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

There are a few reasons a pimple might not be going away. It's normal for some types of acne—especially deep, large pimples—to take some time to clear up. You might also have persistent pimples if you're not taking care of your skin, taking certain medications, or have certain health conditions.

This article covers what you should and shouldn't do when a pimple won't go away. It also includes information about other types of bumps on your face that can be mistaken for pimples, and when you should see your doctor or dermatologist for acne that won't go away.

How to heal a big pimple

Pimples That Take Longer to Heal

If you're dealing with pimples that won't go away or keep coming back, it will help to understand what's happening in your skin.

Breakouts happen when pores in your skin get clogged with excess oil and skin cells. Sometimes, bacteria can get into your pores and become inflamed and infected.

Some common types of pimples that can take longer to heal include:

  • Acne nodules: Hard, inflamed, and painful knots that are deep in your skin
  • Acne cysts: Large, red, painful, and pus-filled breakouts deep in your skin
  • Papules: Small red or pink and inflamed bumps on your skin that can feel tender
  • Pustules: Red, tender bumps on your skin with white pus, often called whiteheads

The smaller a pimple is and the closer it is to your skin's surface, the faster it usually heals.

While a simple pimple will likely easily go away on its own, the deep, large, and often painful pimples that stem from hormonal or cystic acne can be much harder to clear up.

Why Your Acne Won't Go Away

In addition to some types of pimples being more stubborn than others, acne may persist because of:

  • Insufficient washing
  • Sweating
  • Over-the-counter acne products not being effective enough
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Certain medications, including hormonal birth control: While sometimes helpful for acne, they can cause breakouts in others.
  • Some health conditions, like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Resist the Urge to Pop It

You're probably frustrated that your acne won't go away, but some things you might be tempted to do to move the process along could actually make the situation worse.

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

Trying to pop a pimple can seriously damage your skin and cause scarring, especially when the pimple is rooted deep in your skin. Squeezing it puts pressure on the already swollen pilosebaceous unit, or what we commonly call the pore.

It can also push dirt, dead skin cells, and other debris deeper into your pore. This can cause the follicle wall to break and allow infected material to spread in the skin. As much as you might like to, don't try to drain your pimple. Popping is rarely a good idea, especially when it comes to large zits.

Use an Acne Treatment Medication

If you're acne won't go away and you're already using topical acne treatments, continue to do so. You can even dab a bit more on the pimple to help it heal more quickly. There's no need to use too much; limit yourself to a twice-daily application. Using too much medication too often can dry out and irritate your skin rather than heal it.

There are also small, medicated "stickers" called hydrocolloid patches that you can 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, however, that spot treatment works best for pustules. 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 become a huge blemish.

What you should never do for these large blemishes is try to spot-treat them 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 get deep enough into the skin 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 red and itchy rash called contact dermatitis.

Apply a Warm Compress

Some stubborn pimples will respond to simple home remedies. You can encourage the pimple to heal on its own by using a warm compress. Make one by soaking a washcloth in really warm water. Apply it to the pimple for 20 minutes or so, a couple of times a day. You might have to do this for several days.

The warm compress can 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

If you've tried everything and your acne won't go away, you might need to see a professional. When at-home treatments aren't helping, especially if you've had the blemish for more than a few weeks, your dermatologist may recommend acne surgery. Deep cystic breakouts sometimes need to be lanced (cut open) and drained by a medical professional.

During an acne surgery, a dermatologist will make a small incision in the skin and carefully drain the blemish. It's a bit uncomfortable but not as bad as it sounds. And once it's 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 it's definitely not a DIY job.

Try a Cortisone Injection

Another professional treatment for big pimples that won't go away is a cortisone injection. A tiny needle is used to inject diluted 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 stubborn zits.

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

Make Sure It's Really a Pimple

You might think you're dealing with acne that won't clear up, but are you sure it's just a blemish? What you think is a simple acne pimple could be something entirely different. There are many different skin problems that cause acne-like blemishes. Your healthcare provider will be able to tell if it is acne or one of these conditions.


Sometimes, a pimple that won't go away is actually a boil—an infected hair follicle that looks exactly like a giant pimple. It starts off as a red, painful bump under the skin and as it progresses it develops a white head. Some boils heal on their own with at-home treatment, but others need medical attention.

Ingrown Hairs

Ingrown hairs (pseudofolliculitis) are also easy to mistake for persistent pimples. They can cause large, painful, red bumps, especially if the follicle becomes infected. They're more common in areas where you shave.

Exfoliating regularly can help prevent and treat ingrown hairs, but severe ingrown hairs may need to be treated with prescription medications.

Cold Sores

Pimples near the lip that won't go away or keep coming back can easily be mistaken for cold sores, and vice versa. However, 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

Sometimes, acne that won't go away is actually a more serious health condition. Although it's 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).


Acne that won't go away no matter what you do can be frustrating but it's sometimes normal. Larger pimples that are deep under the skin can take longer to heal. Picking or trying to pop pimples will only make them bigger, more painful, and more difficult to get rid of.

Instead of messing with the pimple, try using a spot treatment or applying a warm compress a few times a day. If that doesn't help, your dermatologist may recommend another treatment.

However, acne that isn't getting better can also be a sign of a bigger problem. If your pimple doesn't go away within three weeks or is located on an area of your body where you don't usually get acne, have your dermatologist check it out to ensure it isn't something more serious.

A Word From Verywell

Persistent pimples are something many people experience. 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.

No matter what treatment you are prescribed, it will take about three to four months to see a good improvement of the skin. So stick with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you pop a pimple?

    No, you should never pop a pimple. Trying to pop a pimple can make it take longer to heal and look much worse. In addition, poking, squeezing, or otherwise messing around with a zit can introduce dirt and bacteria into the pore, causing it to get infected. Popping a pimple can also cause scarring.

  • How long does a pimple last if you don't pop it?

    A pimple typically heals on its own in three to seven days. However, if you pop the pimple, it can become infected and take longer to heal. Topical acne treatments can shorten the amount of time it takes to heal.

  • What is a large, deep pimple called?

    A large, deep pimple can be either cystic acne or nodular acne. The main difference is that acne nodules do not contain fluid. They are more solid and firmer than acne cysts, which are filled with puss. 

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.