“Is it true that popping my pimples will make my acne worse? I hate looking at them in the mirror and popping them always feels like the right thing to do.”

Acne lesions result from the plugging of the skin’s follicles with bacteria and excess sebum (oil) which causes inflammation and a reaction from the immune system. While popping your pimples might seem like the right thing to do, it is generally discouraged, particularly for cystic lesions (hard, painful acne lesions under the surface of the skin).

Touching your face with your hands in general (e.g., rubbing, picking, or resting your chin on your hand) can transfer bacteria to the lesion and surrounding areas, which can make acne worse.

When you squeeze an acne lesion and the lesion bursts with pressure, its contents can also spread to the surrounding areas of the skin, again promoting the spread of bacteria and increasing the chances of developing more lesions in the area.

Moreover, squeezing a lesion can actually damage the follicle further and can increase the risk of scarring. In addition to this, squeezing can force the excess sebum and bacteria deeper under the surface of the skin, with the unintended effect of increasing swelling, redness and inflammation.

As opposed to squeezing the lesion, a spot treatment containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid might be an appropriate alternative for you. If you have multiple blackheads that are a concern, rather than squeezing those, you may wish to try a pore strip. If you have cystic acne lesions, it is important to talk to a healthcare professional about treatment for this type of acne and not try to pop this type of acne lesion.