Who can resist squeezing a spot? If you can you're either a saint or sitting on your hands. Even skincare experts do it. "I’m a popper. Always have been. There’s nothing more satisfying, to be honest," says Caroline Hirons, one of the UK’s most respected and opinionated skincare experts. After working on beauty counters and training as a globally qualified advanced aesthetician, she set up her blog carolinehirons.com (125 million views and counting) where, for the past ten years, she has been dispensing expert real-world beauty advice. She’s now distilled her vast knowledge into her first book Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide , out later this month.
One of the topics she is most asked about is when to squeeze and when to leave well alone. She even appeared on This Morning with Holly Willoughby (a picker) and Philip Schofield and three volunteers (live extractions were performed...).
So if you're going to squeeze a spot, what's the right way to do it? Blackheads, whiteheads, hormonal acne, Caroline's coming for you...
How to pop a spot
Word of warning: a ‘poppable’ spot shouldn’t really hurt when popping – it should be satisfying. If it hurts – stop – it’s too soon and you will bruise and then possibly scar. Stop at the first sign of blood – you’re about to scar.
As much as any dermatologist will tell you not to pop, the fact is that you do. We do. You know you do; I know you do; the industry at large knows that you do, but they pretend that you don’t. I know there are some of you that manage to restrain yourselves, but you’re in the minority and up there with those people that don’t lick their lips when eating a doughnut or chew when eating a fruit pastille. You exist, but the rest of us don’t know how you manage it.
I’m a popper. Always have been. There’s nothing more satisfying to be honest. And I know most of you pop because you tell me so – usually with ‘don’t shout at me’ eyes. As if! If it’s the right time, I always pop. With that in mind, I offer you my way to pop. All risk is your own.
What you will need to pop a spot
‘Clean’ everything. Clean hands. Clean skin. Clean flannel. Clean tissue. Acids. Cotton pads or a ready-made acid pad. A good-quality (non-mineral oil) facial oil.
• Slipping it into your routine is the easiest way. AM or PM. Not lunchtime in the loo at work.
• Cleanse. With a clean flannel. If the flannel doesn’t knock the head off the spot that’s your first sign that it may not be ready. If it’s sore, it’s probably not ready. I steer clear of sore spots. They’re still working their way up the dermis food chain and causing inflammation along the way. Soak a cotton pad with acid toner and set it aside (or unpack your ready-made acid pad).
• If you can see white, it’s not sore or too tender and everything is clean, take a tissue, rip it in half and wrap it around the forefinger of each hand.
• Finger placement is also crucial. One of the biggest mistakes made when popping is to go straight in from RIGHT NEXT TO THE SPOT. You put your two fingers on the spot and you just push your fingers together, so that you’re so close, you literally just get a little teeny whitehead, then everything almost gets pushed back down into the
spot. Not good.
• Do NOT use your nails. Use the pads of your fingertips only.
• Put your fingers either side of the spot, as best you can, depending on where it is, obviously. You should be able to SEE the spot. Gently push downwards and then, at a 90-degree angle towards the bottom the spot, start to push upwards. If it’s ready, it will come up and out. Gently repeat. When the white stops, and it’s spouting pink, STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP.
• If you see blood (it’s already too late but...), STOP. You’re in scarring territory. Show restraint.
• Now you need to move quickly. Take your pre-soaked acid toner cotton pad, or ready-and-waiting acid pad and apply it firmly to the spot, using a similar pressure as when you’ve ripped off a plaster or a wax strip. Hard pressure. Hold it down for a few seconds, then turn it over and repeat. There should be no bleeding. If there is, keep the acid on it until it stops. I have been known to walk around making a cup of tea while holding an acid-soaked pad on an overly pronged spot waiting for it to calm itself. The bigger the spot, the longer you hold acid on it.
Note: this may sting like a MOFO (technical term). Stinging is good. I know I say it all the time, but stinging is good. The acid will be helping to kill the bacteria, helping it heal quicker and making sure the skin is prepped ready for the oil.
You’ll have a ‘Kevin at the sink in Home Alone’ moment. Embrace it.
• Yes, oil. I don’t use drying-out products. If you dry out the spot, you also dry out the area surrounding the spot, causing a ton of inflammation and dehydration and frankly, making a prime breeding ground for bacteria and scarring. A Juicy Lucy skin is harder to scar. A dried-out, shrivelled-up area will scar easily. Simples.
• Take your acid pad off and put your chosen oil on the area.
• Massage it firmly in. You can’t be namby-pamby at this stage. Be firm. Use good, strong pressure, massaging all around the spot and over the spot.
• Depending on the rest of your day/evening, finish your routine, but I try to do this either on mornings that I’m not wearing makeup and am working from home, or in the evenings at teatime.
• It’s best to do it when you’re at home with a little time afterwards as you’re going to repeat the oil application as soon as it has all been absorbed... Apply, wait, absorb, apply, wait, absorb. Repeat at least three times if you can.
• Throughout the day or the next morning, you will find that the spot erupts a little goo, like a mini volcano. Wipe this away with acid and reapply the oil. This sounds time- consuming but I promise we’re talking seconds, not hours. And it’s worth it if it speeds up the spot healing process and helps prevent scarring.
If you have a ready spot but you have to go to work, do everything as above, apply your moisturiser over the area, don’t avoid it – and then proceed with your makeup.
Powder is your friend. Once you get home, cleanse immediately and do it all again.
You may find the rest of the spot just throws itself at you willingly, or that it has calmed significantly to be almost invisible. Just don’t be tempted to start on it like you’re climbing Everest with a pickaxe.
The reason I use oil on spots, rather than drying products, is because in my experience, drying them out doesn’t always work and causes more damage. Using oil does one of two things: it either swells up the spot and forces the ‘head’ of the spot to show up the next morning, or it settles it down and almost disperses the remnants.
There are, of course, ‘extraction tools’ available on the market, but you can’t use them where you can’t see the spot, and you need to know how much pressure is too much.
Extracted from Skincare by Caroline Hirons (HQ, HarperCollins), published 25 June in paperback, eBook and audiobook. Preorder here