I was watching the Tyra show the other day and she was talking about this site where they show videos of people popping zits. It was one of those things where you don’t want to look but you can’t help yourself. The site is called “Pop That Zit” if you want to see for yourself. I warn you not to be eating anything if you watch one of the videos or you just might chuck your cookies. The words disgusting, nauseating, and strangely fascinating come to mind. What is it that is so darn compelling about popping zits?
Although we think of acne as just a problem during the teen-age years it can affect people at most any age. I am forty-five and still suffer from zits. It is one of the most common skin problems and a huge industry of cosmetics, soaps, cleansers, and acne products has been built around getting rid of pimples. Acne is one of the leading reasons for people to seek help from a dermatologist. So with all these treatments and help available for acne what do most people do instead? They pick and pop their zits.
It’s true. I bet that any of you who have suffered from zits have popped a pimple in your day and then some. Some of you have probably even helped other people pop their zits. When I was a kid I watched my mother stick a needle in her zits to get rid of them. Ewwww That sent me running. But if you look on the Internet there are How To sites telling you how to pop your pimples with a needle. (DO NOT DO THIS!)
Now I am going to tell you something you probably already know. Don’t pop your zits!
You are making your pimple situation way worse. And now I will tell you why.
Just touching your face can spread more bacteria on your skin. So picking is going to spread that bacteria like wild fire. When you pop a zit, the puss gets all over the surrounding skin and can infect that area too. You can definitely end up with more acne. Then too, when you pick, you are leaving an inflamed open wound which can be re-infected. A common scenario is that the pimple may look smaller but it sure will be a lot redder, noticeable, and will puff up again with puss. Then it will scab and possibly leave a scar you can’t get rid of.
If you don’t want to increase the number of pimples you have, leave lasting pockmarks, or ice-pick scars keep your hands away from your face and stop picking!
Sometimes the picking can become a compulsion and even an addiction. The fancy term for this compulsion to pick at one’s skin is called Dermatilomania and I have written on this topic on ADHD Central.
While there is no formal diagnostic criteria for Dermatiolomania behaviors can include:
- Repeated skin picking of the face, lips, scalp, hands, fingernails, or arms
- Tension increase immediately before picking
- Tension decrease or relief when skin picking
- The picking causes significant difficulties in life or stress sensations like itching, tingling, or burning or an uncontrollable urge to pick their skin.
What treatment is there for Dermatillomania?
Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it each time you are about to engage in picking.
Keep your hands busy doing other things. Buy yourself a koosh ball, silly putty, or other fidget toy to keep your hands occupied.
The Brain Physics Mental Health Resource site suggests that SSRI antidepressants can help those with skin picking problems. But they also give this cautionary advice: “Usually, 65 percent improvement from a medication is considered a good result. Medication should never be considered an end in itself, but a tool to help with therapy.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a treatment for Dermatillomania show the best results from research and from anecdotal reports from sufferers of these disorders. Part of this therapy can include something called Habit Reversal Training (HRT) where the person may keep a journal of times when they pick their skin to try to determine what their personal triggers to this behavior might be. Once the patient is more aware of what circumstances may bring on an episode, they can try to make changes to eliminate these triggers or choose another action.
If the desire to pick at your acne is becoming a problem for you the first step is to see a dermatologist to find ways to control your acne. The American Academy of Dermatology has a page to “Find a Dermatologist” in your area.
Other on-line resources for support for compulsive skin picking can be found at:
For more information about acne please visit Health Central’s My Skin Care Connection Acne Information page. If you feel that your picking is a compulsion you cannot seem to stop it may be time to consult with a mental health practitioner for help. Popping zits might seem like a harmless behavior but it will aggravate your acne situation and actually make things worse. So remember, keep your hands away from your face and leave your zits alone!