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What is Pimple Pus and How to Treat it?|Do’s & Don’ts To Prevent Getting Pimple

Nobody is a stranger to getting pimples at some point in their lives. While pimples are typically the bane of a teenager’s life, but people of all ages tend to get affected by pimples during some point of their lives. There are many different types of pimples and acne, but it has been observed that all pimples are caused by clogged pores.

However, it is only the inflammatory pimples that emit noticeable pus, making life even more miserable for those battling pimples. But why is it that some pimples develop pus and others don’t? Read on to find out more about what is pimple pus, how to treat it and prevent it.

What is Pimple Pus?

What is Pimple Pus?

Research has found that all pimples are caused by clogged pores. However, it is only the inflammatory pimples that emit noticeable pus. Pimple pus is a result of bacteria, oil, and other substances that get clogged deep within the pores of the skin, and pus forms as a result of the body’s natural defense response to these substances.(1)

Pimple pus is made from oil (sebum) that becomes trapped in the pores. It also includes a combination of debris (such as leftover makeup), dead skin cells, and even bacteria.

When you experience inflammatory acne lesions, including cysts, nodules, pustules, and papules, your immune system will get activated in that particular area, which is what results in noticeable pimple pus.

Acne pustules tend to contain a whitish fluid inside them, and as the inflammation goes down, these pustules will also improve and reduce in appearance.

What is the Cause of Pimple Pus?

Pimples that have pus are known to form as a result of both inflammations and also as an immune response to the presence of the clogged substances in your pores.

However, it is essential to note that pus does not form in every pimple. It only occurs in inflammatory acne.

Non-inflammatory acne such as whiteheads and blackheads are also caused by clogged pores, but the resultant comedones are not filled with pus, and instead contain dead skin cells and hardened oil. Comedones are the small flesh-colored acne papules that are usually found on the chin and forehead.(2)

However, if you continue to irritate and pick at non-inflammatory acne, then it is possible for it to become inflamed and filled with pus.

Pus-filled inflammatory acne usually includes the following:

  • Cysts: These are large and painful masses that develop deep underneath the pores of your skin. The pus present in cysts does not rise to the surface.(3)
  • Papules: These types of inflammatory acne also contain pus and appear like small, red pimples. They develop on the surface of your skin.(4)
  • Pustules: These are pus-filled acne lesions that are very similar in appearance to papules, but they are larger than papules.(5)
  • Nodules: Nodules are similar to cysts and are pus-filled pimples. These occur underneath the surface of your skin.(6)

How To Treat Pus-Filled Pimples?

When you treat pus-filled pimples, they will start to reduce in appearance and get better. You will notice that the pus will be the first thing to go, then the redness, and then the entire acne lesions will lessen.

Even if you do not undergo any treatment for pus-filled pimples, you must never pop or squeeze out the pus. Picking at acne will only cause inflammation to worsen.

Here are some of the treatment options for pus-filled pimples.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

The following over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can be used for getting relief from pus-filled pimples:

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a known treatment for treating many types of bacterial infections.(7) Benzoyl peroxide helps kill the bacteria present in your pores, which is what causes pimples with pus in the first place. The treatment is available as a topical gel and also as a face and body wash. The topical gel is typically used for spot treatment.

Benzoyl peroxide, though, can also inactivate some prescription retinoids if you are taking them at the same time. It may also cause some irritation to the skin. So if you get irritated with benzoyl peroxide, then you should reduce the frequency of use and also reduce the time of how long you leave it on the skin before you wash it off.

Also, be careful while using benzoyl peroxide because it can bleach fabrics such as clothing and towels.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid can be commonly found in spot treatments, toners, and face washes. It works by getting rid of dead skin cells at the surface of the skin to prevent the pores from clogging. However, salicylic acid can also be irritating to the skin, so be careful not to go overboard with the treatment.(8)


Retinoids are usually the first-line of medication used to treat all forms of acne, especially acne that is on the face.(9)

In the last few years, adapalene 0.1 percent gel (brand name Differin) has become one of the most frequently used retinoids that is available over the counter. You need to use Differin regularly for at least three months before you start to see any positive effects.(10)

You should apply just a small amount every other night at the beginning of the treatment and spread it to the areas where you are likely to get acne. This helps prevent the formation of new acne. Retinoids, though, are not meant for spot treating current acne.

