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Those big, pus-filled bumps that appear on your skin are nothing but pustules. They are usually bigger than pimples and more often than not have a white head (pus-filled) surrounded by red, inflamed skin.

Where Do Pustules Occur?

Pustules are most commonly found in areas that produce more oil. These include the face, neck, back and chest. They also may be found in clusters in the same area. Let’s understand why they are formed and how we can prevent and treat them.

What Causes Pustules?

Pustules are typically caused due to hormonal imbalances. They are a common phenomena and usually affect teenagers during their puberty period.

Your skin is made up of tiny pores beneath which lie sebaceous glands. These glands produce an oil called sebum that is vital to maintain good skin. When pores get clogged with oil, dirt and bacteria, it can result in any form of acne including pustules.

At times, pustules may become hard and painful. They also increase in size. These develop into cystic acne, a more severe form of acne. Pustules can also be caused due to an allergic reaction, causing inflammation of the skin.

What Is The Difference Between A Pustule And Other Forms Of Acne?

The American Academy of Dermatology identifies six types of acne:

  •   Closed comedones (whiteheads)
  •   Open comedones (blackheads)
  •   Papules
  •   Pustules
  •   Nodules
  •   Cysts

Blackheads and whiteheads are small in size and not a serious form of acne.

Papules and pustules are bigger in size. Papules don’t have a head, whereas pustules are characterized by red, inflamed bumps with a pus-filled center.

Nodules and cysts are the more serious forms of acne and also the largest in size.

All forms of acne occur due to blocked pores. These pores get blocked with oil, dirt and bacteria, resulting in inflammation, redness and bumps on the skin.

How Can You Identify A Pustule?

Pustules usually occur on the face, neck, back and chest. They can also appear on the shoulders, pubic area, hairline and underarms. Pustules have a big, white head filled with pus. The skin around a pustule will be red, inflamed and painful to touch.

How Can You Treat A Pustule?

Pustules eventually heal on their own. However, there are a variety of ways to speed up their healing process. They can be treated with various over-the-counter topical and oral medication.

Over-the-counter medications work by drying out your skin and soaking up excess oil. This reduces swelling and pain. Some OTC creams, gels and oral medications also work as exfoliators and remove the top layer of your skin, thus removing dead skin cells and dirt.

If your pustules appear in your genital area, consult your doctor before applying anything to them.

A. Topical medication

1. Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties. It is a peeling agent and works as an exfoliator by removing the top layer of your skin (1). It can be used to treat pustular acne. Side effects of salicylic acid include skin irritation, burning sensations, body aches and difficulty in breathing.

2. Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion is not a primary treatment for acne. However, it can be used to dry out pimples, thus reducing their appearance. It cannot be used to prevent future breakouts.

3. Benzoyl Peroxide

Topical forms of benzoyl peroxide can be used as a mild to moderate acne treatment (2) (3). Benzoyl peroxide gel has been used over many years in dermatology. It has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce swelling and can dry-up the pustule.

Side effects of benzoyl peroxide include dryness and burning sensations. If you have sensitive skin, this may not be recommended for you to use.

B. Home Remedies To Treat Pustules

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat mild to moderate acne (4). Tea tree oil can be used in 5 percent concentrations to reduce symptoms of pustular acne.

C. Oral Medication To Treat Pustules

1. Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics can help reduce swelling and kill acne-causing bacteria. They are effective in treating pustular acne and are usually recommended to be used in combination with a topical medication.

Doxycycline and amoxicillin are usually recommended to treat acne (5). Despite being effective, oral antibiotics cannot be considered a prolonged treatment option. The efficacy of antibiotics reduces after a certain number of days. Talk to your dermatologist if your skin is prone to pustular acne for long-term treatments.

2. Isotretinoin

This Vitamin A derivative has proved to be effective in treating severe cystic and nodular acne. Isotretinoin is a popular oral medication, usually recommended in severe acne cases (6). It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce swelling.

How Can You Prevent Pustules From Forming On Your Skin?

  •   Wash your face two times a day with a mild cleanser.
  •   Moisturize as soon as you are out of the shower.
  •   Don’t scrub your face while exfoliating.
  •   Pat dry with a clean towel.
  •   Don’t pop your pimples.
  •   Change your pillow covers regularly.
  •   Drink lots of water.
  •   Follow a healthy diet.

When Does Your Pustule Need Medical Attention?

Acne is not a serious condition. However, some symptoms may indicate an infection or skin disorder.

If you experience any of the below symptoms along with pustular acne, visit a doctor:

  •   Sudden breakout in chunks, covering large areas of your skin.
  •   No improvement or a worsened situation.
  •   Fever.
  •   Body pain.
  •   Pain in the pustule-affected area.
  •   Diarrhea.
  •   Vomiting.
  •   Nausea.

Do Pustules Cause Scarring Of The Skin?

Pustules are big in size and affect the deeper layers of your skin. These may leave a scar post treatment. However, it is important for you to treat these pus-filled pimples before addressing your scars. A number of options are available to reduce their appearance of scars.

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