cosmetologist applying skincare treatments at cosmetology school

Take a scroll through Instagram or YouTube and you might think there’s nothing skin related you can’t do at home—dermaplaning, microneedling, chemical peels, removing all sorts of perceived skin imperfections—and there are plenty of tutorials and professional-grade tools to help you do it. But just because you can, does that mean you should?

“As a doctor, I’ll tell you not to pop your pimples since it can cause infection and scarring,” says Southern California dermatologist Sandra Lee, whose wildly popular Dr. Pimple Popper YouTube channel and Instagram feed may be partially responsible for the uptick in armchair aestheticians, “but I think many people can’t resist.” Read on for a guide to treatments that you can try at home versus those best left to the pros.

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After watching a few vlogger tutorials, Sandhya Raghavan, 32, ordered a one-millimeter dermaroller online. She used it once a month, and all was well until her third use, when “everything went south.” Redness and a burning sensation soon became a living nightmare, she says. “By that night, my skin has broken out into pus-filled boils.” At an emergency appointment with a dermatologist, she found out why: She had given herself a staph infection.

Even with a sterile tool that has short (0.25 millimeters or under) titanium needles, you still need to be careful. Disinfect the needles with isopropyl alcohol for 10 minutes after the treatment, and use them five times max (or as directed by the manufacturer), because “each time you use the needles, they dull and can cause tearing and trauma,” says Schook.


One major benefit of going to a pro is that someone is on hand to do damage control should something go awry, an unfortunate lesson Emily Farris, 36, learned when she had a disastrous run-in with an at-home fruit-enzyme peel. “It felt like it was burning,” she remembers, and when she wiped off the mask, “I was horrified when multiple layers of skin around my laugh lines came off with it. And then it just kept coming off until there really wasn’t a top layer of skin left on either side of my mouth.” She didn’t have health insurance at the time, so going to a doctor was out of the question. Farris did her best to keep the are clean and covered, but it still took weeks to get better. She has since seen a dermatologist because she still experiences extreme sensitivity in the area. “I’ve accepted the fact that I permanently damaged part of my face with a DIY peel,” says Farris.


Simply put, dermaplaning is nothing more than shaving your face to remove the outer layer of dead skin and fine hair, which results in ultra-smooth, glowing skin. “The pros use a number 10 sterile steel blade—the same type as a surgical scalpel—on dry skin at a 45 degree angle going against the hair to get that mechanical exfoliation,” explains Schook.

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Thankfully, the consensus on the interwebs seems to be that using a scalpel on yourself is not a great idea, so dermaplaning tutorials generally feature tools designed for at-home use, with safety features like plastic guards to keep the blades at a set angle or ridges that keep the entire blade from touching skin at once. “There nothing complicated about using those tools at home,” says Renée Rouleau, an aesthetician in Austin, Texas. But if the instructions suggest switching blades after each use, then make sure you do.


Armed with the advice above you’ll be on your way to getting smoother skin at home. But that still leaves blackheads and pimples, which are sometimes too tempting to ignore. If you’re unsure what you’re dealing with, see a dermatologist. But if it’s a white-headed pimple, Rouleau gives the green light to pop (she suggests wrapping fingers in tissue and squeezing gently, then applying a spot-drying treatment) because pustule is a sign your body is trying to purge infection: “You’re working with Mother Nature,” she says. Even blackheads are sometimes safe to tackle yourself- as long as you don’t resort to my safety-pin technique. Instead, try gently rocking a comedone extractor over the bump in order to coax out the oxidized sebum plug.

But, Lee warns, “never remove a cyst at home!” That type of extraction requires surgical tools and local anesthesia- and if you’re buying those online, you’ve got bigger problems than pimples.


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