How to Bring a Pimple to a Head Without Wrecking Your Skin

Young woman picking at skin in bathroom mirror.

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Blind pimples, cysts, underground zits, nodules, spawns of Satan—whatever name you use, you know one when you feel it. Those tender-to-the-touch, mass-like lumps live just below the skin's surface and linger for weeks on end.

"A blind pimple is an inflamed cyst that forms deep beneath the skin, never making an appearance on the surface of the skin like a blackhead or a whitehead (hence the name)," explains board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, MD. "You can get a blind pimple anywhere on the body, and while they vary in size, they all typically feel like a hard bump under the surface of the skin."

Because they form so deep within the skin, the inflammation is far closer to sensitive nerves than traditional acne-induced inflammation, which explains why they hurt so much. "Often they can feel irritated and tender to the touch, sometimes even painful, due to the inflammation caused by the pimple infringing on nearby nerves," says Hartman.

Blind Pimple

Blind pimples are inflamed, nodular types of acne that may leave scars. They're often shiny on the surface, tender to touch and have a hot, throbbing sensation.

According to celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, cystic acne (another term for blind pimples) is usually related to a surge in hormones. During this surge, the skin's oil glands become ultra-sensitive and produce excess sebum, causing the gland to become hard and swollen. This is why you might notice them pop up before your period when oil production is at its highest.

Meet the Expert

With this sort of blemish, the goal isn't to "get it out" (which is usually how we think about acne). Instead, the body naturally reabsorbs the infection, making time the great healer. The biggest issue here is that cysts tend to take a while to go away on their own—anywhere from four to 14 days if you're lucky, though sometimes it takes months.

So, how do you deal with these pesky breakouts? And should you be bringing these cysts to a head? Read on to learn more.

How Do Blind Pimples Differ From Other Types of Acne?

Unlike blackheads and whiteheads, blind pimples have no connection to the surface of the skin, Zeichner explains. They're essentially an out-pouching of the oil gland, collecting dead cells and oil until they rupture.

Interestingly enough, cysts and whiteheads are essentially caused by the same issue—an excess of sebum mixing with dead skin cells and bacteria that ultimately creates a clog—and both cause inflammation. The difference, according to Hartman, lies in their relationships with the skin's surface. Whiteheads appear at or just below the surface of the skin, whereas cysts form far deeper at the subcutaneous level.

Because they form so much deeper within the skin, cysts don't have heads you can soften or pop like traditional acne. And as a result, conventional acne treatments are far less effective on these pimples. They're resistant, painful, and stubborn.

How Long Do Blind Pimples Last?

If you haven't already realized blind pimples are the absolute worst, here's the real kicker: While they can go away within a week or so with proper treatment, blind pimples can linger under the skin for months on end. Yes, months.

Healing time depends on a handful of factors: whether you treat it or not (a lot of blind pimples heal on their own, albeit over a fairly long period), how early you begin treatment, how you treat it, the severity of the cyst itself, whether or not it comes to a head, etc.

It's worth mentioning (and we'll most certainly mention it again) that the absolute worst thing you can do for a blind pimple is to try to pop it. All three experts, and really any expert we've ever spoken to, agree on that front. Because cysts lie so deep within the skin, all that puss and oil and gross goo have no exit point, so trying to pop one is going to further irritate and inflame the spot, Rouleau explains.

"As uncomfortable as they are, you should not try to pick a cyst at home," Zeichner warns. "It will inevitably lead to more inflammation and potential infection or scarring. Trying to pick but not reaching the cyst itself traumatizes the outermost skin layer. At the very least, you will end up with a scab that will take one to two weeks to heal, and treating the cyst [will be] more difficult."

Can You Actually Get Rid of a Blind Pimple?

Sort of. There's no quick fix—a blind pimple will not go away overnight. And to further complicate things, cysts tend to be resistant to most topical acne treatments (since they don't always reach those deeper layers of the skin), Rouleau explains. In fact, Hartman goes so far as to suggest simply living with the pimple and continuing with your regular skincare routine if you can. Within a few weeks, you should notice the cyst getting smaller or going away. That being said, he also acknowledges that most patients prefer treating the blemish.

The absolute best, most effective way to treat a blind pimple is via cortisone shot, which a dermatologist can directly inject into the pimple to reduce inflammation and help shrink the zit within hours. Unfortunately, Zeichner warns that these shots can't guarantee the pimple injected won't reoccur. The only way to completely eliminate a cyst, he says, is to physically cut it out, which can lead to scarring.

Let's be real, though: Unless you have an aptly timed derm appointment or are motivated by a major event coming up, most of us aren't calling up a doctor for every blind pimple we get. And while there are no real at-home "cures," there are a few solid treatment methods for dealing with a blind zit yourself.

How to Bring a Blind Pimple to a Head

If you're going the DIY route, our experts have a few suggestions. Interestingly enough, none of them are huge fans of bringing a blind pimple to a head—instead, they suggest focusing on decreasing inflammation and taking a less-is-more approach.

Warm/Cold Compress

Depending on your goals, you'll want to use either a warm or cold compress. "A cold compress will feel great on the skin, especially if the cyst area feels tender to the touch," Hartman says. "But it's not going to help bring the cyst to the surface." Still, Rouleau says that icing the area for 10 minutes every four hours can help reduce inflammation and speed up the healing process. Zeichner's also a fan of this technique.

A warm compress will help open the pores up and loosen the clog, which can help bring the cyst to the surface Zeichner explains. That being said, our experts agree: You should never pop a cyst, even if you can bring it to the surface. A warm compress also won't do much to help pain-wise.

Topical Creams and Gels

When it comes to topical treatments, look for products with anti-inflammatory ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, lactic acid, and hydrocortisone. The goal is to decrease inflammation and to dry out the pimple without drying out the skin.

Acne Patches

While traditional acne patches don't necessarily do much to clear cysts, they do keep your hands off the blemish—which is the single most important factor when it comes to the healing process, according to Hartman. We suggest looking for patches specifically formulated for deeper, under-the-skin pimples.

When to See a Professional

If you get blind pimples often, which Hartman characterizes as more than once a month (though this number can vary), talk to your dermatologist about treatment options. "The only truly effective way to prevent cysts from developing is to use prescription medications that decrease oil production from the inside out," explains Zeichner. "Hormonal treatments like birth control pills or spironolactone are useful, and in some cases, the heavy-hitting medication isotretinoin may be an option."

The Final Takeaway

At the end of the day, blind pimples are simply a part of life. The most important (and perhaps most difficult) thing you can do when one pops up is not panic. And definitely don't try to squeeze or pop it. While you can try to bring a blind pimple to a head, there's far more risk than reward. Instead, tap on a little spot treatment or an acne patch and forget about it altogether.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
    1. Tan AU, Schlosser BJ, Paller AS. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patientsInt J Womens Dermatol. 2017 Dec 23;4(2):56-71. doi: 10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.10.006

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