Derm DMs: What Do I Do When I Get Pimples in My Ears?

October 18, 2022
Caitlyn Martyn
By: Caitlyn Martyn | by L'Oréal
People touching their ears

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 (yes, it’s a thing). 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 nasty 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-certified dermatologists and consultants.

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. Dr. Frank recommends carefully cleansing your ears in the shower with a salicylic acid-based cleanser, avoiding your inner ear.

We can’t recommend the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash enough. It’s formulated with salicylic acid to help remove excess oil and clear acne without irritating the skin.

If that sounds too risky to you, try gently cleaning the outer ear 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: Airpods, earplugs, etc.) with an alcohol prep pad or wipes on a weekly basis, if not more frequently.

How Do I Get Rid of a Pimple in My Ear?

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 hot compress or 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.”

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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