Anyone who’s had a pimple understands the urge to pop it, for better or for worse. A quick Internet search shows we’re not alone: YouTube and other video sites are filled with clips of people claiming to pop the “world’s biggest zit” — on camera. Some dermatologists and skincare professionals are even posting videos of their services, including pimple removal.

These professional videos aren’t for the squeamish, but they can be educational, giving viewers a glimpse of the tools and procedures dermatologists use to treat blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of acne. And they serve as a good foil for all of the DIY pimple-popping videos online: This is one area of wellness where professional help can make the difference between healthy skin and scarring, infection, or worse. Before you touch that pimple, learn more about acne — and when it’s best to see an expert.

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Acne: What’s Zit Mean?

Acne starts when the hair follicles, or pores, become clogged with oil and dead skin cells, and the clogging allows bacteria to grow. However, pimples can present in different ways. There are several major types of acne. Find out what to expect during treatment.

What are blackheads and whiteheads?

When a pore that’s been blocked stays open, the material inside can darken when exposed to air, which is why this type of pimple is called a blackhead. If the pore closes, it’s known as a whitehead. Your doctor can recommend topical treatments for these pimples. If you have a lot of blackheads, your dermatologist may remove them in his or her office using a blackhead extraction device (a blunt metal tool that applies pressure to push the debris out of the pore). Although blackhead removers are available for use at home, overuse can cause broken blood vessels, discoloration, and swelling.

What are papules and pustules?

These are small, raised pimples that occur when the walls of a pore break. Papules feel hard — almost like sandpaper — while pustules are filled with yellowish pus. You can help ease pustules by applying a warm compress to the affected area. But resist the urge to pick at papules and pustules. They are best treated with topical approaches, which your dermatologist can recommend.

What are cysts and nodules?

When pimples get bigger and more irritated, they can form hard bumps deep within the skin. These red, swollen lumps can be unsightly and uncomfortable, but you should never try to remove them yourself. You can’t pop a nodule and picking at it will only make it worse and increase the chance of scarring. If you have a cystic pimple or nodule, take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen and apply a cold pack to ease inflammation. Your dermatologist may drain and extract the cyst or inject it with medication to shrink it.

Talk to your dermatologist about ways to keep your skin as clear as possible. And remember, resist the urge to pop those pimples. Some things are better left to the experts.

For more information, visit the UPMC Department of Dermatology website.

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.