Why Does It Still Hurt!?… Picking-101

Have you ever wondered why that pimple that you’ve been squeezing for days still hurts and doesn’t seem to be healing?

In the very early stages of my career I swore that I would never tell someone to ‘pop their pimples’, much less teach them how to do it! After all, its embedded into your brain as a student, and a big no-no unless it is done by a trained professional.

It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, that pickers were going to pick (regardless of how much they told me they wouldn’t), and considering that I was one of them- how hypocritical of me!

So just as an instructor would arm her students with the proper tools to do their job adequately, I decided that the best way to deal with my ‘pickers’ was to arm them as well.

I, in no way, encourage picking, but since I know you’re going to pick anyway, I might as well teach you how to pick correctly. Besides, who wants to leave the house and face the world with a big ol’ whitehead!?!

Why it hurts in the first place:

The ‘white’ in the whitehead is pus, hence its name, pustule. Pus is an indication of infection. Infection occurs as a result of injury to the follicle- clogged with oil, debris and bacteria, an inflammatory response is triggered by the body and a ‘pimple’ is born.

NOTE: These steps are specifically for a raised pustule (pimple with a white head). If you have a papule which is a raised, red bump (sometimes sore as well), WITHOUT a white head on it- LEAVE IT ALONE. It will either eventually come to a head, or better yet, go away on its own. TIP: You can use a clay mask on the specific area to help dry it out before it becomes bigger or forms a head.

* Trying to extract something that does not have a ‘head’ on it will only lead to you breaking the skin, spreading bacteria, and prolonging healing.


1. WASH THOSE HANDS! There is nothing more disturbing to me than people picking at their face in the car, in line at the grocery store, in public- period! Our hands are filthy and full of germs. Add that to an already infected pimple and you’re just asking for ‘the pimple that just won’t go away’ or worse- a permanent scar.

2. Wash your face with a mild cleanser- using luke-warm water.

3. Exfoliate your skin with a gentle scrub. Don’t scrub the actual ‘pimple’ too vigorously- use gentle circular motions. Chances are, if its sensitive to begin with, you won’t want to touch it too much anyway.

4. For this next step, ideally, you would use disposable gloves or finger cots. If you have these to use great! If not, don’t worry! You can wrap your index fingers with tissue paper.

5. With your fingers at a slant (DO NOT USE YOUR NAILS), find the closest point to the head of the pimple so that your fingers are on either side of it. Proceed by pushing slightly down, then up in a lifting motion. Gently move your fingers back and forth in a massaging motion, rotating them from up and down to side to side. Our follicles are never straight up and down, so squeezing from different angles is the most efficient way of extracting. Do this until you feel like you have extracted it completely. Make sure you blot, NOT WIPE, away the fluid that is coming out. Wiping spreads bacteria.

6. Apply an antiseptic solution. Hydrogen peroxide works great! If you have an antiseptic toner you may use that instead.

7. Apply Neosporin! Treat it as an open wound. This will help lessen the chance for re-infection and speed up the healing process.

Why it still hurts:

Two things can be occurring here- and in some cases both can be occurring simultaneously:

  • Picking randomly at pimples that are not ‘ready’, or in the stage to be extracted. In this case if you have picked at it, often times you can be spreading the bacteria beneath the skin and create a secondary infection from breaking the skin open.
  • Picking at something that wasn’t ready to be extracted OR not extracting it completely. Typically you will see pus, clear fluid, blood mixed with more clear fluid, and pus again. TIP: If you gently push down on it and it still hurts; You didn’t get it all!

Sometimes it is inevitable that the infection is deep in the pore and only a part of it is what you see above. If you wake up the next day to see another white head in the mirror, this may have been the case. Repeat steps above.

If you are dealing with acne and not just the occasional breakout, consult with your Dermatologist first!!!


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