Infected Pimple: Is it Infected?

Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD, MPH on February 10, 2017Written by Kathleen Pointer on February 10, 2017

Overview

When a pimple appears on your face or body it’s probably not infected. An infected pimple is actually rare, and usually doesn’t happen while it’s still a pimple.

Most skin lesions get infected because you’re trying to get rid of them, such as by popping them. A popped pimple is much more likely to get infected than one you avoid touching or irritating. When a pimple is popped, it’s opened up to bacteria. Bacteria is then able to make its way inside your skin, and bury down deep enough to cause an infection.

Symptoms of an infected pimple

An infected pimple may be larger than a regular pimple because of swelling. It can also be warm and sore to the touch. There may also be more redness when a pimple becomes infected.

An infected pimple is also going to be more painful and inflamed. It also won’t always clear up with over-the-counter (OTC), anti-acne face washes since the bacterial infection runs deeper into the skin.

Treating an infected pimple

Once a pimple has become infected, it’s not like treating regular acne. For example, salicylic acid can help prevent mild acne, and is often recommended as one of the ingredients to use during a breakout. But it’s not going to be as helpful once a pimple is infected because salicylic acid doesn’t kill bacteria.

For infected pimples, it is important to keep the affected area clean. This can be done with a mild cleanser. It may also be helpful to swipe the area with hydrogen peroxide.

If the infected skin lesion is a staph infection, it may require medical attention and prescription medication.

If you want to try some treatments at home, one option is to hold a warm compress over the infected pimple. This may help it along in the natural process of draining. But it’s important that you don’t press down too much on the infected pimple since that may force bacteria even deeper into the skin. Make sure the compress is warm, but not too hot, and is covered in something clean.

One of the side effects of having an infected pimple can be scarring. If you have scarring from a pimple there are a few things you can do to help fade it. Chemical peels, retinoids, laser treatments, and microdermabrasion have been shown to help reduce the scars left behind by acne, according to a study in the Dermatology Research and Practice Journal.

Potential complications

Facial issues aren’t constrained to pimples or infections related to this condition. There are a range of other problems that can cause facial skin irritation. These issues could include:

  • rosacea
  • an allergic reaction
  • a boil
  • eczema

If a skin lesion doesn’t start to heal on its own, or it itches or spreads, consult a dermatologist or other medical professional. Staph infections in particular need to be treated by a medical professional.

Tips for prevention

To discourage pimples from becoming infected, continue to gently wash your face daily and avoid irritating or popping any blemishes. Pay attention to which skin products may make your skin break out. Some people don’t react positively to certain ingredients or added dyes and fragrances in their makeup, cleansers, or shampoos.

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