Pimples are a common, if unwelcome, part of life. Some types of pimple can produce pus. These blemishes are treatable, but people should avoid squeezing them.
Pimples that contain pus can appear anywhere on the body, but they develop most often on the:
- upper arms
Prompt and careful treatment, especially for pimples with pus, can reduce the risk of recurring outbreaks and scars.
In this article, we discuss how a person can treat pimples that contain pus.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) report that about 40–50 million people in the United States have acne, making it the country’s most common skin condition.
Not all pimples will produce pus. Only the following types of blemishes do:
- acne cysts
- acne nodules
Pustules are what come to mind for many people when they think of pimples, but they are only one of the many types. Acne cysts and nodules are the two most severe symptoms of acne.
Other types of pimple, which do not have pus, include:
Pimples form when dead skin cells and an oil called sebum clog a hair follicle. If bacteria living on the skin also become stuck in the follicle, this can cause inflammation and infection.
White blood cells flow in to fight infection, and, as a result, dead white blood cells, bacteria, and other debris form pockets of pus.
Pus filled pimples do not reflect an individual’s cleanliness.
Deep-seated biological processes, such as hormonal changes and genetics, can trigger the sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum, leading to pimples.
The types of pimples that fill with pus and their key characteristics are:
- Pustules: Small red bumps that may be sore. They have a lighter center due to the buildup of pus, which may be white or yellow.
- Acne nodules: Larger, deeper, and more sore than pustules, they develop when the blocked hair follicle splits.
- Acne cysts: These red and tender bumps look similar to boils but are not as large or sore. Acne cysts are the largest kind of pus filled pimple and the most likely to cause scarring.
Waiting for pus filled pimples to go away by themselves may not be the most effective option. Prompt treatment can help prevent further breakouts and reduce the risk of scarring.
Many different treatment approaches exist, and a person may need to explore a few options to determine what works for them.
People can discuss at-home treatment options with a healthcare provider before taking supplements or combining nonprescription medications. Over-the-counter possibilities include:
- face-washing products containing benzoyl peroxide
- salicylic acid creams, masks, or pads
- tea tree oil
- zinc products for the skin
- niacinamide products for the skin
- alpha hydroxy acids
- azelaic acid
- supplements of zinc, niacinamide, or vitamin A
It may be tempting, but popping pus-filled pimples can worsen acne and damage the skin. Releasing the pus allows the bacteria to disperse, which can spread infection. Popping pimples may also increase the risk of scarring.
Larger, more severe outbreaks of pus filled pimples require treatment from a doctor or a dermatologist — a specialist in skin-related issues. A doctor may prescribe the following medications to treat more serious cases:
- prescription strength benzoyl peroxide
- hormone therapy (for females only)
- isotretinoin, for severe or persistent pimples
- chemical peels
- light or laser procedures
- prescription strength azelaic acid
Regular, gentle skin care is one of the best ways to keep pimples at bay. It is not necessary to be rough or harsh with the skin to prevent blemishes. In fact, scrubbing can make outbreaks worse, so people may need to take care with exfoliating products.
Good skin care can include:
- Daily routine: Washing the face twice a day and after activities that cause sweating keeps the skin clean and refreshed. Washing the hair regularly, or daily if it is oily, keeps excess oil off the skin.
- Gentle products: Nonabrasive and alcohol-free products are the least likely to irritate the skin.
- Hands only: Washing the body and face by hand is less irritating for the skin than using scrubbing tools or washcloths.
- Mild temperatures: Washing with lukewarm water is less stressful for the skin.
People can also promote good skin health and help prevent pus filled pimples by:
- keeping the hands away from the face as much as possible and avoiding touching it with unwashed hands
- wearing loose fitting clothing that breathes, to reduce friction and chafing
- using hair and skin products that are oil-free and will not block pores
- limiting exposure to the sun
- finding positive ways, such as a mindfulness practice or gentle exercise, to lower stress
- getting enough sleep
- eating a healthful, well-balanced diet
- refraining from using tanning beds
It is best to treat pus filled pimples promptly to lower the risk of scarring.
It can take time to see an improvement from home remedies. The AAD recommend that people with pus filled pimples see a dermatologist if they do not notice any results after 6–8 weeks of home treatment.
It is important to see a doctor for help with treating pus filled pimples if they are having an adverse effect on an individual’s self-esteem, social life, and willingness to go outside.
People can also see a doctor if pus filled pimples look like acne nodules or cysts, as these can cause scars. Prompt treatment can lower the risk of scarring.
Most people get pimples at some point in their lives, and some of these pimples will contain pus.
Blocked hair follicles cause pimples, and although careful washing can help prevent the spread of bacteria and promote healing, poor hygiene does not cause pimples. Hormonal changes, genetics, and environmental factors can all play a part in causing pimples.
People may be able to treat pus filled pimples with home remedies, but a doctor or dermatologist can provide assistance for more severe outbreaks and reduce the risk of scarring.