Please Don't Do This to Your Face: Picking Edition
Welcome to a new feature, I hope to make regular on this blog! Skin health don'ts. I call it Please Don't Do This to Your Face. Each post, I will discuss common things I see people doing to their skin that don't serve them or that may be harmful. So I'm here to tell you, (with love, I promise) what not to do to your skin, why not, and what to do instead. Sound okay? Okay. So full disclosure: I've been mulling over some ideas for this column for some time. But it wasn't until today that I was inspired to write on the first topic. I became inspired after I caught myself doing something I'm frequently, explicitly, telling clients not to do.
In case the above picture (and the title) didn't spoiler it for you: I picked my face.
Or rather, have been picking my face all week, as a persistent pimple (hanging in its favorite spot near my mouth) decided to just camp out. I admit, I went into battle mode. At first I extracted it using my professional technique and astringed the area with toner. But later in traffic, I found myself digging at it, idly, as if to ensure that it was all the way gone. First mistake. I then spent a few days in a cycle of over-drying it with spot treatment solution and then thinking it made sense to flick off the scab. The whole thing commenced with me sitting in traffic again today, and giving it one more little scratch-off thinking it would be the last, when my stubborn little friend then proceeded to bleed all over my hand, in my car.
I tell you this super TMI story, (sorry!) not to gross you out, but to assure you that I am human and I get it. And sometimes even I pick my face. Even though I know way better.
So today, I'm not here to shame anyone. I'm just going to delve into the facts on picking and popping the stuff that's on your face. Here's what happens when you pick and why it's not a good idea.
Acne is the result of external and internal inflammation in the body. Basically, when the skin breaking out, it's angry about something. And when the skin is already angry and you pick it? You make it angrier. If a pimple hasn't fully surfaced and you start in on
it, you will likely end up with more redness and swelling. More bacteria can rupture from the pore below the surface, leading to the spread of more breakouts. Yikes.
Think of it this way, when you gouge at your face or squish it until it pops open, you create a wound of sorts.The result is extra blood flow to the spot you just created. Your body thinks it needs to heal the wound and sends more blood to the area where it may linger. This leads to discoloration called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) that can last for weeks or longer.
Another gross thing to consider: when I do extractions as an esthetician I have likely washed my hands about 8 million times already that day. I will have properly prepped the area. I will put on gloves, which I will leave on throughout extractions performed using a sterile tool. Once I'm finished with the process, I will cleanse the area with an astringent anti-bacterial toner before removing my gloves. Pretty sterile right?
Now think about the things your hands might have touched before your face, if you find yourself impulsively picking a zit? When you pick or pop, even with clean hands, you always run the risk of spreading bacteria around to other pores and creating more problems. I know. Ew.
We've all been there. You think it's healed. You can almost cover it with makeup so that it almost disappears completely. In a few days it will fall off and all will be well. But what if it could just be gone now? Like right now! So you pick it. Instant gratification. Then it starts to ooze. It scabs over. The cycle repeats itself. *hangs head in shame*
This last one is a scary one to consider. Over time, repeated picking and popping can damage tissues without allowing them to properly heal. Result? Scar tissue. This can cause permanent texture issues on the face and could require professional treatment -such as microdermabrasion or a chemical peel) to minimize their appearance. Improper technique (incorrect pressure or not squeezing evenly from all sides) can also lead to scarring. This is one thing best left to the pros.
In my treatment room, I am able to extract things like whiteheads and blackheads because I am trained to spot them and gauge whether or not they are ready to be extracted. I also have products and professional techniques to do this as gently as possible. Taking the time to soften the skin with steam and prep it with special products makes a huge difference vs. going to town on your dry face in your bathroom mirror. You really have to be careful with the skin in these situations.
So what should you do instead?
As much as clients hate hearing it, and as much and I apparently hate following my own advice...ahem...my best advice is this: just leave it alone. Spot treat with a good blemish cream and then don't touch it. Anymore. I recommend Skin Script RX Blemish Spot Treatment or PCA's Acne Gel or just some good old fashioned Tea Tree Oil. Only put these potent drying products on the area that is actively breaking out. Continue to moisturize the rest of your face so that you don't over dry the rest of the skin and cause more imbalance.
If your breakouts are persistent, that's when it's time to seek out a some changes to your skin care routine and/or see a professional. A good esthetician can help you determine root causes and present you with more long-term solutions for at home.
Otherwise? Give it a few days. I know it sucks. I know it's hard. But trust that if it's just one or two little spots, they will run their course and be gone in no time. Treat your face with kindness and kindness shall be returned. For further evidence, this article has a great illustration of what happens when we just leave our faces alone.
So hopefully that's enough compelling reasons for all of us to stop picking our faces. I know the struggle is real, but I believe in us!