Skin Care Blogs

How to Treat an Infected Pimple

woman squeezing a pimple

It’s a terrible truth we’ve known since puberty: there are pimples, and then there are pimples. While certain whiteheads can be easily treated with some TLC, more severe cases require serious techniques, and learning how to treat an infected pimple is essential epidermal education. To get all the right answers, we spoke with esthetician Nichelle Temple, owner of Inderma Studio in NYC.

1. What are the signs of an infected pimple?

An infected pimple is hard to miss. Temple points to four telltale signs: the pimple is larger in diameter than your typical zit with inflammation, pain and visible pus.

2. How does a pimple become infected?

It’s not a pretty picture. Temple describes, “As dead skin cells and bacteria build up and fester under the pimple,” the area becomes swollen and a pustule can form. A pustule is an inflamed pimple with a white or yellow center containing pus. An infected pimple is pretty rare, and it’s usually self-made. With new pimples, the impulse is to poke and prod, but Temple tells us this is the cause of most infections. She says, “The more you poke and prod the pimple without proper technique and products, the more likely it is for it to become infected.”

3. What can you do, at home, to treat an infected pimple?

When you notice a new pimple coming to town, Temple recommends “using a spot treatment with a high concentration of benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, resorcinol or sulfur.” Then, she stresses, leave it alone. These ingredients are particularly effective as they help to dissolve follicular buildup. A particular favorite of Temple’s is The Acne Control Regiment by PCA Skin.

The only time Temple suggests DIY extraction is when you notice the white pus starting to push its way out of the pimple. Then, wait to do anything until after a steamy shower. “Cleanse and disinfect the area thoroughly,” she says, then “wrap your fingers in a tissue and gently apply pressure with two fingers North/South and then East/West (top and bottom and then side by side) in a gentle rotation until the head of the pustule is out.” Quickly disinfect the area with a salicylic acid based toner and then leave it be.

4. When should you see a doctor?

Keep it simple: if you’re suffering, you should see a doctor. If your pimple is causing a deep, throbbing under the skin, your doctor could administer a cortisone shot. They may also offer a prescription if you suffer from chronic breakouts. Another option, Temple reminds us, is to “schedule an extraction-based facial or chemical-peel facial with an esthetician.”  

5. What are some risks of an infected pimple?

Risks include scarring, which Temple says can be caused by “fingernails, discoloration and indentation from using too much pressure.” Not cleaning the area well enough after extractions (and always) can spread bacteria and cause additional pimples. Improper exfoliation should also be avoided. She warns, “Under-exfoliation can be the cause of pimples, yet over-exfoliation can over-dry the skin and then the sebaceous glands will produce more oil to make up for the lack of hydration.”

6. How should you prevent/manage those risks?

The easiest prevention as Temple recommends to her clients, is to “follow a personalized skincare routine complete with twice-daily cleansing, regular exfoliation, the proper toners and serums and moisturizers.” Also, seek out a knowledgeable esthetician who can provide you with an in-depth skincare analysis including what ingredients are best for your skin type and what will help you to avoid infected pimples.

Beauty Writer

Jessica Griffiths

Jessica Griffiths is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her essays have been published on The Hairpin and Narratively. She loves many things including puns, pups and police procedurals. She strongly believes there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.