Ask a dermatologist how they handle their own whiteheads and you'd expect them to say something like, I don't pop them. I would never pop them under any circumstances. If you pop them, you are a monster. Cue our surprise when Rebecca Kazin, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and the associate director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Chevy Chase, Maryland, shared that she definitely does at-home extractions (a fancy word for popping) on her pimples. "I would never walk around with a juicy whitehead in the middle of my face," she says. "So I'm not going to tell someone else to do that either." The key, she says, is knowing when a pimple is primed for extraction and when you need to wait until it moves closer to the surface of your skin before you have a go at it. Here's your step-by-step guide. Bonus: Kazin says this technique works just as well on blackheads.

Step 1 – Figure Out If Your Blemish Is Ready to Meet Its Maker
The peak of the white bump needs to be at the very top layer of your skin, says Kazin. If it's deeper, not only will you fail to get it out when you try to extract it, you'll damage your skin in the process (think redness, inflammation and potential scarring). If the blemish isn't ready yet, you can speed the process along by using a cleanser with hydroxy acid for a few days to gently peel away the layers of skin on top of the whitehead, she suggests.

Step 2 – When It's Go Time, Prep Your Skin Correctly
You want to open up your pore as much as possible before you start. (Whiteheads, and blackheads, for that matter, are just very clogged pores. A larger opening makes it easier to get the junk out.) You know by now that you can't actually change the size of your pores for good, but turning up the heat can make them temporarily larger. "I take a really warm shower first or apply a warm compress, like a washcloth, for a few minutes first to dilate the pore," says Kazin.

Step 3 – Use the Right Tools (Hint: Not Your Fingers)
Kazin favors Q-tips because they're soft enough to apply pressure to your blemish without scraping or damaging the skin around it. Grab a Q-tip in each hand and position the pillow-y parts on either side of your whitehead. Using gentle but consistent pressure, press down into your skin—not sideways into the zit. Once you get the white or black stuff out, you're done. You never want to press to the point of seeing pus or blood. "You might feel like there's still something in there. You might even see a bump after you get the whitehead out, but that's just because the area is inflamed now," says Kazin.

Step 4 – Treat It and Walk Away (We Mean It. Leave It Alone.)
"After I'm done, I immediately apply a product with retinol to close down the pore and start the healing process," says Kazin. "Then I leave it alone. I don't try to get more stuff out the next day." The most she'll do is another application of the product if she still notices a pink bump where the whitehead was. If it's just a dry scab, she leaves it be. The most important thing is not to pick at the former zit—that's when scarring happens. "We do extractions all the time at the office, and the reason our patients don't get scarring is because we don't continue to pick at the area."


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