While using retinoid products, keep in mind that your skin can become more sensitive to the sun and also experience some dryness. Use a daily moisturizer that comes with an SPF to reduce the effect of the sun on your skin.

Prescription Medications for Pus-filled Pimples

While over-the-counter medications can help some people successfully treat their pus-filled pimples, other might not benefit from using over-the-counter products.

Some people tend to instead benefit from prescription medications. This involves consulting your doctor or a dermatologist to understand which prescription medications will be the best for your condition.

There are many types of prescription medications for acne, and they can be topical and oral or both. Your individual prescription will depend on what kind of acne you have, the location, and also the severity of your acne.

Here are some prescription medications that are commonly used for the treatment of pus-filled pimples:


Antibiotics are widely prescribed when your doctor suspects that the pus-filled pimples are caused by the bacterium P. acnes. P. acnes is a common type of bacteria that is involved in causing pus-filled pimples.

Your dermatologist may also prescribe topical antibiotics that can be used for a more extended period of time.

Antibiotics that are used in dermatology are widely used for their anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as their ability to control the growth of P. acnes.

Dermatologists believe that regardless of whether you are using topical or oral antibiotics, you should still be using benzoyl peroxide alongside the antibiotics in order to prevent P. acnes resistance to the antibiotic.

Do not use oral antibiotics for a long time. They should be used only as a temporary measure to allow time for topical medications to begin working.

Birth Control

It has been found that many women benefit by taking oral contraceptives, especially if you find that your acne breakouts usually happen around your menstruation cycle. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several combinations of oral contraceptives that can also be used for the treatment of acne.

Several studies(11) have found that birth control is equally as effective as antibiotics in the treatment of acne. If this is something you would be comfortable with rather than taking antibiotics, then you should discuss this line of treatment with your doctor.


Similar to retinoids, isotretinoin(12) is an oral medication that is a derivative of vitamin A. Isotretinoin is today hailed as being the closest dermatologists have to a cure for acne.

Doctors usually prescribe isotretinoin in patients with:

  • Acne that produces scarring
  • Acne that does not respond to conventional acne medications
  • If you have severe nodular cystic acne


Spironolactone is a medication that is commonly used as heart failure and blood pressure medication. This is an anti-androgen medication and is also used in dermatology as an off-label treatment for acne. However, it is only used in women.(13)

Home Remedies for Pus-filled Pimples

There are also many home remedies that can help treat pus-filled pimples. However, there is a lack of research to scientifically prove whether these home remedies are viable treatment options for acne or not.

If you want to find out more about these home remedies and are wondering about whether they will work or not, you can always discuss these options with your dermatologist before you start using them.

Here are some home remedies that are known to be effective in treating acne.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is known for its many health benefits. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, meaning that it helps kill off the P. acnes bacteria, which causes pus-filled pimples or acne.

The anti-inflammatory properties of tea tree oil also reduce the redness and swelling of pimples.(14)

In 2015, a study by The University of Western Australia(15), analyzed the existing evidence for tea tree oil and how it helps in acne. The study found that tea tree oil can help decrease the number of acne sores in people who have mild to moderate acne.

This study also suggested that tea tree oil products may work well when combined with 5 percent benzoyl peroxide.

You can apply tea tree extract to the affected parts in the form of gels, creams, or even essential oils. If you are using essential oils, then remember to first dilute them in a carrier oil.

There are many products available online and in shops that contain tea tree oil. If you are in doubt, you can always consult your dermatologist before using such products.

Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil is a component of many cosmetic products today. It is a natural, waxy substance that is extracted from the seeds of the jojoba shrub and is known for its many benefits for our skin. The waxy substance found in jojoba oil is what helps repair damaged skin. At the same time, it also helps in speeding up wound healing, and it also works on acne lesions.

Some of the components found in jojoba oil may also help decrease skin inflammation. This is how it also reduces the swelling and redness around pimples, whiteheads, and other inflamed lesions on the skin.

