To say that I've never scrolled through countless videos of Dr. Pimple Popper squeezing blackheads and draining giant cysts on YouTube would be a complete lie. There's something so satisfying about seeing an uncanny amount of gunk get extracted from the human body before your eyes. It's a five-minute cinematic experience of sorts, including suspense, climax, and a happy ending. My passion for zit removal might be alarming, but it's a badge I wear with pride. So you can only imagine my excitement when I got the opportunity to talk to the anti-pimple queen herself, Sandra Lee, MD, and ask her the most important question for acne-prone skin: What should we never, ever do to those pesky red bumps on our faces?
Her answers were eye-opening, just like when we see a foot-long trail of pus exit a single pore (ew—I just grossed myself out a little there). To learn the skin mistakes even Lee winces at, keep scrolling.
Don't Squeeze Cysts
Lee may poke and prod cysts on her channel, but trust when we say, "don't try it at home." Says Lee, "cysts should not be squeezed or tackled at home because this can cause inflammation. Cysts have a high chance of scarring, so it's important to see a dermatologist who can put you on prescription medications that can help. In short: Keep your hands away from cysts."
Don't Pop With Abandon
Cysts are off limits, but pimples can be extracted at home (when done carefully). "Normally, dermatologists say, 'never pop a pimple yourself,' but I know that isn't a reality," says Lee. "So let me provide you with some education on how best to pop a pimple to ensure minimal damage to the skin: The best time to pop something on your skin is when it is the most superficial on your skin—when it has come to a white/yellow head. Make sure the area is sterilized, and be sure to use clean tools and clean hands.
You'll want to make sure you wash your face before with warm water or steam to soften the skin and dilate the pores as much as possible. It should come out pretty easily if it's ready, but if the pimple isn't popping, there's definitely a time to give up because forcing it, and continually pushing and squeezing, will only irritate your skin and it will increase your risk of scarring. Give yourself 30 seconds to a minute, and then give up, and if you need to, see a dermatologist or skincare professional to get these extracted.
My mantra: Know when to pop, and know when to stop."
Don't Use Irritating Hair Products
"Your hair products could be a trigger for breakouts," says Lee. "Pomade acne is a type of acne that is caused by heavy hairstyling products. Mousses and gels we put in our hair can occlude our skin and promote breakouts, especially if we wear our hair styled to lean against our facial skin. If you have acneic skin, I would advise against styling your hair around your face."
Don't Overwash Your Face
"There is definitely such a thing as washing your face too often," says Lee. "Scrubbing your skin exuberantly can increase irritation, redness, and can worsen acne. Be gentle, and back off on frequency if you notice irritation—this only makes your skin worse."
Don't Skip the Sunscreen
There are a lot of pore-clogging sunscreens out there, but it's all about choosing the right formula. Says Lee, "No ifs or buts—even if you are prone to acne and breakouts, never skimp on the SPF (year-round motto). The wrong kind of sunscreen can cause a chemical reaction on the skin, which can lead to acne. Look for ingredients that will not clog your pores, such as mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. I created a sunscreen for acne-prone skin, SLMD SPF 15 Daily Moisturizer.
It will leave skin hydrated and protected, and it will not clog pores."
Don't Touch the "Triangle of Death"
"There is an area called the 'triangle of death,'" says Lee. "It's the triangle-shaped area from between your eyebrows to the two corners of the mouth, and behind this, nestled directly under the brain, is an area called the cavernous sinus—an area containing important nerves and blood vessels that bring blood to the brain and the eyes. If you get a pimple within this triangle, and it's left untreated, it could easily spread to the cavernous sinus since it's in close proximity. This leads to swelling, which can compress these important nerves and blood vessels within the sinus, and this could lead to blindness, stroke, and even death.
However, with modern medicine and antibiotics, we won't let an infection get to that level. This is a reminder, though, that a pimple in this area should be treated sooner before it becomes bigger and problematic."
Don't Choose Acne Products Heedlessly
"My mission is to 'cut the clutter' and put ingredients that work into the hands of the people who need it most, which is why I created SLMD Skincare. Some skincare products can make the problem worse, so look for ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and retinol, which all feature within SLMD Skincare and are all designed with acne-prone skin in mind," Lee says.
Up next, take a look at how Lucy Hale cured her hormonal acne.