What Do I Do When I Get Pimples in My Ears?

May 09, 2023
Caitlyn Martyn
By: Caitlyn Martyn | skincare.com by L'Oréal
A collage of green-filtered photos on a green background. A model pulling back their hair and another model touching their ear.

You’ve probably had your fair share of blemishes on your face and dealt with body acne at some point in your life. And you may have even had breakouts on your butt, too. Pimples can pop up pretty much anywhere, including in and around your ears. That’s right, ear pimples are real — and if you’ve had one, you know they can be pretty painful.

Whether you have a little whitehead on your earlobe or a painful cyst deep in the ear canal, knowing some of the causes of pimples forming in and around the ear can help you to manage them. Read on for what you need to know about ear pimples, including tips from Dr. Jennifer Chwalek and Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, board-c
ertified dermatologists and Skincare.com consultants.

Can You Get a Pimple in Your Ear?

Getting a pimple in your ear is totally possible. Just like the skin on your face and body, your ears have pores, which can be clogged with substances like dead skin cells, sebum and other gunk. In turn, those clogged pores can turn into pimples, like blackheads and whiteheads. Luckily, there are ways to prevent pores from getting clogged and painful pimples from rearing their heads, detailed below. 

What Causes Pimples to Form in Your Ears?

Just as oil and dead skin cells mixing with debris and bacteria can cause pores to clog and lead to acne forming on your face, the same applies to the skin on and inside your ears. “The ear canal and surrounding skin are rich in sebaceous glands that produce sebum, and the ear canal is laden with ceruminous glands, which produce cerumen, otherwise known as earwax,” says Dr. Chwalek. “If these glands produce too much oil or if the pores get clogged by oil, wax and dead skin cells, then you can get comedones or blackheads.” She explains that if the oil continues to build up, bacteria can cause inflammation and lead to a cyst.

While ear pimples aren’t different from the ones on your face, they can be much more painful. Unlike your cheeks or chin, the ear doesn’t have a lot of fat under the skin. “It is mostly made up of cartilage which is avascular, meaning the cartilage lacks a blood supply — it’s why ear piercings or injury involving the cartilage take so long to heal,” says Dr. Chwalek. “The sensory nerves are closer to the surface of the skin and can make any injury or pimple to the ear painful.”

How to Prevent Pimples From Forming in Your Ears

Cleanse Your Ears Regularly

In order to prevent pimples from forming inside your ears, Dr. Chwalek recommends cleaning in and around the ears regularly, making sure to rinse off any shampoo, conditioner or styling product that could leave residue in or behind the ears. “Some hair products can contain comedogenic ingredients that can get in and behind your ears and cause acne,” she explains. Look for formulas that say “non-comedogenic” on the label, meaning they’re less likely to clog pores, or just be sure to rinse your ears thoroughly after use. 

Dr. Frank recommends carefully cleansing your ears in the shower with a salicylic acid-based cleanser, avoiding your inner ear. We suggest trying the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash. It’s formulated with 2% salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acids to help remove excess oil and clear acne without irritating the skin — plus, it’s non-comedogenic. If that sounds too risky to you, try giving your outer ear a gentle clean with a cleansing water-soaked cotton swab. (The CeraVe Hydrating Toner is great for this.) “Make sure you never place anything inside your ear canal as you can perforate your eardrum,” warns Dr. Frank.

CeraVe Hydrating Toner

Wash Anything That Goes Into Your Ears

Be sure to clean anything that is going into your ears (think: earbuds, earplugs, etc.) with an alcohol prep pad or wipes on a weekly basis, if not more frequently.

Why You Shouldn’t Pop a Pimple in Your Ear

Just like a pimple on your face, you should never pop a pimple in your ear. Even a small pimple can become bigger, more inflamed and more sensitive if you choose to pop it. In addition to inflammation and irritation, popping your pimples can lead to a spread of bacteria, scarring, infection and hyperpigmentation. For these reasons, it’s best to handle the pimple with care and only touch the affected area with clean fingers. Talk to a dermatologist or your healthcare provider if the pimple persists or worsens. 

How to Get Rid of a Pimple in Your Ear

Apply a Spot Treatment

If, despite your best efforts, you still develop an ear pimple, fear not. While we don’t recommend trying to pop or manipulate the pimple, using a spot treatment like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment can help. “If the pimple is in the outer ear or behind the ear, you can apply a topical acne medication such as benzoyl peroxide, sulfur or salicylic acid,” says Dr. Chwalek. “You never want to apply anything deep in the ear though, because it may damage the inner ear.”

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment

Hold a Hot Compress to Your Ear

Holding a hot compress to the outside of your ear could potentially help lessen irritation and inflammation, depending on where the pimple is located. Warm water will help loosen the sebum and gunk that has accumulated and caused the pimple in your ear to form. “Hot water can change the structure of the skin, make it more pliable and loosen up the material in it so it’s more easily flushed out, which can make the pore appear smaller,” Dr. Sapna Palep, a board-certified dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology, previously told Skincare.com.

Talk to a Dermatologist

If you can’t visibly see the pimple, the problem persists for a few days, or the pimple becomes more painful, oozes or bleeds, it’s time to consult with your doctor. They’ll be able to prescribe topical medications, drops, oral antibiotics or give you a steroid injection to help with the issue.

Design: Juliana Campisi

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