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Tips to treat a deep, painful pimple

Treating deep, painful pimples: Dermatologist tips

Board-certified dermatologists recommend these tips to care for a deep, painful pimple at home.

Acne is bothersome, especially when you have a deep, painful pimple. These types of pimples are caused by nodular or cystic acne. Acne nodules and cysts develop deep under your skin, unlike other forms of acne, such as whiteheads or blackheads.

If you have a deep, painful pimple, you might not be able to see it, but can still feel the painful lump.

To treat a deep, painful pimple at home, follow these tips from board-certified dermatologists.

  1. Hands off — do not try to pop a deep, painful pimple. Although it might be tempting to try, picking at or squeezing an acne nodule or cyst can make it more noticeable and increase your risk of infection, discoloration, and scarring — especially if you have darker skin.

  2. Apply a warm, damp washcloth to try to bring a 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.

  3. Treat your pimple. Topical medications are more effective when the pimple is at the surface of your skin. Choose a product that contains one of these acne-fighting active ingredients: adapalene, azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid. 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. Apply a thin layer, as using too much can irritate your skin even more.

  4. Protect your skin from the sun. Some acne-fighting ingredients can make your skin more sensitive to 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. A dermatologist can prescribe stronger medicine and perform treatments to treat your nodular or cystic acne.

Written by:
Brooke Schleehauf

Reviewed by:
Roopal Vashi Kundu, MD, FAAD
William Warren Kwan, MD, FAAD
Laurel Geraghty, MD, FAAD
Ata Moshiri, MD, MPH, FAAD
Darrell S. Rigel, MD, FAAD
Sanna Ronkainen, MD, FAAD
Desmond Shipp, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 10/17/23