Despite being shamed for popping my pimples by facialists, friends, and family, I can’t help but start picking at my problem spots. Because I don’t want to mess up my seamlessly blended foundation and highlighter, I don’t touch my face during the day. However, as soon as I get home and remove my makeup, all bets are off. My fingers forever wander to my breakouts when I sit in bed and watch TV or scroll through the world wide web. I poke and prod absentmindedly. All the while, I know full well that I absolutely shouldn’t be touching my face in the first place.
I know pimple-popping, when not done by a professional like Dr. Pimple Popper, is bad. This fact is one of those universal beauty truths that people are supposed to abide by, like wearing sunscreen – rain or shine – and washing off your makeup before bed. I have completely defied this one, though, for my entire post-pubescent life.
“As you press on the pimple, you are introducing bacteria and dirt from your finger into the zit,” Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, has told Allure. “That can cause the pimple to become more red, inflamed, swollen and infected.” So basically, picking does a hell of a lot more harm than good. It just makes breakouts worse and can cause more spots to pop up. On top of that, scarring is more likely to happen if you pick. Hard no’s all around.
For my 26th birthday, I decided to put an end to this pimple-popping madness by trying to avoid it for a month. As a teen, I thought, by now, my skin would be magically clear. (I also thought I’d be married by now, too, so I shouldn’t entirely trust my 16-year-old self.) However, my acne is worse than ever, and I was desperate to try something new in hopes of achieving the glass skin of Instagram dreams. I put a multi-technique system in place to avoid encounters of the picking kind. Here’s a break down of all five of them, complete with selfies taken from my bed on what looks like a flip phone, but I swear it was an iPhone. (I need the iPhone X ASAP.)
1. Sheet masks
This is the easiest technique I employed to help me stop picking my face, but it’s also the most of the shortest lived. You can only wear a sheet mask for so long before it starts to itch, you know? When it is on, though, touching my face doesn’t cross my mind. I’d put on an episode of whatever show of the moment I as binging, and a good 15 minutes would successfully pass without wanting to prod my pimples. In the scheme of things, that short amount of time was extremely helpful for my progress. It encouraged me to keep up my streak for the rest of the night.
I slapped on a sheet mask about once or twice a week. Missha makes some of my favorites. I swear the deliciously scented Strawberry Milk Sheet Mask helps clear up my skin. I want a lifetime supply of them. (Hi, Missha, did you hear that?)
2. Hydrocolloid bandages
This method is a favorite of Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He’s told Allure all about how hydrocolloid bandages allow the skin to heal itself and prevent you from picking or scratching.
If you’re unfamiliar, hydrocolloid bandages were originally created with blisters in mind. They’re gel-textured bandages that keep you from popping blisters and help them heal faster by the absorbing fluid. K-beauty brands like CosRx and Peach Slices have since launched circular versions, specifically for the face, that are thin enough to leave the house wearing somewhat undetected. I speak from experience. A couple days into my challenge, I went to SoJo Spa Club, a Korean day spa in New Jersey, with some friends and stuck a hydrocolloid bandage on my cheek before heading out. It stayed on for most of the day until I got a facial, and my best friend is the only one who pointed it out.
Halfway through the month, I ran out of my CosRx ones and ran out to Rite Aid at 9 p.m. to get actual hydrocolloid bandages in my time of need. They are about an inch large in size, so I cut them into little squares. My right cheek was so bad at one point that I wished I had a bandage that covered my entire cheek. Admittedly, I did stick one whole one on my cheek while Black Friday shopping – prime picking time – on the couch at my dad’s house, and no one said anything. Thank you, family, for not questioning my beauty choices when it comes to makeup and skin care.
3. Surgical face mask
Welcome to my most unconventional method.
Since high school, I’ve had a habit of pulling my sleep shirt over my face as soon as I caught myself picking at it. I know it’s weird, but it helped. My thought process has always been that if my face is covered, I won’t be tempted to mess with it. Because my breakouts usually only happen on my cheeks and around my jawline, I noticed there’s a much more efficient way to cover up my face: I can wear a surgical face mask. I bought a three pack on Amazon of reusable fabric ones and kept one by my bed at all times. Whenever I was sheet mask-less or too lazy to grab my acne stickers, I reached for the mask instead of my zits. I would like to note that I never left my room with it. The masks have stayed within the confines of my room.
4. Magnifying mirror
Another coincidence that occurred during my month-long challenge is my beloved lighted mirror died. (R.I.P.) I used to clean up my own brows by plucking stray hairs every couple days with the help of the magnified side of my old mirror. While doing so, I’d catch a blackhead that when under the radar with a glance in a standard mirror.
I replaced my dearly departed with a Sharper Image mirror that doesn’t have a magnification option, and not having the zoomed-in mirror helped me avoid run-ins with problem spots. My brows might be a bit more unruly than usual, but my skin will be better for it.
And here’s one more bonus technique:
Although I didn’t get any facials during this period of time, I should have. Earlier this year, I got a facial every week for a month, and having the aesthetician perform extractions during the treatment prevented me from doing them at home by myself. I found myself picking my face a lot less often during that month. But I’m dumb and completely forgot about that until my month of no picking was up. I will definitely keep it in mind for the future, though.
Overall, I’d call this challenge a success. The skin-care gods truly tested my strength throughout the process. As fate would have it, my skin decided to hit an all-time low about a week into my month-long no-picking challenge. My right cheek was like a mountain range of active volcanos for a good two weeks. It took about as much willpower to not squeeze at those spots as it does to not get a scoop of ice cream on a hot day. (I never turn down an opportunity to indulge in the frozen treat, even on a blisteringly cold day after a rather large meal.)
I will admit that I had a couple relapses, but breaking the habit of not picking my face will be a continual process. I’ll definitely need to keep these techniques in place on a 365-day basis. I know they say it takes 11 days to break a habit, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to take at least 11 months to break this one. November was a good start. By this time next year, hopefully picking my face will be a weird, distant memory like those bad Tinder dates I’ve been on or that one time in high school my friend spread a rumor that I didn’t shower.