We've decided that it's human nature to want to pick, poke, and prod a breakout. Especially when it looks like it's time to be popped, we're armed and ready to squeeze it for all it's worth until it (hopefully) no longer exists. What we're often left with, however, are pockmarks and scars. But when extraction tools came on the scene, it seemed like the market was trying to tell us that picking at a pimple would be okay—so long as we did it with the double-edged metal tool. Ever the beauty skeptics, we decided to turn to experts Heather Wilson and Dr. Carl Thornfeldt to get their take on this blemish removal method.
Meet the Expert
Keep scrolling to read their thoughts on using acne extraction tools.
What Are Acne Extraction Tools?
Acne extraction tools (a.k.a. comedone extractors) treat comedonal acne, a common and non-inflammatory type of acne, by removing blemishes. They typically consist of a small metal rod with a hook or loop at the end that is used to extract whiteheads (closed comedones) and blackheads via gentle squeezing, tweezing, or piercing.
Risks and Challenges
Although you can pretty much find and buy acne extraction tools anywhere, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should. "The use of an extraction tool by a trained, licensed professional is generally safe. However, the ability for anyone to purchase an extraction tool has increased in recent years. Consumers can purchase extraction tools of all kinds at many mass retailers, but that does not mean at-home use of them is recommended," says Wilson. Using them incorrectly will do more harm than good.
For instance, improper use of an extraction tool can damage the skin (think: scarring, bruising, and capillary damage), she explains. And not only that, but it may also drive bacteria deeper into the skin, causing a breakout to become even worse. Thornfeldt notes, "Misuse of the device itself, using a device with a poorly designed structure, and deep rupturing of the lesion, which induces a severe inflammatory response," as three reasons why damage typically occurs from using extraction tools at home. The thing is, even if you think you can remove a whitehead's contents without a hitch, it's easier said than done. "A major difficulty is the proper alignment of the device to the skin contour and shape," comments Thornfeldt. For best results, he recommends having extractions performed in-office by your dermatologist, cosmetic physician, or esthetician.
What to Do Instead
If you can't get to your skincare professional right away, don't reach for an extraction tool just yet. Wilson suggests trying these four preventive measures and alternative treatments instead:
Exfoliation should be—if it's not already—a regular part of your skincare routine. That's because the benefits of exfoliating are many, including clearing current blackheads and preventing future ones from forming, notes Wilson. "Look for alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid or lactic acid, or enzymes such as papaya or rice enzymes," she advises. These types of exfoliators are gentler than scrubs (more on that below).
Skip the Scrubs
Chemical exfoliators tend to be more gentle on the skin than physical exfoliators, but if you're set on using the latter, can we at least suggest that it not be a scrub? "Harsh scrubs will slough off surface skin cells, but they cannot work deep into the pores to remove blackheads," explains Wilson. And if you have acne-prone skin, scrubs can even spread the bacteria, which will only serve to exacerbate acne, she adds. The solution? Use an exfoliating cloth or brush instead.
No matter how tempting—not to mention, satisfying—picking at and popping a pimple may be, don't do it. According to Wilson, "popping acne lesions has more potential to spread bacteria when forcefully erupted." Instead, she suggests applying topical treatments with salicylic acid or charcoal meant to reduce inflammation and kill bacteria.
Use a Steamer
If there ever were an ideal time to extract acne away, it would be right after showering. That's because post-shower, you're skin is at its softest. This can also be achieved using an alternative method: "For gentle at-home blackhead removal, you can invest in a small facial steamer to help soften the skin," proposes Wilson. Then, if you happen to see blackheads coming to the skin's surface, wrap your fingers in tissue and wiggle out any excess congestion.