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The body naturally produces blisters to help cushion and heal damaged skin. It is usually best to try to avoid popping them, but if a blister is large or very painful, a person may need to drain it to reduce discomfort.
A blister is a fluid-filled sac that develops on the outer layer of the skin. Burns, friction, and certain skin conditions can cause blisters. Smaller blisters are called vesicles, and larger ones are called bulla.
In this article, we explain when the characteristics and cause of a blister may make it advisable for a person to pop it. We also provide tips for popping a blister safely and speeding up healing.
In most cases, blisters do not need treatment and will heal on their own within 1–2 weeks.
Keeping the blister intact will allow the skin underneath to heal more quickly. The blister provides cushioning and protects the damaged area from germs while new layers of skin develop underneath.
Whether it is safe or advisable to pop a blister depends on several factors, including what caused it.
Friction, or rubbing, can irritate the skin and cause a blister. Ill-fitting or tight shoes, for example, can rub the skin for a prolonged period, resulting in a blister forming.
This type of blister will usually heal on its own if a person keeps it clean and dry. Popping it will increase the likelihood of germs getting into the wound and causing an infection.
However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), it may be advisable to drain a friction blister that is large or very painful to ease the discomfort.
Heat, electricity, and sunlight can burn the skin and lead to blistering. Chemical burns can also cause blisters.
Historically, doctors labeled burns as either first, second, or third degree. Now, they prefer to classify burns according to their depth. There are three main types of burn:
- Superficial burns, which are mild burns that affect the outer layer of skin. They do not typically cause blisters.
- Partial thickness burns, which affect the outer skin and some tissue in the deeper layers of skin. These burns may blister.
- Full thickness burns, which affect the deepest layers of skin.
Most household burns and sunburns are either superficial burns or minor partial thickness burns. There may be a small amount of blistering, and the area will look red and a little swollen. It will also be painful.
People should not pop a blister that occurs due to burning.
Dyshidrotic eczema is a common form of eczema that can cause itchy, dry skin and small, deep-seated blisters on the hands or feet. These blisters are usually itchy and painful.
Eczema is a long-term condition for which there is no cure, and the symptoms tend to come and go over time. Blisters can appear during a flare-up of symptoms, which stress or a rise in temperature can trigger.
These small blisters usually clear up in 2–3 weeks. They may burst on their own, but people should avoid popping them.
Certain viral infections can cause blisters. These include infections with the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and shingles, and the herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores or fever blisters.
Doctors will typically advise people to avoid scratching or breaking open chickenpox or shingles blisters as doing this can leave a scar. Instead, a person can try applying calamine lotion to the skin or adding baking soda or colloidal oatmeal to a cool bath to help reduce the itching.
Cold sores usually appear close to the mouth, often on or next to the lips. They may be in the form of a single blister or a cluster of blisters.
Cold sore blisters will usually go away by themselves in a week or two. It is important to avoid popping, scratching, or touching these blisters as this can spread the virus to other areas of skin, causing further outbreaks.
If a person does decide to pop a blister, they should do their best to prevent infection.
According to the AAD, a person can follow these steps to drain a blister properly:
- Sterilize a small, thin needle with rubbing alcohol or boiling water.
- Carefully pierce the blister at its edge and drain some fluid.
- Avoid removing the top of the blister.
- Clean the area well with soap and water.
- Cover it with a loose bandage.
Using rubbing alcohol to sterilize the needle does not always prevent infection. People who are prone to getting infections may wish to ask a doctor to drain the blister for them in a more sterile environment.
If a person suspects that a blister has become infected, they should speak to a doctor. Prescription antibiotic tablets or a topical ointment or cream can help.
People can usually treat mild friction or burn blisters at home by covering the blister with a loose bandage and raising the middle of the dressing slightly to allow the blister to move.
If the blister is in an area where things might rub on or break it, it is best to apply padding around the blister. A person can cut the padding into a circular shape with a hole in the middle, place this around the blister, and then cover it with a bandage.
If a blister pops, a person can rub petroleum jelly around the area and cover the skin with a bandage until it heals.
The most important thing is to keep the area clean and dry. The person should change the dressing on burn or friction blisters frequently. If they can avoid popping the blister, that will also speed up the healing by helping prevent infection.
Blister pads, also called artificial blisters, can speed up healing by providing protective cushioning around the blister. These are available at drugstores and online.
Non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), can help ease the symptoms of chickenpox in children. Antiviral ointments that speed up the healing of cold sores are available in most drugstores.
Anyone who thinks that they may have shingles should speak to a doctor. Antiviral medications can only reduce the length of the illness if the person takes them within 3 days of the rash appearing. It is also important to use a cold sore cream as soon as possible once the blisters appear.
People can find all of these products in drugstores or choose from a range of options online:
Friction, heat, and certain health condition can cause blisters. These fluid filled sacs act as a barrier to germs and protect the wound while new skin forms underneath. If the barrier breaks for any reason — including a person popping it — bacteria can get in and cause an infection.
That is why, in most cases, it is best to avoid popping a blister. If a friction blister is large or very painful, a person may need to drain it to relieve discomfort. It is best to ask a doctor or dermatologist to perform this procedure. However, if this is not possible, a person should take care to use sterile tools, wash the area thoroughly, and keep the wound clean and dry.