Why You Have Pimple in Your Ear

And What You Should (and Shouldn't) Do About It

A pimple in your ear can seem strange. But just like skin elsewhere on your body, the skin in your ears has pores that can get blocked due to the build-up of body oils, sweat, and dead skin cells. This is what gives rise to a pimple.

The formation of a pustule (pus-filled pocket) can cause swelling and redness. When a pimple occurs in the ear, however, it can cause outright pain due to the inflexibility and lack of fat within the ear and ear canal.

A pimple in the ear can be difficult to access and extract. And if you try to do this yourself, you are likely to do more harm than good.

This article explains what pimples are, including their causes and the different types you might find in the ear or on the earlobe. It also looks at the different home treatments as well as the extraction methods used by healthcare providers.

A man covering his aching ear
IAN HOOTON / SPL / Getty Images

Causes of Ear Pimples

Ear pimples, like pimples elsewhere on the body, are a type of comedo (plural, comedones). Comedones are clogged hair follicles (pores) that get blocked by a mixture of three things:

Within the ear, there is a fourth substance called cerumen (ear wax) produced by the ceruminous glands that can also block pores. This is especially true if you try to clean your ear with a cotton swab as doing so can literally force the wax into the tiny pores of the ear.

When a comedo forms, the substances within the blocked pore can become a hotbed for bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and Cutibacterium acnes. The bacterial infection leads to the formation of a pimple.

Acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is a long-term skin condition that leads to the formation of comedones (pimples). Pimples are a symptom of acne.

Causes of acne include genetics, diet, stress, and increased hormonal activity (such as during puberty or menstrual cycles) that causes sebaceous glands to produce more sebum.

Types of Ear Pimples

There is more than one type of acne and more than one type of pimple. Certain ones are more likely to occur in the thinner tissues of the external ear and ear canal, while others are likely to develop on the fleshy earlobe and helix (the skin around the rim of the ear).

Beyond the "common" pimple caused by acne vulgaris, there are other types you might find in and around the ear.


Whiteheads, also known as closed comedones, occur when the contents of a blocked pore remain trapped beneath the skin, producing a tiny, non-inflamed white bump.

Whiteheads are common in people with acne but can occur without acne. If the blocked pore becomes infected, it can turn into an ear pimple.


Blackheads, also known as open comedones, form when the contents of a blocked pore are exposed to the air. The exposure causes the contents to oxidize (chemically change in reaction to oxygen), turning them black. The color of blackheads is not due to poor hygiene.

As with whiteheads, a blackhead can occur with or without acne and can turn into an ear pimple if the blocked pore becomes infected.

In some cases, the blockage of an ear pore can extend into the sebaceous filament. This is the channel through which sebum flows to the surface of the skin. Over time, this can cause the pore to widen and the contents to form a tube-like plug that is hard to remove.

Acne Nodules and Cysts

Pimples can sometimes infiltrate deeper tissues and cause nodules (hardened lumps) and cysts (closed, sac-like pockets of tissue). Both can cause significant and permanent scarring.

There are three different types of acne associated with nodules and cysts:

  • Nodular acne: This is a type of acne that is more severe than "regular" acne. The nodules they cause are firm, painful, and feel like knots under the skin.
  • Cystic acne: This is a type that causes painful, pus-filled bumps to form in deeper tissues. It differs from nodular acne in that the bumps are smaller, softer, and arguably less painful.
  • Nodulocystic acne: This involves characteristics of both nodular and cystic acne.

These types of acne are more likely to affect the earlobe but can sometimes occur within the ear canal itself.

Should I Pop My Ear Pimple?

If you see a healthcare provider about your pimple, they may take steps to extract it. But you should never attempt to pop a pimple in your ear. Let it resolve on its own if it is not causing too much discomfort.

Pimples in the ear are not as accessible as those on your face, neck, or chest, which means you may end up damaging the ear canal if you attempt to reach in with your fingers or a tool.

And if popped incorrectly, the pus can be pushed into your ear canal, causing obstruction, inflammation, and an ear infection.

Popping a pimple can also push the contents deeper into the pore. If the walls of the follicle are damaged, the pus can move into deeper tissues and cause the formation of an abscess.

Never place any tool or instrument into your ear. Doing so can easily rupture tissues or puncture the tympanum (eardrum).

Home Remedies for Ear Pimples

Rather than popping an ear pimple, try some simple home remedies or over-the-counter topical creams or ointments designed to treat acne outbreaks.

