What’s more tempting than popping a zit? We certainly understand the desire to pop — after all, Dr. Pimple Popper is known for her extractions. But the key word there is doctor. Extractions can be performed safely, leaving your skin’s integrity intact, especially when they’re done by the hands of dermatologists and estheticians.
So what happens if you popped a zit, and then that next compulsion settles in… You want to pick at it. Yes, there’s a difference! Popping a zit is done methodically and with purpose to clear out sebum and dead skin cells and help the pimple heal. Picking is compulsive and more like scratching or peeling — some people suffer from excoriation or skin picking disorder (previously known as dermatillomania) in which they have a compulsion to consistently pick at their skin.
Whatever the reason you pick at your acne, we’ll be the first to say we get it. The urge to pick at acne is a mighty one. But we also have news for you: It’s an urge that not only causes damage to your skin, but also makes your pimples hang around much longer than if you’d simply left the spots alone. How can you tamp down — or ditch altogether — this habit?
First, you need to understand why picking is skin’s (and acne’s) worst enemy.
Picking is unsanitary. It’s likely you’re either absentmindedly picking at your skin throughout the day or you’re picking with intention in front of a mirror. In both cases, you’re probably using your fingers and fingernails, which carry with them the day’s dirt,oil and bacteria. Simply put: Picking is unsanitary, and the introduction of new bacteria to already damaged tissue could lead to infection (read: more pus).
Picking causes further breakouts. Simply put, having your fingers on your face doesn’t lead to clearer skin. In fact, that oil, dirt, and bacteria we mentioned above gets passed from your fingers to your skin, leading to more breakouts. Also, if you picked the top of an inflamed pimple, you may be bursting the pustule sac and ejecting pus, sebum and/or bacteria willy-nilly. When that happens, the pustule’s contents can migrate into other pores, spreading acne beyond the confines of your initial pick fest.
Picking causes skin discoloration. This is where picking truly leaves its nasty mark: You may have that annoying pimple that you want to eradicate right then and there, but what might have lasted three to seven days and then disappeared on its own could leave behind permanent discoloration if you succumb to picking. This isn’t a raised scar or a dent; this is hyperpigmentation (brown for darker skin tones and red or purple for lighter tones) that is tough to get rid of — if at all.
You now know the reasons not to pick — so how do you stop?
If you’re prone to picking your pimples, the first step is to get your acne under control. If you’ve been unable to rid your skin of zits on your own, visit a dermatologist or esthetician for help creating a personalized regimen that will help clear your skin. You may discover that after the prescribed amount of time, your skin clears up and your desire to pick disappears right along with your zits.
However, if you find yourself still picking at your skin despite a decrease in bumps, you may want to ask a friend or coworker to monitor your picking, as it’s often a mindless act. Or, leave yourself “don’t pick” reminders on Post-It notes in the bathroom or around the house. If you have tools you use for picking, toss them; having them around could be too tempting to resist. In fact, if part of your picking ritual involves a magnifying mirror, consider putting that mirror away as well.
If all of these preventative measures fail to stop your fingers in their tracks, seek a doctor’s help to discover what triggers your picking. That way, you can get it under control and enjoy your beautiful skin.