getting rid of the problem. Along with scars (which take longer to disappear), the urge to pick can also cause infections, redness and inflammation. And when you're using your nails or any type of medical tool, you're also ripping your skin, according to YourBeauty.com. If that wasn't enough, oily fingers and dirty nails can lead to further redness.
And the need to pop has also become a pleasure — even if it grosses most people out. On YouTube, thousands of videos are uploaded for this sole purpose, letting viewers both cringe and enjoy pimples of all sizes popped in high definition. This account alone has over 170,000 views and 30 videos (though we do warn you before clicking that it can get pretty detailed). There are also videos of 'extreme pimple popping,' which as the name implies, features videos of abnormally giant pimples or cysts being popped by professionals.
Humphrey adds she's not surprised about this so-called trend. "I understand the fascination and deep satisfaction of a successful extracting," she tells The Huffington Post Canada.
She says if you do have a habit of touching any condition, including scabs or blisters, hygiene is important. Avoid using dirty tools, and remember that alcohol, which can be used for sterilization, also strips your skin's natural barriers. "In general I would want to minimize the use of tools, especially sharp ones," says Humphrey. "Nothing should pierce the skin, it should have a round edge."
Can't help but pick? Here are 9 things you should stop picking at and what you can do instead:
Acne (Including whiteheads):
WHAT IS IT?: Acne (which includes whiteheads and blackheads) is a skin condition that causes pimples on the skin. Acne can be caused by hormonal changes, pregnancy or even stress.
DON'T POP: Popping zits, whiteheads and blackheads (as tempting as it is) can cause an increased risk of scarring or a secondary infection, says Dr. Shannon Humphrey, director of continuing medical education and clinical instructor, department of dermatology and skin science at the University of British Columbia. Getting rid of acne isn't the same for everyone. Humphrey says medication is one option and cosmetic procedures are another. If you're looking for a natural way, there are specific foods like garlic and fennel that can help prevent breakouts.
WHAT IS IT?: Plugged follicles (or pores) on your skin that create a dark brown or black colour
DON'T POP: Similar to pimple popping, squeezing blackheads can also cause more redness, skin trauma or sometimes even bleeding. Humphrey says if you're trying to extract your blackheads at home, make sure you're gentle. "Use a vitamin A cream, this will make your skin cells less sticky and the blackhead comes out easily," she says.
WHAT IS IT?: Common skin disease caused by a virus. Warts often appear on the hands and feet.
DON'T POP: When you pop or try to remove a wart yourself, you can transmit the virus from one area to another, Humphrey says. Ask your doctor for removal methods, but common ones include using salicylic acid.
WHAT IS IT?: Dead skin clogging up a hair follicle, forcing it to grow underneath the skin
DON'T POP: "It's more effective to know why they come in the first place," Humphrey says. Are you shaving your armpits? This could be one cause. Humphrey recommends something more permanent like laser treatment, especially if you get ingrowns often. Otherwise, if you stop shaving or waxing regularly, they tend to go away.
WHAT IS IT?: Fluid-filled bumps that grow on skin. Common ones include friction blisters, caused by wearing tight shoes
DON'T POP: "When the roof of a blister is intact, it's sterile," Humphrey says. Popping your blisters can cause further scarring or risk of infection. But sometimes, after a hot shower, blisters can pop on their own. "If it's very fresh, you may want to put an antibiotic, but there's not much you can do if it pops," she says.
WHAT IS IT?: Skin condition that causes foul smelling fluids in sac-like bumps under or over the skin.
DON'T POP: "Repeatedly popping a cyst won't get rid of the problem and it can cause inflammation," Humphrey says. To treat a cyst, talk to your doctor about a surgical procedure — cysts don't go away on their own.
WHAT IS IT?: Small amounts of blisters around the mouth caused by the herpes simplex virus
DON'T POP: Just like warts, popping or picking at cold sores (which can also be painful) can transmit the sore from one area to another, Humphrey says. Smaller sores can heal over time with petroleum-based creams, but if your cold sores are frequent or spreading, consult a doctor.
WHAT IS IT?: Painful ulcers found inside the mouth that seem to appear on their own, Humphrey says.
DON'T POP: "Popping them would be painful," she says. Instead, canker sores usually go away on their own. If you get them once a month, you should visit a doctor for further treatment.
WHAT IS IT?: A rough crusty patch that forms over a wound over time
DON'T POP: We get it, when you get a scab, you're tempted to pick. Humphrey says wounds often heal better when they're moist, so rubbing an ointment on your scab may help it heal faster.