Everyone gets pimples at some point in their lives. There are many different types of acne pimples.
Pus is a result of oil, bacteria, and other materials that get clogged deep within your pores and your body’s natural defense response to these substances.
Read on to learn more about pimple pus, what causes it, and how you can treat and prevent inflammatory acne pimples.
Pimple pus is made from sebum (oil) that gets trapped in your pores, along with a combination of dead skin cells, debris (such as makeup), and bacteria.
When you have inflammatory acne lesions (such as pustules, papules, nodules, and cysts), your immune system activates in this area, resulting in noticeable pus.
Acne pustules have a whitish fluid inside them. As the inflammation improves, the pustules will also improve and go down.
Pimples with pus appear from both inflammation and as an immune response to the clogged substances in your pores. Pus only occurs in inflammatory acne.
However, it’s possible to irritate noninflammatory acne from picking at it so that it becomes inflamed and filled with pus.
Pus-filled inflammatory acne can include the following:
- Cysts. These large, painful masses develop the deepest underneath your pores, where the pus doesn’t rise to the surface.
- Nodules. Like cysts, these pus-filled pimples occur beneath the surface of the skin.
- Papules. These small, red pimples develop at the surface of your skin.
- Pustules. These pus-filled acne lesions are similar in appearance to papules, but they’re much larger.
When treated, pus-filled pimples will start to dissipate on their own. You may notice the pus disappears first, then the redness and overall acne lesions lessen.
Above all else, you must resist the urge to pop or squeeze out the pus. Picking at acne can cause the inflammation to worsen.
Don’t pop or squeeze pus-filled pimples
You can cause the bacteria to spread and the inflammation to worsen.
You can try using the following over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for pus-filled pimples.
Benzoyl peroxide helps kill bacteria in your pores that can lead to pimples with pus. It’s available as a topical gel (for spot treatment) and as a face and body wash.
Benzoyl peroxide can inactivate certain prescription retinoids if used at the same time, and it may be irritating to the skin. If you get irritated with this medication, you can decrease the frequency of its use, including how long you leave it on the skin before washing off.
NOTE: Be careful when using benzoyl peroxide. It can can bleach fabrics, including clothing and towels.
You can find salicylic acid in spot treatments, face washes, and toners. It works by removing dead skin cells at the skin’s surface so they don’t clog pores. It can be irritating to the skin.
Retinoids are typically the first-line medication used for all forms of acne, especially acne on the face.
In recent years, adapalene 0.1 percent gel (Differin) has become available OTC. You must use it regularly for at least 3 months before you see effects.
Apply a pea-sized amount every other night in the beginning. Spread it to the areas where you’re prone to get acne. This will help prevent new acne from forming. It’s not meant to spot-treat current acne.
When using retinoids, you may become more sensitive to the sun and experience some dryness. A daily moisturizer with an SPF can help.
Some people may be able to treat their acne with OTC medications, such as the topical retinoid Differin or benzoyl peroxide.
However, other people may benefit from a consult with their primary care doctor or dermatologist to determine what prescription medications would be best for them.
Prescription medications for acne can be both oral and topical. Your specific prescriptions will depend on your type of acne, including the location and severity of your acne.
Prescription medications include:
The bacterium P. acnes is known to be involved in forming pus-filled pimples. Your dermatologist may prescribe a round of antibiotics if they suspect this to be the case.
Your dermatologist may prescribe topical antibiotics instead. You can use these for much longer.
Antibiotics in dermatology are widely used for their anti-inflammatory effects, in addition to their ability to suppress P. acnes growth.
Dermatologists believe that if you’re using oral or topical antibiotics, you should be using benzoyl peroxide alongside it to prevent P. acnes resistance to the antibiotic.
Oral antibiotics are also not meant to be used long term. Rather, they’re generally used as a temporary measure to allow time for topical medications to start working.
Some women can benefit from taking oral contraceptives, especially if acne breakouts are more common around menstruation.
There are several Food and Drug Administration approved combination oral contraceptives that are used specifically for acne.
Like retinoids, this oral medication is a vitamin A derivative. Isotretinoin is the closest thing to a cure that dermatologists have for acne.
Doctors often use isotretinoin in patients with:
- acne that doesn’t respond to traditional acne medications
- acne that produces scarring
- severe nodular cystic acne
Commonly used as a blood pressure and heart failure medication, this anti-androgen medication is also used in dermatology as an off-label acne treatment. It’s only used in women.
Some research suggests that certain home remedies can help acne, but more studies are needed before these are considered viable treatment options.
If you’re curious about alternative treatments, talk to a dermatologist about the following home remedies before starting them:
While certain risk factors, such as genes and hormones, can play a role in pimple formation, there are steps you can take to minimize their occurrence. Consider the following do’s and don’ts.
- Wash your face once a day, and only use oil-free, noncomedogenic products on your face.
- Follow each cleansing session with an oil-free, noncomedogenic moisturizer with SPF in it. If you’re on a topical antibiotic such as clindamycin, then apply this first before using your moisturizer.
- Wear sunscreen daily, especially when using retinoids.
- Choose oil-free, noncomedogenic makeup.
- Apply spot treatment as necessary.
- Scrub your skin when washing it.
- Skip out on moisturizer. Doing so can dry out your face and cause your oil glands to produce even more sebum.
- Touch your face. Rubbing your skin can clog pores.
- Attempt to “dry out” pimples in the sun. This can overdry your skin and also increase your risk for sunburn and skin cancer.
- Use toothpaste as a spot treatment.
- Pop your pimples or pick at your skin.
- Overuse spot treatment or toner. These can dry out your skin.
- Use alcohol-based products.
It can take a new skin care product several weeks to take full effect.
If you don’t see any improvements in pus-filled pimples after a couple of months, you may consider seeing a dermatologist for help. They may recommend a prescription-strength formula.
Also consider seeing a medical professional if you have widespread cystic acne. You might need an antibiotic to help get rid of this type of breakout.
Pimple pus is a natural substance seen in acne breakouts, but you don’t have to put up with it forever. By practicing good skin care habits combined with OTC acne medication as needed, you can help reduce pimples and pus overall.
If OTC treatments fail to work, see a dermatologist. They can recommend treatments and prescribe oral and topical medications.