I Still Pick at My Face But I KNOW IT'S BAD, So Here Are Some Products That Help

Logically I know that pushing at a blackhead until it erupts is only going to make things worse. And yet!
Publish date:
January 18, 2013
shoppables, acne, skin, zits

When my friend the physician’s assistant, who works at a chichi dermatologist in San Francisco, saw my face over Christmas, she unloaded on me a bit.

“What are you doing?!” she said, lifting my bangs in dismay. “Throw away your magnifying mirror -- I know you have one. Stop doing this to yourself!”

This, as my dear friend so delicately put it, was a mess of red marks, scabs and scars covering me from forehead to chin.

Yes, indeed, friends, I’m almost 30 and I still haven’t figured out how to stop squeezing my damn zits.

Listen, logically I know that pushing at a blackhead until it erupts is only going to make things worse. That a raised red pimple is just not ready to be popped. And yet! There is nothing so satisfying as standing in front of a mirror and squeezing those little buggers until my whole face is red and “clean.”

I could, and DO, do it every night.

And it’s not just on my own face. When Emily posted that picture of her ass-zit on Instagram, I literally squeezed the picture on my phone. (Make minimize fingers! That was me!) Emily, I wanted to pop that thing for you so bad!

Studies published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology suggest that about 10% of dermatology patients deal with depression, and even more might suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. This shit is psychological.

I don’t think I have a serious, medical-grade compulsion to pop, but I do think it’s making me look bad in meetings, especially since I already look young. I want people in other departments to take me seriously, despite my uniform of Threadless T-shirt, blazer, jeans and weird necklace.

So I turned to some experts. Marcy Goldstein, MD, and Linda Susan Marcus, MD, are both fellows of the American Academy of Dermatology, with practices in Bergen County, N.J. They agreed to talk with me about why it feels so good to squeeze your zits.

And they do agree: It feels damn good. “It’s very satisfying to us, too, when we push on a blackhead and it comes up. There’s no question about it,” Goldstein told me, and Marcus agreed.

They both kind of revel in the fact that they get to clear out other people’s faces all day, e’ry day. But then again, they are professionals, and I am not, and they did chide me a little bit. But even with my near DECADES of practice, and yours, too, you’re not getting everything out.

Yes, even if you squeeze until it bleeds. Even if you use one of those little loopy tools. Obviously, the best way to handle a real juicy or deep zit is to take it to the derm -- and both women said that they see more adult women than teenagers when it comes to acne.

“Not only is it psychologically beneficial to not have these marks on your face, but we also don’t want it to scar,” Marcus said. “So we treat the lesions [in adults].”

The doctors shamed me a little and I will admit to making a dermatologist appointment after our interview was over, because A) I have health insurance so it won’t be that expensive and B) what should I be spending money on if not my STUNNING, RIDICULOUS FACE.

But in the meantime, I’ve been trying to use products to prevent me from needing to pop in the first place. Here are my recommendations. Know that I am not a beauty writer; I am a health journalist, so the only free stuff I ever get includes medical supplies and weirdly supportive socks. This is worth spending money on.

I had been using the Mario Badescu acne face wash for about a year and my skin just wasn’t taking to it like it used to. I grabbed this on a whim during a Target binge and ended up really liking it. It’s creamy but still has a slightly grainy feeling, and has both anti-aging and acne-fighting ingredients, like someone made a face wash just for me and my problems. It works nicely with a Clarisonic if you have one (also worth spending your journalism/grad school/poverty dollars on).

I had one of those “wander into Lush and stand there not knowing what to do” moments a few months ago, and the girl who approached me basically saved my face with her slew of recommendations. The best one was this spray, which works as both a moisturizing refresher and an astringent thanks to rosemary and other herbs. It smells nice, too, and a lot lighter than most Lush stuff, which I know can be overbearing for some folks. Not this time around, pals.

Part of my picking comes out of boredom, I think. When I’m at my desk and I feel something on my face, I want to mess with it until, OH, NO, it’s too late, now I’m casually bleeding in an office environment. Super professional, Lindsey.

The best way to combat this is to not touch your damn face at all (ha-ha, dear diary, I wrote a funny joke today), but the second-best way is to throw some medicine on that thing. Boo Boo Zap! is good because you can put it on over makeup, without using your fingers. You can do it all day to dry whatever that thing is out completely (salicylic acid, yo!).

Some people also swear by the Burt’s Bees willow bark version of this thing -- I used to keep that one in the car for traffic applications. Not ashamed.

I’m pretty sure I read about this on xoJane before, but I had a pimple that made me want to die a few weeks ago. I slapped this stuff on it for two nights and lo! What blemish through yonder face skin breaks? It is NOT the pimple, which actually receded into just some redness that I enhanced sexily with red lipstick. Sensual!

OK, this stuff is hella expensive but it WORKS. It is like a baby chemical peel every time you use it. Smear it on once or twice a week for general complexion clearing. The burn lets you know it’s working, clearing both the blemishes you have now and the pores that could go funky on you later. This is my second or third tube now but they will last you almost a year. I bought it once while I was technically jobless; that’s how important this is to my skincare routine.

Obviously, you’re not supposed to pop at all. The docs say to use a warm compress, or go see them, obviously. But if you’re asking your face for forgiveness rather than permission, post-poppin’ you want to put a bacitracin or hydrocortisone on it.

But we aren’t doing that anymore! We’re adults! We’re gonna have great skin now! Or something like that.

How do you handle your adult acne? Are you more adult about it than I am? Are there products you swear by? There’s nothing I love more than buying skincare bullshit, so please add to my shopping list.

Lindsey is trying to give good face on Twitter and Instagram, @lindseywoho.