Identifying and Treating a Pustular Rash

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Pustules are raised bumps filled with pus and fluid. They vary in size, and sometimes look like acne. These bumps can be painful when touched. They usually appear on the face, back, and chest. Pustules can be a result of inflamed skin, acne, an allergic reaction, psoriasis, or other skin diseases.

Causes of Pustular Rash

Verywell / Jessica Olah

What Are Pustules?

Pustules are a common skin lesion. They are blister-like sores filled with pus that can be red, with white or yellow centers, and tender or sore to the touch. Pustules almost always appear in patches, and inflammation causes the surrounding area to be red.

Sometimes pustules are confused with papules. Papules are small bumps (less than 1 centimeter) resulting from pimples, while pustules are larger and filled with yellow pus.

Pustules may resolve on their own, or if they respond to treatment, they will go away within a week or two. Sometimes pustules are resistant to treatment and can last longer. If your pustules don't go away, consult your primary care physician or dermatologist to determine the cause and best treatment.

Associated Skin Conditions

Pustules are commonly associated with acne or psoriasis but can occur with several skin diseases, including:

  • Acne: Acne can lead to pustules from clogged pores from trapped oil, bacteria, and dead skin.
  • Psoriasis: Pustular psoriasis presents as pustules mainly affecting the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and fingers or toes. There are different types of pustular psoriasis depending on which part of the body is affected.
  • Rosacea: Pustules showing up on the cheeks, chin, and forehead with facial redness and flushing is usually caused by papulopustular rosacea.
  • Folliculitis: Staph or bacterial folliculitis causes small red or white pus-filled bumps on the skin. Eosinophilic pustular folliculitis (EPF) is a rare form of folliculitis, and shows up as itchy skin, redness, and pustules.
  • Candidal intertrigo infections: These are caused by a type of yeast called Candida, and can present as satellite pustules, which are smaller lesions near the principal lesion.
  • Scabies: This is a mite infestation that looks like pustules on the palms or soles.

Common Causes

Pustules can appear on the skin due to inflammation in the body. Often pustules come from an allergic reaction or acne.

Lifestyle Factors

Environmental allergens like dust mites, pollen, and mold can cause an allergic reaction. Similarly, the skin can produce pustules from poisonous insect bites.

Some lifestyle changes can help prevent pustules, including a nutritious diet and a healthy skin-care routine. Monitoring your intake of dairy, bread, sweet foods, and processed food can help prevent acne.

Acne also results from clogged pores, which can be caused by pollution, weather, or dehydration. Controlling exposure to allergens and causes of acne can help prevent pustules.

Genetics

Genetics do not directly cause pustules but may increase your risk of having a skin condition associated with pustules. For example, acne isn't caused by genetics, but genetics can give someone a predisposition to getting acne.

Some of the skin conditions linked to pustules also have a genetic component, including psoriasis and rosacea.

Symptoms

Pustules may appear like a large pimple, and have white or red centers with inflammation and redness around them. They are filled with bumps that contain yellow, white, or cream-colored pus. If punctured, pus can ooze out.

Frequent Symptoms

Other symptoms that accompany pustules include:

  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Inflammation

Rare Symptoms

Rare symptoms include:

  • Sudden breakout of pustules
  • Leaking liquid at the site
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you are experiencing these symptoms with pustules, contact your doctor.

Treatment

The treatment for pustules depends on the cause. A dermatologist can help you determine the cause of your pustules to ensure you're getting the right treatment. For example, treatment for acne pustules is different from the treatment for psoriasis pustules.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Practicing good skin hygiene by cleaning your face with gentle products and using your fingertips instead of harsh wash clothes or brushes can help prevent acne and pustules.

To treat a pustule rash, avoid makeup or lotion until resolved. All-natural skin products that have no artificial or synthetic ingredients can help ease existing pustules and prevent further breakouts.

Tips for preventing and helping your pustules get better include:

  • Wash your face with warm water and mild soap twice each day.
  • Resist touching or picking at pustules.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications

You can treat pustules with lotions that contain salicylic acid, sulfur, and peroxide. These products can help kill bacteria and remove dead skin cells. Consult your doctor about using OTC medications and ask about a regimen that would work for you.

Prescriptions

Depending on the cause of pustules, your healthcare provider may prescribe different medications.

Prescriptions for acne pustules include:

  • Retinoids (Retin-A)
  • Antibiotics, such as Doxine (doxycycline)
  • Azelex (azelaic acid) or Compound W (salicylic acid)

Prescriptions for psoriasis pustules include:

  • Enbrel (etanercept) and Sandimmune (cyclosporine)
  • Remicade (infliximab) and Trexall (methotrexate)

Summary

Pustules are pus-filled bumps on your skin that can be caused by different skin conditions, including acne and psoriasis. They are often accompanied by redness and inflammation, and they appear in a band. They can be painful and make you feel uncomfortable, but they are very treatable. Talk to your primary care physician or dermatologist to find out what's causing your pustules so you can start the right treatment quickly.

A Word From Verywell

Pustules are a normal and common response of the body but can be stressful and a source of embarrassment. While you may consider covering them with makeup or pop them to get rid of them, neither is the proper way to treat pustules.

It's important to have your primary care physician or dermatologist examine and diagnose the cause of your pustules. Knowing the cause can help your doctor figure out the best treatment. Lifestyle changes, home remedies, and medications are used to treat different skin conditions associated with pustules.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a pustular rash look like?

A pustular rash is a patch of large red bumps that have pus inside. It is likely surrounded by redness and inflammation, and usually appears on the upper half of the body.

Should you pop pustules?

No. If you have an eruption of pustules, touching and popping them can prolong recovery time and may lead to an infection.

Does salicylic acid help with pustular acne?

Yes, salicylic acid can help treat pustular acne.

What is the best treatment for pustular psoriasis?

Topical medication, phototherapy, oral treatments, and biologics can be used to treat pustular psoriasis. Dermatologists usually prescribe a combination of two medications to treat the condition, like etanercept and cyclosporine and infliximab and methotrexate.

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7 Sources
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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