Pimples can occur on the ear, behind the ear, or inside the ear canal.
In this article, we talk about what causes ear pimples, how to get rid of them, and how to prevent them from coming back.
What causes ear pimples?
Ear pimples may be caused by sharing earbuds, using dirty headphones, or exposure to dirty environments.
Pimples, also called whiteheads, zits, or blackheads are most common on the face and back, but they can show up almost anywhere.
The outer ear and external ear canal have skin cells, hair cells, and oil-producing glands, which are all it takes for a pimple to form.
Pimples appear when a pore becomes clogged with dead skin cells and sebum, which is the natural oil that protects the skin and keeps it moist.
Bacteria can also cause pimples, so anything that introduces bacteria or dirt into the ear can cause pimples.
Causes of pimples in the ear include:
- exposure to a dirty or dusty environment
- glands in the ear producing too much oil
- sharing earbuds with another person
- using dirty earbuds or headphones
- putting things in the ear, including a finger
- contact with unclean water, leading to swimmer's ear or otitis externa
- increased stress levels
- hormonal imbalances, such as during puberty
- ear piercings that become dirty or infected
- wearing hats or helmets for long periods of time
- allergic reactions to hair or beauty products that enter the ear canal
Some conditions can cause symptoms similar to a pimple in the ear, so it is important to identify a pimple correctly in order to treat it. A dermatologist can help diagnose and treat these skin-related issues in the right way.
Should you pop them?
It is best to avoid popping pimples in the ear, particularly in the ear canal. Popping pimples can push pus and bacteria deeper into the pore and cause additional symptoms, such as inflammation and infection.
The ear is a sensitive area, and if a burst pimple becomes infected, this can cause further problems. It can also damage the skin and result in a scar.
A pimple that causes substantial distress can be removed by a doctor to prevent complications.
A warm compress may be recommended to help reduce the inflammation caused by a pimple in the ear.
There are several treatments for pimples that are gentle enough to use in the sensitive ear area.
A warm compress or heat pad may reduce inflammation and irritation. This can soften a pimple to bring the pus to the surface.
If a pimple drains in this way, the individual should clean up the discharge and gently wash the area with a mild soap. Cleansers, such as witch hazel or alcohol, may prevent infections.
Over-the-counter or prescription drugs may help to treat acne, such as:
- hydrogen peroxide
- rubbing alcohol
- antibiotic creams, including Neosporin or Polysporin
- products that contain salicylic acid
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve)
For severe acne, a doctor will usually recommend topical or systemic drugs made from vitamin A. Tretinoin cream is one of the most common. Isotretinoin may also be used but is usually reserved for the most severe cases.
Doctors may also recommend antibiotics, including doxycycline or minocycline, to get rid of the bacteria. However, this type of treatment is becoming less popular, as cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria appear.
There is some evidence to suggest that tea tree oil may reduce the severity of acne.
Dermatologists may also recommend specific store-bought acne creams or facial cleansers based on the grade of a person's acne.
Pimples in the ear can be prevented by practicing good ear hygiene. This includes:
- regular washing and cleaning to reduce dead skin cells and sebum
- not putting foreign objects in the ear
- avoiding swimming in dirty water
- taking breaks from wearing helmets or hard hats
When pimples do not respond to treatment, a dermatologist can help decide the best prevention methods. They can help identify which grade of acne the person has, and recommend medications or home practices to prevent flare-ups.
People need to be patient when starting a new prevention method, as this will take time to produce results.
Is it a pimple?
While most spots in the ear are pimples, other conditions can also cause bumps that appear similar. Because we are unable to see our own ears, it is possible for bumps in and around the ear to go unnoticed until they become a problem.
Other ear bumps that can resemble pimples include:
- Sebaceous cysts: These are small bumps beneath the skin that appear not to grow, or to grow very slowly.
- Keloid scars: A small wound near the ear may cause keloid tissue to appear. These are areas of raised, dark-colored scar tissue that can be much larger than the original wound.
- Seborrheic keratosis: These are common, harmless skin growths that appear as slightly raised, brownish areas of skin.
- Acanthoma fissuratum: An uncommon skin condition, this may resemble a bump with raised edges. It is usually seen in a person who wears glasses.
- Boils or blind pimples: These are similar to pimples, but they are deeper into the skin, and so may cause more pain and inflammation. They tend to show no visible head.
- Basal cell carcinoma: Although rare, it is possible for bumps on the ears to be malignant growths.
A person who is uncertain about a bump in or on their ear should see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Pimples in the ear are similar to pimples elsewhere and can be treated in the same way. They usually clear up relatively quickly, often without leaving a scar.
People with persistent acne, whether in the ear or anywhere else, should see a doctor or dermatologist for a diagnosis. A doctor or specialist will help assess the severity or grade of the acne and can suggest a treatment plan suited to individual cases.