What to Do With a Pimple in Ear

A pimple in your ear is often painful due to the lack of fat in your ear. Getting rid of an ear pimple is also tricky, as they are not as easily accessible as pimples on your face, neck, chest, or back. If popped incorrectly, the pus from the pimple can be pushed into your ear canal and cause obstruction or inflammation to occur.

What Is a Pimple?

Pimples are commonly referred to as acne.

However, there are many different types of acne and treatment can differ depending on the type of acne that you have.

Comedones are one of the more common forms of acne. An open comedone is referred to as a blackhead. Blackheads expose debris in the skin pore to be exposed to oxygen which gives it the black color.

Many people believe that the black-color is dirt, but it cannot be simply washed away. A closed comedone has a layer of skin (thus closed) that covers the skin pore. Because the debris is not exposed to oxygen, it has a white appearance and is referred to as a whitehead.

Unresolved white- or blackheads can progress to inflammatory acne, which is red and very tender. You may hear this referred to as an angry zit. These are referred to as papule and pustules.

Further progression of pimples leads to larger nodules that are increasingly tender. Cysts, which are fluid-filled, sometimes occur along with nodules.

What Causes Pimples?

Pimples are typically caused by one or several different conditions:

  • Hair follicles are obstructed by skin debris
  • Inflammation around the hair follicle
  • Increased activity of sebaceous glands (oily skin)
  • Bacteria

Development of pimples is very individualized and can be affected by hormones (which is why teenagers often develop acne), medications, hygiene, and many other factors.

Development of an ear pimple is the same as other areas of acne, though it is less common than on the face or neck for most people.

Should I Pop My Ear Pimple?

Letting a pimple in your ear resolve on its own is best if it is not causing you too much discomfort. You should always avoid blindly using any tool in your ear to avoid rupturing your eardrum.

Also trying to manually pop the pimple with your fingers or fingernail may be unsuccessful and only cause more pain. Manually popping the pimple may also push the pus into your ear canal causing inflammation that will cause additional pain.

Popping a pimple in your ear is best performed by a dermatologist. Your dermatologist will be able to examine your ear and ear canal. The dermatologist will use an instrument called a comedone extractor.

The extractor looks like a dental instrument, except it will have a round end with a small hole in it and typically the other end will either have a larger round end or a pointed tip. This can be used to apply equal pressure around the pimple and collect the pus for removal. Due to the lack of fat in your ear, there can be some pain associated with extracting the pimple compared to popping a pimple on your face.

Some physicians use a pen (without an ink insert) that can be appropriately cleaned. This process has been reviewed by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The blunt head of the pen accommodates equal pressure like the comedone extractor and may help children to be less fearful of the procedure. However, you should be cautious to not put a pen or any small object in your ear.

Frequent popping of pimples may also increase your risk for developing scar tissue, so use alternate treatment methods when possible.

Treating a Pimple in Ear Without Popping It

Since it is not recommended to pop a pimple in your ear, and ear pimples that are popped in a physician office will often return, you may want to try some simple treatments before having a dermatologist pop the pimple.

Before utilizing any method, you should always test a product on a small area of skin to ensure that you do not have an allergic reaction to the product.

Using a warm compress helps to open up your pores and may allow pimples to drain on their own. When using a warm compress, you will need to ensure that it is not hot enough to cause a burn on your ear. Leave it in place for several minutes and then repeat as desired.

Using retinoid cream can be very helpful in preventing and treating a pimple in your ear. If it does not clear the pimple, it will still be helpful if you need to go to a dermatologist to have the pimple evacuated.

Retinoid cream (vitamin A) helps to thin the skin around the pimple because of its keratolytic properties. Retinoid creams have some of the harshest side-effects and are not always tolerable. Your skin will likely be dry and flaky as it can be irritable to your skin. Because of the skin-thinning effect, you may experience increased sun-burning, so you will want to use sunscreen. It is best applied about 20 minutes after washing your face. If you are unable to tolerate retinoid cream, salicylic acid may be a good substitute.

Benzoyl peroxide can be found in many skin products for treating acne. Preferably use benzoyl peroxide between 2.5 percent and 10 percent. The higher the strength has not been shown to be more successful in treating acne. Benzoyl peroxide is effective in killing propionibacterium acnes bacteria that causes pimples. It has also been found to mildly help in breaking up any comedones.

Your dermatologist will occasionally recommend using a topical antibiotic like erythromycin or clindamycin along with benzoyl peroxide. However topical antibiotics are not used by themselves.

While there are several herbal remedies that may be used to treat acne, tea tree oil is one of the most researched. Tea tree oil 5 percent has been shown to be very comparable to benzoyl peroxide. While it is slower to see benefits, it often is more tolerable.

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Article Sources

  • Ashique KT, Srinivas CR. Pen punching: An innovative technique for comedone extraction from the well of the concha. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015;73(5):e177. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.07.033.

  • Altman, MA. Acne Therapy: Surgical and Physical Approaches. In: Pfenninger, JL & Fowler, GC. Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011.
  • American Skin Association. Acne.