Warm Compress

Placing a warm compress on your ear can help open pores and soften the blockage. Doing so may allow pimples to drain on their own.

Ensure that the compress is not hot too hot before placing it directly over the pimple. Leave it in place for several minutes and repeat as needed.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an ingredient found in many acne products. It works by killing bacteria on the skin and removing dead skin that causes blockages. Side effects include skin irritation, dryness, redness, and flaking.

Benzoyl peroxide products are sold in strengths ranging from 2.5% and 10%. Lower strengths should be used on pimples in the ear, at least until you know you can tolerate higher-strength formulations.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a herbal remedy sometimes used to treat mild acne. For skin treatments, it is typically sold in 5% strength. Some studies suggest that it is comparable in efficacy to benzoyl peroxide.

Tea tree oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that may improve acne more gently and help soften blockages as well. Even so, the overuse of tea tree oil (particularly at higher strengths) can lead to stinging, burning, redness, and itching.

Retinoid Cream

Retinoid cream derived from vitamin A helps thin the skin around a pimple by dissolving the horny outer layer called the stratum corneum. It is best applied 20 minutes after washing your skin.

Retinoid creams can cause drying and flaking and are not always tolerable, particularly in thinner areas of skin (such as the ear). It can also make the skin extra sensitive to the sun, so be sure to apply sunscreen before heading outdoors.

Retinoid cream is likely too harsh for the ear canal, but it may be useful on exterior ear pimples.

Safety First

Before applying any topical ointment or cream to your ear, test some on a small skin area and wait 24 hours to ensure it does not cause irritation or an allergic reaction.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If home remedies aren't helping or you are experiencing excessive pain or discomfort, see your healthcare provider. If you think a pimple extraction is needed, ask for a referral to a dermatologist who specializes in diseases and disorders of the skin.

The extraction starts with an examination of the ear. If the pimple is in the ear canal, the dermatologist will first clean it with sterile water or an eardrop solution and gently suction out the excess fluid and debris.

The extraction is done with a tool called an extractor, which looks like a dental instrument with a round loop at one end and a pointed tip at the other. The looped end is placed around the pimple like a lasso and gently depressed. This forces the content of the pimple to the surface. The pointed end (or a cotton swab) then gently removes the extracted contents.

For pimples outside the ear canal, a device called a punch pen can be used. The pen-shaped tool has a circular, hollow tip is placed over the pimple and gently depressed. The extracted contents can then be removed with a cotton swab.

The extraction of an ear pimple may be painful due to the lack of a fat cushion and the direct pressure placed on the ear cartilage. This is another reason why specialist care should be sought.


Ear pimples occur for the same reasons as other pimples but are often painful and difficult to access. At-home remedies and over-the-counter topical medication can help clear pimples gradually.

If these do not work or you are in significant pain, a healthcare provider (such as a skin specialist, or dermatologist) can safely extract them. You should never extract an ear pimple on your own.

A Word From Verywell

People often turn to licensed estheticians (cosmetic beauty specialists) to perform certain skin procedures, including pimple extractions. While doing so may seem reasonable, it is important to remember that the ear is a delicate and important instrument that requires extra care.

Dermatologists have the tools and expertise to extract ear pimples gently without any harm, particularly those in the ear canal.

While you may assume they are costlier than aestheticians, the extraction procedures may be covered by insurance and only require a small copayment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for an ear pimple to go away?

    It depends on how large it is and how you manage it. If left alone, most go away within a few days to a week. If you squeeze or pop it (or try to), you're likely to extend that healing time.

  • Why do pimples in the ear hurt more than on other parts of the body?

    Ear pimples form right next to cartilage—the tough connective tissue that gives the outer ear shape and structure. This area doesn't have any fat to cushion the cartilage from the effects of inflammation that pimples cause (e.g., pressure and swelling).

  • Is an ear pimple the same as a boil?

    No. Pimples develop when a pore becomes blocked with oil and dead skin cells. Boils occur when a tiny opening in the skin becomes infected with bacteria. A pimple can look like a boil if it becomes infected and develops pus.

  • What kind of doctor should I see for a bothersome ear pimple?

    See a dermatologist. Although you might be tempted to call on an otolaryngologist (a doctor specializing in ear, nose, and throat health), a pimple is a skin condition. Therefore, a doctor with expertise in that area is the best person to treat it.

9 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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Additional Reading

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.