In 2012, a study carried out by the Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology, and Health Economics in Germany administered 133 participants clay face masks that included jojoba oil.(16) After using the masks for 6 weeks up to 2 to 3 times a week, the participants reported experiencing a 54 percent improvement in their acne.

You can mix jojoba essential oil with a cream, gel, or a clay face mask and apply it to your acne. You can also try to place a few drops of jojoba oil on a cotton ball and rub it gently across the acne sores.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a very popular product today. It is known for being immensely beneficial for several health problems, including acne. Apple cider vinegar is manufactured by fermenting apple cider, which is the unfiltered juice derived from pressed apples.

Similar to many other vinegars, apple cider vinegar is also known for its powerful ability to fight against many types of viruses and bacteria.(17)(18)

There are also many organic acids that are contained in apple cider vinegar and are known to kill P. acnes bacteria.(19)

Studies have found that succinic acid found in apple cider vinegar can suppress inflammation caused by the bacterium P. acnes, which is beneficial in preventing scarring from acne.(20)

Furthermore, lactic acid is also known to improve the appearance of acne scars, as proven in many research studies as well.(21) Additionally, apple cider vinegar helps dry up any excess oil on the skin, which is what causes acne in the first place.

It is important to remember that applying apple cider vinegar to the skin may cause burns and irritation, so always make sure to use in small amounts and dilute it with water before using.

Do’s & Don’ts To Prevent Getting Pimple

There are many factors that play a role in the formation of pimples and then in the creation of pus inside these pimples. There are several steps you can take to prevent or reduce the chances of their occurrence. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to follow if you want to avoid pimples.

Do’s To Prevent Getting Pimple

  • Wash your face at least once a day with oil-free, non-comedogenic products.
  • After washing your face, use an oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer with SPF. If you are using a topical antibiotic, such as clindamycin, then apply the antibiotic first and then use the moisturizer.
  • Wear sunscreen every day without fail, even when it is cloudy outside.
  • It is essential to wear sunscreen if you are on retinoids.
  • Try to choose oil-free, non-comedogenic makeup.
  • Apply spot treatment as and when necessary.

Don’ts to Prevent Getting Pimple

  • Scrub your skin while washing it.
  • Leave out the moisturizer as it can dry out your face even more and cause the oil glands to produce even more sebum than usual.
  • Keep touching your face as rubbing your face frequently clogs up the pores.
  • Attempt to ‘dry out’ pimples in the sun. Not only does this do nothing for your pimples, but it can also over dry the skin and increase the risk of sunburn and skin cancer.
  • Use toothpaste as a form of spot treatment.
  • Pop your pimples.
  • Pick at your skin or pick at the pimples.
  • Overuse toner or spot treatment. Excessive use of these products can dry out your skin.
  • Use alcohol-based products.


If you do not notice any improvement in the pus-filled pimples after a couple of months, then you should consider consulting a dermatologist for help. Your doctor will recommend a prescription-strength treatment for your acne.

You should also consider seeing a dermatologist if you have widespread cystic acne. You might be needing an antibiotic to help get rid of cystic acne.

Pimple pus is a natural substance that can often be observed during acne breakouts. However, if you are frequently noticing pimples that are filled with pus, then you should not only consult a doctor but also practice good skincare habits. There are many over-the-counter acne medications available that can help reduce the appearance of pimples and prevent the development of pus as well.


