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, says Dendy Engelman, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York City. You're also pretty-much guaranteeing scarring and a drawn-out healing process if you don't resist the pop, says Noelani Gonzalez, MD, director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West.
The best move is to stock up on derm-approved over-the-counter solutions or letting the professionals handle it right there in their offices with skin-safe lasers and gadgets you don't have at home. They're perfectly capable of preventing and treating these 12 bumps that you definitely should not be picking at:
1. Ingrown hairs
Frustrating? Extremely. Worth picking-even if you just shaved your bikini line ? Absolutely not.
The red bumps that follow are often itchy and inflamed, but its never a good idea to use tweezers or manual force to pluck them," says Dr. Schlessinger. Squeezing them will only make the inflammation and irritation worse, he adds. (Hello, red marks that last for months.)
The treatment: Apply hydrocortisone, which reduces redness, itchiness, and irritation-and wash the affected area with an exfoliating cleanser to help the hair reach the skins surface. If the painful bumps persist, Dr. Gonzalez assures you can go to a board-certified dermatologist who will nick the skin and remove the hair or inject it with steroids to reduce the inflammation. Pro tip so you don't have to deal with them at all: exfoliate before you shave and shave in the direction your hair is growing instead of against it.
If youve ever noticed tiny white bumps-known as milia -on your face that refuse to pop (no matter how hard you try), rest assured knowing it is truly un-poppable-at least without a dermatologists or estheticians help.
The cause: Milia is actually not dirt, oil, or grime-its a tiny, harmless cyst that occurs when dead skin deposits form, says Dr. Schlessinger, so you're not going to set any oddly satisfying gunk out of it. 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, says Dr. Schlessinger. Ouch.
The treatment: If its bothering you, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist, who will likely extract it with a heated, sterilized tool, says Dr. Engelman. You can also use a retinoid cream to help smooth them out faster , although milia generally clear up on their own.
2. Skin tags
Skin tags are extra growths of skin that typically occur on the neck and underarms, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. But there are a few reasons why you shouldnt pick at them, he says: namely because skin tags are made from, well, flesh, and attempting to remove them will cause pain and bleeding. Dr. Zeichner says it could also increase your risk of infection.
The cause: They often occur in areas of friction, like around the neck, under arms, and by the groin and are thought to be caused by irritation from skin rubbing on skin or on clothing, Bruce Katz , MD, a dermatologist in New York City, has previously told WomensHealthMag.com . Dr. Gonzalez typically sees skin tags on her overweight patients or those who wear a lot of jewelry.
The treatment: This one's a job for a derm, says Dr. Gonzalez. A professional can remove tags by "freezing them off, also known as cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen, we can sometimes lightly burn them off with cautery, and usually, the most common thing is just surgically removing them by snipping them off," she adds. And if your skin tags are large enough to interfere with daily functioning, your insurance company might even take the bill off your hands, says Dr. Zeichner.
3. Cold sores
Unless youre looking to inspire a whole army of these bad boys, dont even think about touching them-no matter how much that cold sore looks like a pimple . "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, says Dr. Schlessinger, including someone else's face.
The cause: The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2) are to blame for cold sores-and they're crazy-common, says Dr. Gonzalez. Seriously-50 to 80 percent of U.S. adults have oral herpes.
The treatment: Small sores can heal on their own with the help of OTC treatments. But if you notice cold sores popping up more frequently (or spreading to larger areas), Dr. Gonzalez says you should see a doctor for professional help for more aggressive medication and, if you have sores more than six times per year, preventative medication.
5. Keratosis pilaris
Squeezing or picking at these lesions causes worsening effects like redness and the potential for scarring as well," says Dr. Engelman.
The cause: Often referred to as chicken skin , this genetic condition 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 a hair follicle, Dr. Engelman adds.
The treatment: Instead of getting your hands dirty, use a chemical exfoliant that has salicylic acid and glycolic acid, or products such as AmLactin and Lac-Hydrin to calm the inflammation and gradually smooth out the bumps over time, Dr. Gonzalez says. If that doesnt work, see a dermatologist or an esthetician who can properly treat you, recommends Dr. Engelman. Treatment options include the topical medication tretinoin (a.k.a. Retin-A) to exfoliate the area, pulsed dye laser to treat redness, and chemical peels, Dr. Gonzalez adds.
6. Blackheads and whiteheads
These might be some of the most commonly popped bumps-but keeps your hands off if you can.
The cause: 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, says Dr. Schlessinger. Squeezing them forces the bacteria even deeper and causes trauma to the skin.
The treatment: The best ingredients in general for dealing with blackheads are treatments with salicylic acid and retinol. These exfoliants promote cell turnover, preventing dead skin cells from plugging up your pores.
