How to Heal a Big Pimple That Won't Go Away

Have a big pimple that just won't go away? There are steps you can take to help it heal.

It's actually quite normal for those monstrously big blemishes to take a long time to completely disappear. Really deep or large pimples can take up to several months to flatten out and heal. So, if you've been battling a big one for a while, you can rest easy knowing that it's not unusual.

Acne nodules (deep, hard, inflamed breakouts) and acne cysts are notoriously long-lived blemishes. But even large papules can take many weeks to disappear.

Still, who wants to wait for those big zits to go away on their own? There are things you can do to speed up healing and shrink those "big guys" faster.

Big Pimple

Resist the Urge to Pop It

First and foremost—don't ever try to pop a deep pimple. Don't poke it with a needle. Don't squeeze it.

Squeezing, poking, prodding, or otherwise messing around with the blemish makes the healing time longer. It can actually make that big pimple bigger, and much worse.

Trying to pop this type of pimple can seriously damage your skin and cause scarring. These big pimples originate deep in the skin. Squeezing them puts pressure on the already swollen pilosebaceous unit, or what we commonly call the pore.

You can be unknowingly pushing the dermal debris deeper into your pore, possibly even breaking the follicle wall and allowing infected material to spread beneath the skin's surface. As much as you might like to, don't try to drain this pimple yourself. Popping is rarely a good idea, and especially so with large zits.

Use an Acne Treatment Medication

If you use topical acne treatments, continue to do so. You can even dab on a bit more on the monster pimple to help it heal more quickly. Don't confuse a dab with a big blob, though. And limit yourself to a twice-daily application. Using too much medication too often will dry out and irritate the skin instead of healing it.

There are also small "stickers," called hydrocolloid patches, that you place over a pimple. The medication helps dry out the pimple, while the sticker covers the pimple and keeps you from picking at it.

Be aware that spot treating works best for pustules (pimples with a white head). It won't do much for deep nodules or cysts.

If you break out regularly but don't typically use an acne treatment, now is a good time to start. Consistently using an acne treatment medication will stop pimples from forming before they appear on your skin as a huge blemish.

What you should never do for these large blemishes is try to spot-treat with items not meant for the skin. For example, things like garlic, honey, cinnamon, lemon, or toothpaste won't treat large acne cysts, contrary to what some online sources say.

Home remedy spot treatments can't penetrate the skin deeply enough to do any good. At best, they'll do nothing for the blemish. At worst, you'll end up with an irritated spot or a case of contact dermatitis.

Apply a Warm Compress

You can encourage the pimple to come to a head on its own by using a warm compress. Make one by soaking a washcloth in really warm water. Apply to the pimple for 20 minutes or so, a couple of times a day. You might have to do this for several days.

With any luck, the warm compress will help the pimple to drain on its own. Remember, though, don't squeeze at the pimple even if it comes to a head. Let it drain naturally.

See a Dermatologist for Acne Surgery

When at-home treatments aren't helping, especially if you've had that blemish for more than a few weeks, it's time to call in the pros. Those deep cystic breakouts sometimes need to be lanced and drained by a medical professional.

Called acne surgery, the dermatologist will make a small incision in the skin and carefully drain the debris from the blemish. It's a bit uncomfortable but not as bad as it sounds. And once done, your skin can begin healing.

It's important that you only let a physician do this. Your esthetician can't (and legally, shouldn't) lance a deep blemish. And this is definitely not a DIY job.

Try a Cortisone Injection

Another professional treatment for big pimples is an intralesional cortisone injection. A tiny needle is used to inject a dilute steroid into the blemish. Within just a few days, the pimple shrinks and disappears. Again, this procedure must be done by a dermatologist, but it's a fast way to heal those monster zits.

Cortisone injections should be seen as a last-resort treatment since it can cause side effects like a depressed or pitted indentation of the skin around the injection site. And not every person, or every blemish, is a good candidate for a cortisone injection. Check with your dermatologist to see if this is a good fit for you.

Make Sure It's Really a Pimple

Are you sure it's just a blemish? What you think is a simple acne pimple could really be something entirely different. There are many different skin problems that cause acne-like blemishes. Your healthcare provider will be able to determine whether it is acne or one of these conditions.


A boil is an infected hair follicle, and these look exactly like giant pimples. They start off as a red, painful bump under the skin and as they progress develop a white head. Some boils heal on their own with at-home treatment, but others need medical intervention.

Ingrown Hairs

Ingrown hairs (pseudofolliculitis) can cause large, painful, red bumps, especially if the follicle becomes infected. They're more common in areas where you shave, and especially for those with curly hair.

Regular use of an exfoliating product can help prevent and treat ingrown hairs but severe cases of ingrown hairs should be treated with prescription medications.

Cold Sores

Pimples near the lip can sometimes be mistaken for cold sores, and vice versa, but they're two completely different skin blemishes. Cold sores are caused by the Herpes simplex virus. While acne can't be spread from person to person, the virus that causes cold sores is contagious.

Cold sores typically heal without any intervention, but if they're widespread or incredibly painful talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do.

Skin Cancer

Although not as common as the skin problems above, skin cancer can also cause a pimple-like bump on your skin. Any pimple, sore, or scaly patch that doesn't heal within three weeks should be seen by your healthcare provider.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Get in contact with your healthcare provider if the bump is extremely large, inflamed, or painful, or if the pimple pops up in a place you typically wouldn't expect to find acne (your underarm, for example, or the back of your knee).

A Word From Verywell

Although there are things you can do to help soothe and heal a big pimple, the very best option is to keep them from appearing in the first place. That is going to mean a trip to a healthcare provider.

Severe or cystic acne just doesn't respond well to over-the-counter acne products. The breakouts are too deep and too swollen for drugstore treatments to treat.

There are prescription medications, though, that do a good job of getting large breakouts under control. Depending on your skin, your healthcare provider might recommend a topical treatment, oral medication, or both.

No matter what treatment you're prescribed, it will take about three to four months to really get a good improvement of the skin. So stick with it! Once your acne is under control, you won't have to worry about those big pimples appearing.

If you've got a large pimple that isn't going away, and you typically don't have acne, it's a good idea to see your healthcare provider too. It may not be a pimple at all. But once it's properly identified, you can start treating it effectively.

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Additional Reading
  • "Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Jan 2006. National Institutes of Health.
  • "Acne." American Academy of Dermatology, n.d. Web.

  • Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5): 945-73.