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
Pustules may be 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. You can treat pustules with medication, or surgery in extreme
cases, if they become bothersome.
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 develops when the pores of your skin become clogged with oil and dead skin
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
How are pustules treated?
Small pustules may simply go away without
treatment. If small pustules persist, it’s helpful to wash your skin 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. And
if you have a sulfur allergy make sure to avoid using any products that contain
that ingredient. Read more about acne treatment.
OTC products help treat pustules by drying
the top layer of skin and absorbing excess surface oils. Some products 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 not use
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.
When to see your doctor
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 pustules safely or
prescribe a stronger medication.
Prescription medications can be very useful
in eliminating acne pustules, especially those caused by bacterial infections. Some
medications your doctor may prescribe include:
In severe cases, a procedure called
photodynamic therapy (PDT) may be used to treat 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 condition.