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My lawyer is standing over my shoulder again reminding me to remind you of my medical-legal disclaimer so here goes:Electronic message exchanges to, from, or with Dr. Cook do not constitute medical advice, an evaluation, or consultation and must not be considered a replacement or substitute for a formal evaluation in the office. Information and correspondence in this blog does not form and will not result in a doctor-patient relationship. If you desire an evaluation or consultation, contact our office for an appointment. Recommended changes to your present treatment plan or therapy must be approved by your physician. Explanation and/or discussion of off-label services and/or products, if mentioned, do not reflect endorsement or promotion by Dr. Cook and must not be construed as such.

Let’s review “Dr. Elaine’s so you think you can dermatology quiz”!!

What is a good reason to pick at a skin spot or pop a pimple?

  • It is there
  • It hurts
  • I really think I can get it better
  • Makeup makes it look worse
  • I have a date tonight
  • I am stressed

Women pick. For all of the above reasons. It is an interesting psychological issue, because men rarely pick just because something is there. Sometimes, if it hurts or itches, but not because it is there. Very commonly I see women who pick at a lesion every morning even though they know it will make things worse, because foundation makes it look worse and it is easier to cover without the flaking or scabbing (read: healing). And when under stress, they do it even more.

Answer is: I really think I can get it better. The only reason to pick at a pimple or spot is if you really think you are going to make it better.

How many times should I try to pick at a pimple or something on my skin before I give up?

  • One
  • Three
  • Ten
  • Thirty-seven
  • Four Hundred
  • Never give up

Often women pick at a pimple that they either know is “not ready,” or that they know won’t respond to picking. Like running for president, you only get so many tries before your chances of success approaches zero. It’s extremely common for women to squeeze and pick at a pimple before the white blood cells have finally consolidated into a collection of pus. The white blood cells are dispersed throughout the tissue and squeezing too early just causes them to take the path of least physical resistance and that is down and out in the tissue, not rupturing through the skin at the top of the pimple. This causes inflammation, and inflammation brings more white blood cells, swelling, and all sorts of inflammatory chemicals into the area. Which then just gets worse.

The key to popping a pimple in a way that will actually cause it to resolve is to wait until it is ready. Leave it alone, let your body consolidate the white blood cells into a drop of pus, let it rise to the surface and then pop it. Once. If you are not sure it is “ready,” it’s not. Wait.

Answer is: three. But the real answer is: one. Wait like a lioness at a watering hole until the situation is perfect. Pick your time. Pounce. do it once and do it right. And get the gazelle.

What is a good indicator that a pimple will respond to picking by getting better?

  • I want it to be gone
  • It is deep and painful
  • It is red
  • I can see pus at the top
  • It is draining
  • I have a date tonight

Deep and painful pimples are by definition—deep. Which means that picking at the surface won’t get you to the collection of pus that needs to be drained for the pimple to resolve. It is either: not a consolidated pus collection that will “pop” and/or too deep in the skin for the pressure of a squeeze to rupture the skin above it so it can drain. Instead it will rupture down and into the tissues. And get worse.

Answer is: I can see pus at the top.

When you see a definite collection of pus at the top, that means the pimple is high enough in the skin and the thickness of the skin between the pus drop and the outside is thin enough that the pressure of a squeeze has a good chance of rupturing the pus drop outward.

What is a good indicator that a pimple will respond to picking by getting worse?

  • I want it to be gone
  • It is deep and painful
  • It is red
  • I can see pus at the top
  • It is draining
  • I have a date tonight

As above a deep and painful lesion is either: not a pimple that is ready to pop, or, not a pimple. If it is draining that is a sign that it has already consolidated into a pus drop and drained, or, you have been picking at it. In any of these situations picking at it won’t help. And will probably make it worse.

The answers “I want it to be gone” and “I have a date tonight” are examples of what we in the medical profession call “magical thinking.” As in, “if wishes were fishes, we would all be fishermen.”

Answer is: It is draining. But the real answer is: anything other than “I can see pus at the top.”

I am deep enough in the skin to cause scarring when I see?

  • Redness
  • Pus
  • Blood
  • Muscle
  • China

The skin has 3 layers: the epidermis (surface), the dermis (containing blood vessels, collagen, elastic fibers and tiny nerves), and the subcutaneous fat(which is…fat). Underlying that is muscle. You will see blood as soon as you are into the dermis. Scars are made of collagen fibers and are the body’s response to injury. Collagen is made in the dermis in response to injury. When you are picking at a spot you are causing injury. So if you see blood you are deep enough in the skin to cause injury that the body responds to by forming scars. If you are deeper than that you will certainly get scarring.

Answer is: Blood

What things should I not pick at?

  • Red bump filled with pus
  • Deep tender pimple that I feel but can’t see
  • Little white beads under the skin
  • Moles
  • The spot I have been picking at for 6 months
  • Growths

In life there are things you can probably do, things you might get away with and things you shouldn’t do. Try to stay within the first, and only do the second if the downside is limited. “Red bump filled with pus” is in the first category, if you do it right. “Deep tender pimple that I feel but can’t see” and “little white beads under the skin” is in the second category. “Moles,” “the spot I have been picking at for 6 months,” and “growths” are in the third group.

Moles and most growths are deep enough in the skin, you won’t be able to remove them, or if you are a masochist, you will remove them with scarring. The spot you have been picking at for 6 months isn’t going to suddenly give up and go away quietly. And do I even need to say it—it may be a skin cancer, and even a serious one.

Answer is: Deep tender pimple that I feel but can’t see, moles, the spot I have been picking at for 6 months, growths.

Go to the dermatologist.

All right, class is out for the day. Come prepared to finish the quiz review next time.


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