Getting a pimple on your elbow, while irritating and uncomfortable, probably isn’t cause for alarm. It’s most likely common acne.

Acne pimple

The elbow is kind of an unusual place to get a pimple, but acne can form anywhere on your body. Pimples, or zits, sprout when dead skin, oil, or dirt traps bacteria inside your skin’s pores, causing the area to swell. A skin pore can also become inflamed and fill with a little bit of pus.

This can happen to anyone, not just teenagers. You might be more at risk for pimples, though, if you:

  • take certain medications like steroids
  • use cosmetic products (like oily makeup) that clog your pores
  • are under a lot of stress

Cystic acne

Another form of acne, called cystic acne, can be quite a bit larger than common pimples and contain more pus. Still, these soft-to-the-touch swellings aren’t typically painful and don’t normally ooze pus or cause drainage.

Acne usually goes away on its own over time and with some basic home treatment.

When inspecting the pimple on your elbow, a whitehead and a small amount of redness or tenderness is normal for acne. If you’ve ever popped a pimple, you’ll know that a very small amount of pus is common, especially in pimples that form deeper in your skin. In fact, the “white” in whitehead refers to the small bit of pus that peeks out of the top of some pimples.

If the pimple does not appear to be a typical pimple, but seems to be more of a pimple-like bump on your elbow, it could result in a different diagnosis. The bump on your elbow might not be a pimple if it:

  • doesn’t go away on its own in a few days
  • causes you a lot of pain
  • oozes pus
  • causes other unexpected symptoms

Conditions to be aware of

There are a few conditions common to the elbow that you should be aware of. Consider visiting your doctor if your symptoms are severe, and you think you may have one of the following:

  • Boils. Boils are easily confused with pimples or cysts at first, but become extremely painful as they grow larger. They also tend to rupture and ooze pus when they get too big.
  • Folliculitis. Folliculitis is the inflammation of hair follicles into small, pimple-like bumps as a result of infection from bacteria or fungus. You’ll know it’s folliculitis and not a pimple if the area becomes extremely itchy and crusty or scaly over time.
  • Keratosis pilaris. Keratosis pilaris, or “chicken skin,” is a skin condition that results from too much keratin (the protein that forms hair) in the pores. The extra protein and dead skin forms small, itchy, but usually harmless, bumps in the skin that resemble pimples.

If you’re indeed dealing with acne, it should go away on its own relatively quickly. Some basic treatment can speed up the process.

Hygiene

Keep the area clean, but don’t over-wash or use harsh soaps.

Medications

There are lots of over-the-counter treatments that can help with acne. Look for topical creams and gels containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

For severe acne outbreaks, or if you seem to have pimple problems over and over, your doctor or dermatologist may prescribe a stronger medication based your medical background, and the type of acne you’re dealing with. Your doctor might prescribe a daily antibiotic such as tretinoin or clindamycin, or a medication which encourages your skin to produce less oil such as isotretinoin.

Pain relief

When you get a pimple in a sensitive or awkward location, it can sometimes be a little more painful than acne in other locations. A pimple on your elbow, for example, might rub against surfaces like desks and kitchen counters throughout the day, which might be uncomfortable.

If your elbow pimple hurts, consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to ease the discomfort.

If your pain is severe and doesn’t ease up after a few days, see your doctor.

Advocates of natural healing suggest a number of home remedies to address acne, including:

Also, studies have shown that essential oils may be extremely effective at fighting harmful bacteria and inflammation. Recommended oils include:

Practitioners of essential oil treatments suggest spot treating pimples with a mixture of one-part oil to nine-parts water once or twice per day.

You should NOT try to pop a pimple on your elbow. Pimples are small, contained bacterial infections. Popping them can potentially cause the area to become even more irritated, and the infection may spread. Popping pimples can also lead to scarring.

While we usually think of the face, neck, and back as being the primary problem areas for acne, getting a pimple on your elbow shouldn’t normally be cause for alarm.

With a little sensible at-home care, or simply a small amount of patience, your elbow pimple should go away in a few days or weeks. Resist the urge to pop that pimple. Let it heal naturally to avoid spreading the infection and scarring.

Keep an eye out for unusual symptoms like high levels of pain, oozing, or extreme swelling. These might be indications of a more serious condition that should be looked at by your doctor.