To work the oil and dirt out without picking at your blackheads or applying pressure, use a face wash like over-the-counter exfoliant Differin Gel. It will work to bring the blackhead to the skins surface, leaving you with a fresh face in just days, says Dr. Engelman.
And look for makeup and skincare products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic , to ensure that what you're using on your face won't contribute to any future bumps.
7. Cystic acne pimples
This type of pimple occurs very deep in the skin, forming a red, tender nodule thats not only painful but much harder to treat with OTC meds . The inflammation that accompanies cystic acne can hinder the healing process and often lead to permanent scarring thats impossible to eliminate, says Dr. Engelman.
Picking at these bumps wont help, either. The cysts occur so far beneath the skin that you wont even come close to reaching the bump and youll be left with a bloody spot, says Dr. Schlessinger.
The cause: Cystic acne is caused by hormonal fluctuations and acne bacteria, Dr. Schlessinger told WH previously. High hormone levels trigger an overproduction of oil, causing pores to swell, and when this oil cannot reach the skins surface, it ruptures underneath and causes inflammation to spread to the surrounding tissue. Other causes include bacteria in hair follicles and slowed cell turnover in acne patients that lead to keratin buildups in pores, says Dr. Gonzalez.
The treatment: Instead of going at it with your fingers, book an appointment with your dermatologist who can properly treat the situation (usually in the form of a cortisone shot to instantly kill the swelling) and may even be able to save you from scarring altogether.
8. Seborrheic keratoses
Dr. Zeichner says seborrheic keratoses are rough brown bumps that typically occur on sun exposed areas like the face, chest, and back. And while you should be lathering up in sunscreen daily anyway, these bumps might still be in the cards for you since, according to Dr. Gonzalez, they're genetic. They're totally benign she assures, but they can get in the way since they can get caught in clothing and feel scaly.
The cause: These are solid growths of extra skin that build up on the surface of the skin, he says. While they are harmless, they are bothersome to many people both because of how they look and how they feel.
The treatment: Instead of trying to pop them, Dr. Zeichner recommends visiting your dermatologist if they become irritated or inflamed-your derm may even be able to get treatment covered through your insurance.
If you are bothered by the appearance, speak to your dermatologist about a treatment called Eskata , which is the only FDA approved treatment for them, Dr. Zeichner says. It is a topical solution that can get rid of them without leaving behind marks on the skin. He adds that treatments typically cost approximately $375 per session and take approximately two sessions to work; each session treats four to five spots. Otherwise, you can opt for cryotherapy to freeze them off or have them gently burned off, adds Dr. Gonzalez.
A lipoma is a fatty deposit underneath the skin that might feel like a cystic pimple. They're non-cancerous and generally harmless, although they can become painful if they grow too big.
The cause: Lipomas are typically genetically linked, so you can thank your parents if you notice one start to pop up, says Dr. Gonzalez.
The treatment: Even though Dr. Pimple Popper "pops" lipomas for her clients on the reg, you should not give it a try at home. Breaking open your skin will make it red, angry, and potentially let bacteria into the area making your problems even worse. Instead, your best option is to have a dermatologist remove it by burning it off or taking a laser to it to reduce scarring.
10. Cherry angiomas
These cherry-red benign bumps made up of tiny blood vessels tend to pop up on the face, chest, belly, and back.
The cause: Their cause is unknown but there is a genetic component that might make you more prone to getting them.
The treatment: Considering these are filled with blood, popping them is definitely not the move. However, removal is pretty straight forward, Dr. Gonzalez promises. A trip to the dermatologists office for a laser or a cautery treatment will leave you bump and scar-free (!!).
11. Sebaceous cysts
Another Dr. Pimple Popper fave, these skin-colored bumps are full of a yellow cheese-like material that Dr. Gonzalez says you probably won't want to see or a get a whiff of. They're typically benign and asymptomatic, but can sometimes become painful if they're "inflamed, infected, or if they get ruptured," she adds.
The cause: These pop up on areas of the body where there are oil glands thanks to a build up of keratin that randomly gathers under the skin.
The treatment: "Treatment-wise you have a few options," Dr. Gonzalez assures. You can have your derm inject them with steroids to help the inflammation go down and help the reduce the bump's appearance. Or your doctor can perform surgery to remove the keratin-filled capsule inside which is a pretty good option since the cyst is likely to become inflamed again unless it's totally removed.
12. Sebaceous hyperplasia
These are super-common small yellowish bumps that pepper the forehead or center of the face. They tend to appear with age and are often mistaken for pimples or skin diseases.
The cause: While totally harmless, the bumps, caused by an overgrowth of oil glands or sebaceous glands on the face, are usually bothersome appearance-wise.
The treatment : If you want smooth and clear skin again, Dr. Gonzalez says dermatologists can lightly burn these doughnut-looking bumps off with electrocautery, laser them off, or freeze them off with cryotherapy and liquid nitrogen.