Let’s face it: There is something very satisfying about squeezing a big, juicy pimple. That feeling is part of the reason thousands of people are fascinated with Dr. Pimple Popper (aka Dr. Sandra Lee), who posts squeezing, pus-oozing, cyst-exploding videos to Youtube for her legions of followers to watch.
As good as it feels, however, oftentimes picking a pimple can drive the inflammation deeper into the skin and increase the risk of scarring, not to mention make it take longer to heal. Of even more concern, not everything that looks like a pimple is actually a pimple, especially on the body. No matter how much you want to pick at your skin, here are a few other lumps and bumps that are better off treated by an expert.
Milia are small, raised, white bumps on the skin that look like whiteheads. Although they can arise spontaneously, sometimes they develop after the skin has been damaged or injured. They may disappear all on their own, but if you’re concerned, let your dermatologist take a look instead of picking at them.
Also known as a boil, this is a pus-filled, swollen and often painful “pimple” that is caused by an infection in a hair follicle. Treatment involves drainage and topical antibiotics, and in some cases, oral antibiotics.
Otherwise known as sebaceous cysts by the public, epidermal cysts are slow-growing lumps under the skin made up of a protein called keratin. They usually appear on the upper part of the body, have a small “blackhead” in the center and have a foul smell if squeezed and extracted. It’s not a good idea to try to express these on your own because if the keratin contents burst internally rather than out to the surface, they can become very inflamed, painful, swollen and red. Best to go to a dermatologist if you think you have one of these cysts.
These develop from hair follicles and are most often seen as firm nodules on the scalp. They can run in families, especially when there are multiple pilar cysts present. When surgically removed, they usually pop out with a firm sac and their inner contents intact.
But even if it is just a garden-variety, large acne cyst on the face, don’t just squeeze it! The best option is to use warm compresses, a washcloth soaked in hot, but not scalding, water, to help draw out the pus. Putting pressure on either side of the cyst could force the contents deeper and make things worse. Lastly, if it is a huge, whopper of a cyst, see a dermatologist to inject it. That should produce improvements within 24 hours.
Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi is Founder and Director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the George Washington Medical Center.