Storytime: The Will to Stop Picking, Popping and Prodding Pimples Friday 13 July, 2012

The day I noticed that my skin was becoming slightly pocked and pigmented after a bad round of picking my pimples, I really became shell-shocked and—yes—increasingly attuned to the fact that my face was now showing the scars of a lifelong struggle with picking. Can I find the will power to stop popping?

When I turned 27, I found my first grey hair. I’m sure it was there long before I made my discovery, but once I singled it out, 100 more raised their melanin-depleted strands right along with it. Several years later, and my greys seemingly multiply with each passing day. But that first discovery—it just seemed to come out of nowhere. And then those greys became all I could see. Isn’t it funny how once we see a flaw, we become increasingly hyper-aware of it?

The day I noticed that my skin was becoming slightly pocked and pigmented after a bad round of picking my pimples, I really became shell-shocked and—yes—increasingly attuned to the fact that my face was now showing the scars of a lifelong struggle with picking. You see, I’d been a devoted picker/popper since my youth; I could never just allow a zit to fully form and rid itself on its own terms. I’ve tried—believe me, how I’ve tried. But a week would turn into two weeks, and the sucker would still be there, a red mountain of embarrassment—no smaller, certainly larger, than the day before. As a teen I had no self-discipline. I once completely went to town on a chin zit a few days before my freshman high school yearbook photo. So horrid was the wreckage of my blemish-needling that I had a scab that measured a few centimeters in diameter—large enough to be picked up by the yearbook lensman; there was no Photoshop to be had in those down-and-dirty days of film—at least not by non-pros shooting high school yearbook photos. That image will forever be with me: A smiling girl with a self-inflicted wound.

Throughout my 20s, I went through long stretches of serious insomnia. As part of my way to burn the midnight oil, I’d mosey on into the bathroom, sidle up to the mirror, and settle in for a long session of self-imposed extractions. My nose always has blackheads; my chin and cheeks are constantly mottled by tiny, deep-seated whiteheads. I’m pretty sure most people share this same skin annoyance as I do. The little buggers are all virtually undetectable by the naked eye. But that didn’t matter. When my mind had nothing else to focus on, it zeroed in on “clearing” my skin.

There was something soothing and ritualistic about this process, something instantly gratifying about needling my two knuckles together, really putting the pressure on over and over and over again to my pores, and seeing a successful eruption of ick. With every POP!, I felt a surge of relief, a great satisfaction. I could sit and do this for an hour, leaving my face ruddy and inflamed—and much worse for the wear the next morning.

But no amount of unattractive swelling could stop me. The only thing that did put a halt to my nighttime pick fests came in the form of sleep: I started to kick my insomnia, though as I type this, it’s 1:34 a.m. and I am clearly not sleeping. It seemed my Karie-as-dermatologist midnight sessions would come to an end—and for the most part, they have. But, in the event of full disclosure, I must confess: I still pick during the day. Not as often, but I still can’t simply allow a zit to be a zit and to bid adieu when it’s good and ready. I willed myself a few weeks ago to keep my fingers away from another chin zit, and two weeks passed without any sign of the sucker waning. So I went in for the kill, even though I just read an amazing article in Allure by an author who suffers the same pick-pick-picking habit as myself, and even though I discussed this article with a friend, who told me how she rids her skin of blemishes (pressing warm-water-soaked clean washcloth against the offender plus religious application of a clearing lotion), I still popped it with unabandon. And now I have yet another scab to heal, and probably another red mark—or worse, pock mark—to leave an ugly reminder of the bloodshed my fingers wreak.

I want to stop picking; I do. But I am a self-sabotager. In many facets of my life, I know exactly what needs to be done to better the situation, and yet I won’t take the steps to do it. So we’ll see if the next pimple to take up residence on my face will be left alone. (And there will be another one; there always is. Once one heals, another, like some sick twisted form of punishment, takes up residence on my face.) Can I leave it be? Can I simply cover it with concealer, heat it with a warm compress before bed, slather it with a clearing gel, and then rid my hands of it? Can I allow it to be a squatter for several weeks on end? I don’t know. Since my battle scars seem to be multiplying, and since I am so hyper-aware of this fact, I need to find the will to stop picking. Will power, will you help me?

Do you pick your blemishes? Have you found a good way to clear up acne without using your hands?

Karie L. Frost Signature



  • Ashley says:

    Wow, you sound just like me. My perfect skin is now completely ruined because of the years of abuse I have done to my face. I just went to the dermatologist yesterday though and with 4 prescriptions lets hope it does some good.

    My problem doesn’t stop with my face tho…its my chest and back as well.

    Good luck if you ever find a cure for this–and if you do CONTACT ME IMMEDIATELY!!!

  • J. says:

    I usualy steam my fae with warm water, use q-tips to press gently on each side and finish by using an a-cream (mine is called epithelliale by a-derma) to sooth the redness. Works very well, just need to do it at one or two at the time not six.

  • Karie says:

    Acne is such a vicious cycle; to pop and pick is such a compulsion—I unfortunately feel great satisfaction when I do it, but then regret. I should definitely do more steams; haven’t done that in forever. Tiny steps! Thanks for commenting and sharing!!!

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  • Hi, my name is Brandy, and I am a pimple picker. There I confess:( I have found that after a cleansing I like to steam my face with the dry cycle on the dishwasher. I just open the door and let the steam soften the blackheads to make for softer extractions. I also use 100% pure tea tree oil on a q tip and rub into blemishes to clear. Not only does the tea tree oil cleanse and kill bacteria it does not cause dryness around the affected area. Last but not least I succumb to using my old school Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask. It does wonders!

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  • Rachel W. says:

    Thanks for this piece of honesty– it’s refreshing to see a beauty-oriented blog deal with the ickier side of things! I can sympathize: picking is such a weird irritation-satisfaction-shame cycle!

    I pick at zits and my cuticles, but lately I’ve had some success by redirecting my fidgety energy into other rituals. Nightly zit picking is replaced by the cleanse-steam-moisturize cycle of the Oil Cleansing Method; tearing my cuticles up is replaced by pushing cuticles and polishing my nails (or, when I apply nail polish badly, getting to pick polish flakes off. Gross, but better than hurting my skin!)

    I have no idea if they do any good, but pore strips and peelable face masks satisfy the part of me that likes to pick at skin and sunburn. Redirect, redirect, and hope for the best. I hope you find something that works for you!

  • Jason says:

    Hi. I have a website that explores tea tree oil cures for acne and facial spots. Check it out at Thanks, Jason

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