  1. Proactiv.com. (2019). Proactiv: Enjoy blemish-free skin plus prevent breakouts | Proactiv UK. [online] Available at: https://www.proactiv.com/en_us/types-of-acne/papules-pustules.html [Accessed 20 Dec. 2019].
  2. Dermnetnz.org. (2019). Comedonal acne | DermNet NZ. [online] Available at: https://dermnetnz.org/topics/comedonal-acne/ [Accessed 20 Dec. 2019].
  3. Publishing, H. (2019). Cysts (Overview) – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/cysts-overview-a-to-z [Accessed 20 Dec. 2019].
  4. Study.com. (2019). [online] Available at: https://study.com/academy/lesson/papule-definition-causes-treatment.html [Accessed 20 Dec. 2019].
  5. Dermnetnz.org. (2019). Pustular skin conditions | DermNet NZ. [online] Available at: https://dermnetnz.org/topics/pustular-skin-conditions/ [Accessed 20 Dec. 2019].
  6. Verywell Health. (2019). Causes of Nodular Acne and How to Treat It. [online] Available at: https://www.verywellhealth.com/nodular-acne-15817 [Accessed 20 Dec. 2019]. Ramirez, J. and Faryniarz, J., JR Chem LLC, 2006. Benzoyl peroxide compositions and methods of use. U.S. Patent Application 11/373,538.
  7. Slavtcheff, C.S., Barrow, S.R., Kanga, V.D., Cheney, M.C. and Znaiden, A., Chesebrough-Ponds Inc, 1996. Cosmetic composition for treatment of pimples and redness. U.S. Patent 5,482,710.
  8. Tzellos, T., Toulis, K.A., Dessinioti, C., Zampeli, V., Abdel‐Naser, M.B., Katsambas, A., Bauer, A., Gollnick, H.P., Thielitz, A., Franke, C. and Zouboulis, C.C., 2011. Topical retinoids for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (12).
  9. Johnson, B.A. and Nunley, J.R., 2000. Topical therapy for acne vulgaris: How do you choose the best drug for each patient?. Postgraduate medicine, 107(3), pp.69-80.
  10. Koo, E.B., Petersen, T.D. and Kimball, A.B., 2014. Meta-analysis comparing efficacy of antibiotics versus oral contraceptives in acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 71(3), pp.450-459.
  11. Layton, A., 2009. The use of isotretinoin in acne. Dermato-endocrinology, 1(3), pp.162-169.
  12. Goodfellow, A., Alaghband‐Zadeh, J., Carter, G., Cream, J.J., Holland, S., Scully, J. and Wise, P., 1984. Oral spironolactone improves acne vulgaris and reduces sebum excretion. British Journal of Dermatology, 111(2), pp.209-214.
  13. Bassett, I.B., Barnetson, R.S.C. and Pannowitz, D.L., 1990. A comparative study of tea‐tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne. Medical Journal of Australia, 153(8), pp.455-458.
  14. Static1.squarespace.com. (2019). [online] Available at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57330ac21d07c0d298ec51e3/t/57ee003ee3df28e138448dcf/1475215428402/tea+tree.pdf [Accessed 20 Dec. 2019].
  15. Meier, L., Stange, R., Michalsen, A. and Uehleke, B., 2012. Clay jojoba oil facial mask for lesioned skin and mild acne–results of a prospective, observational pilot study. Complementary Medicine Research, 19(2), pp.75-79.
  16. Vijayakumar, C. and Wolf-Hall, C.E., 2002. Minimum bacteriostatic and bactericidal concentrations of household sanitizers for Escherichia coli strains in tryptic soy broth. Food Microbiology, 19(4), pp.383-388.
  17. Mota, A.C.L.G., de Castro, R.D., de Araújo Oliveira, J. and de Oliveira Lima, E., 2015. Antifungal activity of apple cider vinegar on Candida species involved in denture stomatitis. Journal of Prosthodontics, 24(4), pp.296-302.
  18. Wang, Y., Kuo, S., Shu, M., Yu, J., Huang, S., Dai, A., Two, A., Gallo, R.L. and Huang, C.M., 2014. Staphylococcus epidermidis in the human skin microbiome mediates fermentation to inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes: implications of probiotics in acne vulgaris. Applied microbiology and biotechnology, 98(1), pp.411-424.
  19. Wang, Y., Kuo, S., Shu, M., Yu, J., Huang, S., Dai, A., Two, A., Gallo, R.L. and Huang, C.M., 2014. Staphylococcus epidermidis in the human skin microbiome mediates fermentation to inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes: implications of probiotics in acne vulgaris. Applied microbiology and biotechnology, 98(1), pp.411-424.
  20. Kapuścińska, A. and Nowak, I., 2015. Use of organic acids in acne and skin discolorations therapy. Postepy higieny i medycyny doswiadczalnej (Online), 69, pp.374-383.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 29, 2020

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