When you check your makeup in the mirror, only to spot a giant you-have-no-idea-what bump staring back at you, it’s absolutely tempting to go HAM on your face. But experts agree that when it comes to most skin bumps and blemishes on skin, a hands-off approach is most definitely best.
“Popping anything causes your skin to physically break apart, making it more susceptible to infection and an even bigger problem than what was originally there in the first place,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York City.
Here are the eight bumps on your face and skin that you should definitely not pick, pop, or poke—as well as what causes them and how you should treat them instead.
1. Ingrown hairs
Frustrating? Extremely. Worth picking—even if you just shaved your bikini line? Absolutely not.
The cause: “Ingrown hairs occur when the hair shaft becomes trapped beneath the skin’s surface,” says Joel Schlessinger, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf advisor.
“The red bumps that follow are often itchy and inflamed, but it’s never a good idea to use tweezers or manual force to pluck them,” says Schlessinger. Squeezing them will only make inflammation and irritation worse, he adds. (Hello, red marks that last for months.)
The treatment: Apply hydrocortisone, which reduces redness, itchiness, and irritation—and wash the affected area with an exfoliating cleanser to help the hair reach the skin’s surface.
2. Skin tags
“Skin tags are extra growths of skin that typically occur on the neck and underarms,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. But there are a few reasons why you shouldn’t pick at them, he says: namely that skin tags are made from, well, flesh, and attempting to remove them will cause pain and bleeding. Zeichner says it could also increase your risk of infection.
The cause: “They often occur in areas of friction, like around the neck, under arms, and by the groin and are thought to be caused by irritation from skin rubbing on skin or on clothing,” Bruce Katz, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City, has previously told WomensHealthMag.com.
The treatment: “Your dermatologist can remove them in the office either by surgically removing them, freezing, them, or buzzing them off,” says Zeichner, adding that removal of skin tags that are large and interfere with daily functioning may even be covered by your insurance.
3. Cold sores
Unless you’re looking to inspire a whole army of these bad boys, don’t even think about touching them—no matter how much that cold sore looks like a pimple. “Picking at cold sores could very easily lead to the formation of another sore, and popping them releases a blister-like fluid that contains the same virus and can easily spread to other areas,” says Schlessinger.
The cause: The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is to blame for cold sores—and it’s crazy-common. Seriously—50 to 80 percent of U.S. adults have oral herpes.
The treatment: Small sores can heal on their own with the help of OTC treatments. But if you notice cold sores popping up more frequently (or spreading to larger areas), Schlessinger says you should see a doctor for professional help. Also, avoid making out with anyone—S.O. included—until the cold sore has died down to avoid spreading it even further.