Picture the scene. You’ve woken up, looked in the mirror, and suddenly there’s a whole other head on your head. A power pimple. A zit that won’t quit.
In a perfect world, you would take a deep, calming breath and leave it alone to do its thing. “You be you, little spot!” you might say, then go off to keep those twitching fingers busy by doing something wholesome – your homework, maybe, or learning the clarinet. You would tell yourself what we all know: that squeezing a spot can just make it worse, and that you risk transferring bacteria from your fingers to your face every time you go in for a pop or a pick. In a perfect world, you would leave. It. Alone.
But this isn’t a perfect world, and in this world you’re obviously going to want to squeeze that spot silly.
So what are the rules? How can you tell if a pimple is ripe for the popping, or if you’re going to end up with a nasty old scar? When should you probably not squeeze and when should you definitely absolutely 100% not squeeze, for fear of going to school with a scab on your forehead so big that your teacher will stop in the middle of the register to ask if you’ve been in an accident*?
Here are your golden rules.
Rule 1: colour
Look at the spot. Look harder. Can you see a light, yellowish head in the centre, or is the whole thing red and angry? If it’s the latter, fingers off. Red means inflammation, and inflammation means that your poor spot is grumpy enough without someone jabbing at it. Let it brew for a while longer – if it’s a seriously deep cyst, it might go away without ever becoming squeezable.
‘Whiteheads’, however, are the happiest poppers of the bunch, especially once the yellow or white patch is larger than the redness round the edge. They don’t make teeny tiny rulers to measure this though, so you’ll just have to judge it by eye.
Rule 2: texture
If your spot looks stretched and shiny, like Bruce Willis’ head, then it probably isn’t ready for squeezing yet. Ideally you’re looking for a proper bulge, as though it might just burst of its own accord. And we know, we know – waiting for this stage takes the patience of a saint, not to mention walking round with a blossoming zit on your face. But as a wise person once said, good things come to those who wait. And squeezing that bad boy is going to be so good.
Rule 3: equipment
You might think that fingers are the best (and only) tools for the job – after all, if we weren’t supposed to squeeze spots then why did we even evolve to have fingers? But your fingers have plenty of other jobs to keep them occupied and gather germs, whereas there are actually helpful implements designed just for pimple-popping, like this blackhead remover (£4) from The Body Shop. And if you’re sticking with the tools nature gave you, always wash your hands and/or wrap tissue round your fingers before going in. You’re not an animal.
Rule 4: method
Sure, you’re excited. And also you want to get it over with quick in case somebody walks into the loo, or the spot police leap out and arrest you. But before you and your eager digits leap right in there, stop to think about technique.
Be gentle and press down either side of the spot’s centre – down, not inwards – because this motion is best for forcing the pus up, up and away. Another reminder: be gentle. If it doesn’t swiftly erupt like a party popper then STEP AWAY. Occupy your hands. Go find a puppy to stroke. Play MarioKart. Knit a scarf.
Rule 5: aftercare
You might think your job is done and you and your newly hollow pore can skip off into the sunset, but nope – there’s homework. Firstly, stop squeezing as soon as all the white is out. DO NOT be tempted to keep digging for gold. Like that time you ruined your Dad’s prize begonias looking for pirate treasure as a kid, you won’t strike gold but you will end up with a big ol’ mess.
Secondly, once your session has finished, dab a little toner or antibacterial gel on the area (it might sting, brace yourself) and then smooth a bit of Vaseline, Sudocrem or another soothing balm or cream over it to help the healing process. Then, and only then, can you sit back and relive the memories of that glorious squeeze. Mmm.
If spots or acne are making life hard, get the full lowdown from the NHS here.