We’ve all been there: You wash your face, pat it dry, then give it a once-over in the mirror only to discover a swarm of blackheads peppering the tip of your nose. The bright bathroom light exaggerates their gruesomeness. You gasp in disgust. The only thing to do is to whip out your tools—your fingernails—and start squeezing.
It’s borderline repulsive, yet extremely rewarding—with every successful purge, you feel a sense of satisfaction. For most people, squeezing blackheads is a gratuitous little habit they can control. Yet for some, it can quickly become a compulsion. That moment of blemish-popping releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone, which directly affects your emotions, as well as your sensation to pleasure and pain. Experts explain there’s a cycle of anxiety or arousal before the act and a sense of relief after, making blemish-popping addictive and particularly hard to stop.
It also explains why videos of blackhead removal and pimple-popping have become a social media phenomena. People are fascinated by other people's distress or difficulties, and as gross as pimple-popping is, watching the intensity of someone else's problems brings a cathartic rush of satisfaction.
Then there’s the primeval element––grooming is evolutionarily ingrained in us. Animals groom each other and pick off fleas and mites. Thousands of years ago, humans did as well. Watching other people groom themselves may have less to do with hygiene than with some sense of primal bonding.
The skin-compromising consequences.
Regardless the reason for picking, the aftermath is messy––every squeeze session causes visible skin damage, especially if it’s a daily occurrence. “Squeezing and pulling stretches the elastin around the pores which can enlarge them,” explains dermatologist Dr. David Orentreich. With constant squeezing, pores can stretch out over time without the ability to bounce back. What’s more, says Orentreich, “Squeezing blackheads, picking acne, or popping pimples can damage your pore’s surrounding tissue, leading to inflammation and scarring.” When you feel the urge to purge, keep your hands busy––try squeezing a stress ball, fiddling with a wrist tie, or even putting on gloves.
How to get rid of blackheads.
The safe way to get rid of blackheads is to arm yourself with a great product that will clear out blackheads without damaging your skin. This way, you’ll get the instant gratification, without risking enlarged pores, pain, or scarring. Orentreich’s recommendation: Clinique’s Blackhead Solutions Self-Heating Blackhead Extractor. This purifying formula heats up when mixed with water, gently opening up pores so that salicylic acid, bamboo powder, and pumice can work to clear out oxidized oil, dirt, and debris without damaging skin. It also has an applicator tip with textured nubbies that help loosen up and whisk away blackheads. The proof: it’s clinically proven to reduce 93% of blackheads in 6 weeks.*
How to get rid of acne.
If you have acne-prone skin with persistent breakouts, Dr. Orentreich recommends Acne Solutions™ Clinical Clearing Gel. A prescription-strength formula with salicylic acid, it helps clear trapped dirt and oil in active blemishes. Over time, it works to keep excess oil, grime, and dead skin cells at bay so you see clearer skin. Orentreich suggests using it all over your face or as a spot treatment. And when the urge to pick rises, he reminds us, “Hands off. Products on.”