Pustules are small bumps on the skin that contain fluid or pus. They
usually present as white bumps surrounded by red skin. These bumps look very
similar to pimples, but they can grow quite big. Pustules may develop on any
part of the body, but they most commonly form on the back, chest, and face.
They may be found in clusters in the same area of the body.
Pustules are a form of acne typically caused by hormonal
imbalances or hormonal changes in the body. This is a very common skin
condition, particularly among teenagers and young adults. When they become
bothersome, pustules may be treated with medication or surgery.
What Causes Pustules to Form?
Pustules may form when your skin becomes inflamed as a result of
an allergic reaction to food, environmental allergens, or poisonous insect
bites. However, the most common cause of pustules is acne. Acne is a skin
condition that develops when the pores of your skin become clogged with oil and
dead skin cells. This blockage causes patches of skin to bulge, resulting in a
pustule. Pustules usually contain pus due to an infection of the pore cavity. Pustules
caused by acne can become hard and painful. When this occurs, the pustule
becomes a cyst. This condition is known as cystic acne.
What Do Pustules Look Like?
Pustules are easy to identify. They appear as small bumps on the
surface of your skin. The bumps are usually white or red with white in the
center. They may be painful to the touch and the skin around the bump may be
red and inflamed.
Common locations for pustules are the:
- pubic area
When Do Pustules Need Medical Attention?
Pustules that suddenly erupt all over the face or in patches on various
parts of the body may indicate that you have a bacterial infection. Contact
your doctor if you have a sudden outbreak of pustules. You should also call
your doctor if your pustules are painful or leaking fluid. These may be symptoms
of a serious skin infection.
If you experience any of the following symptoms along with
pustules, you should go to the nearest emergency room immediately:
- a fever
- warm skin in the area of pustules
- clammy skin
- pain in the area containing the pustules
- large pustules that are extremely painful
How Are Pustules Treated?
Small pustules may simply go away without treatment. If small
pustules persist, it’s helpful to wash your face using warm water and a mild
facial cleanser. Doing this twice per day will help remove any oil buildup,
which is the main cause of acne. Just make sure to use your fingertips instead
of a washcloth to cleanse your face. Scrubbing pustules with a washcloth may
further irritate your skin.
You may also want to use over-the-counter (OTC) acne medications,
soaps, or creams to treat small acne pustules. The best topical products for
treating pustules contain peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur. However, these treatments
should never be used in your genital area. Those with sulfur allergies should
also make sure to avoid using any products that contain sulfur.
OTC products help treat pustules by drying the top layer of skin
and absorbing excess surface oils. Some are strong and may cause your skin to
become extremely dry and peel. If you have sensitive skin, look for products that
are specially made for your skin type, so your condition doesn’t get worse.
It may be tempting to remove your pustules by popping them, but
you should never squeeze, pick, or pinch them. Doing so can cause damage to
your skin or make the infection worse. You should also refrain from using
oil-based products, such as lotions or petroleum jelly, in the areas affected
by pustules. These products can further block your pores and cause more
pustules to grow.
If your pustules aren’t improving with home remedies and OTC treatments,
talk to a dermatologist and ask them about more aggressive treatment options.
They may be able to drain your pustule safely or prescribe a stronger
medication. Prescription medications can be very useful in eliminating acne
pustules, especially those caused by bacterial infections. Medications that are
often prescribed to help treat pustules include oral antibiotics, such as
doxycycline and amoxicillin, topical antibiotics, such as dapsone, and prescription-strength
In severe cases, a procedure called photodynamic therapy (PDT) may
be used to remove pustules. PDT is a treatment that combines light and a
special light-activated solution that targets and destroys acne. Aside from
eliminating pustules and other related skin conditions caused by acne, PDT may
also diminish older acne scars and make your skin smoother. Talk to your
dermatologist to see whether photodynamic therapy may be used to treat your