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How to treat a deep, painful pimple at home

Acne tips from a board-certified dermatologist

ROSEMONT, Ill. (October 18, 2023) Acne can be bothersome, especially when you have a deep, painful pimple, which is caused by nodular or cystic acne. Unlike other forms of acne, such as whiteheads or blackheads, acne nodules and cysts develop deep under your skin.

“You often can feel nodular acne or cysts more than you can even see them on your skin” said Jacqueline Watchmaker, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Although it might be tempting, keep your hands off your face. Do not try to pop a deep, painful pimple. Picking at or squeezing an acne nodule can make it more noticeable and increase your risk of infection, discoloration, especially if you have darker skin, and scarring.”

Dr. Watchmaker and the AAD recommend people with a deep, painful pimple follow these additional tips for at-home treatment:

After a pimple forms, apply a warm, damp washcloth to try to bring the pimple to a head. Soak a clean washcloth in hot water, then apply the warm, damp washcloth to your pimple for 10-15 minutes, three times daily. This will help the deep pimple move closer to your skin’s surface so it can heal. Make sure to use a clean washcloth every time, and resist popping the pimple.

Treat your pimple. Topical medications are more effective when the pimple is at the surface of the skin. Choose a product that contains one of these acne-fighting active ingredients: adapalene, azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Apply a thin layer, as using too much can irritate your skin. Additionally, a hydrocolloid acne patch can be applied to protect your skin and improve healing. You can find these products over the counter at your local drugstore.

Protect your skin from the sun. Some acne-fighting ingredients can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Also, whenever there is inflammation in the skin, such as an acne bump, there is a risk for darkening of the skin (known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation). This risk is increased if you do not protect your skin from the sun. Seek shade, wear sun-protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection, and apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Look for the words “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores” to find the right sunscreen for your acne-prone skin.

“If your deep, painful pimple doesn’t go away after following these tips, or if you develop multiple deep, painful pimples, partner with the acne expert, a board-certified dermatologist,” said Dr. Watchmaker. “A dermatologist can prescribe stronger medications to help treat your acne. Additionally, in-office injections can sometimes be used to more quickly treat a large, painful, acne bump.”

These tips are demonstrated in “Treating deep, painful pimples: Dermatologist tips,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Your Dermatologist Knows” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair, and nails.

To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.

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Shelby Homiston, shomiston@aad.org

Rhys Saunders, rsaunders@aad.org

Media Relations, mediarelations@aad.org

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About the AAD

Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,800 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair, and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care because skin, hair, and nail conditions can have a serious impact on your health and well-being. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow @AADskin on Facebook, TikTok, Pinterest and YouTube and @AADskin1 on Instagram.

Editor’s note: The AAD does not promote or endorse any products or services. This content is intended as editorial content and should not be embedded with any paid, sponsored or advertorial content as it could be perceived as an AAD endorsement.