Everything You Need To Know About Pustules

Reviewed by Dr. Divya Sharma

MBBS (Gold Medalist), MD (Skin)

Written by Urvi ShahAug 18, 2022
Everything you need to know about pustules

Ah, don’t you just flinch at the thought of breakout-ridden skin, and at the attempts to treat the condition with whatever remedies you chance upon on the internet? Here’s something you ought to know - the perplexing medley of solutions offered to you online aren’t quite specific to the problem you’re experiencing. How do you know if that hardly-conspicuous bump on your face is a papule or pustule? Are you certain that it’s not a cyst?

What we’re trying to say is - identifying the condition is important. How do you treat a problem that’s relatively unknown to you? In this guide, we’re breaking down a certain type of pimple for you: pustules. And we’ve roped in Dr. Divya Sharma, Chief Consultant Dermatologist at Dr. Divya’s Skin and Hair Solutions, to share her insights with us on the subject.


01. What are pustules?


Pustules are pus-filled lesions that appear on the surface of the skin. If you notice a white-tipped bump surrounded by inflamed (red) skin on any part of your body, it’s probably a pustule. According to Dr. Sharma, there are two types of pustules: infective and non-infective. “Infective pustules can be a sign of a bacterial infection, and non-infective pustules can be caused by conditions like folliculitis - caused by waxing, razor bumps, friction, and tight clothing. Usually, new types of waxes like Rica wax, for instance, can trigger an inflammation of the follicle. Even using lots of oil on your already-oily skin or scalp can lead to pustules. ”Pustules are commonly classified as a type of acne, but there are multiple other skin-related conditions that cause it. And even though they can appear on any part of the body, your neck, back, face, and shoulders are most susceptible to pustules, which are the oilier parts of your body.


02. What are some symptoms of a pustule?


A pustule is characterised by redness, warmth, swelling, and pain. You might experience chills, body ache, nausea, and fever as well. “If there’s a lot of pain when you touch the pustule, it’s most likely infective, and you must consult a dermatologist as soon as possible. If they’re asymptomatic, appear in bunches, and aren’t accompanied by redness, heat, or increased temperature, it’s possibly non-infective - or a sterile pustule,” Dr. Sharma explains.


03. What causes pustules?


Even though the development of pustules can be credited to acne - typically triggered by hormonal changes that occur during puberty, menopause, and pregnancy - there are other conditions - like pustular psoriasis, smallpox, rosacea, ezcema, and chickenpox, boils, cold sores, folliculitis, and yeast infections - that cause it. Even allergic reactions to food, poisonous insect bites, and environmental allergens can trigger pustules too.


04. Pustule or papule?


A papule is classified as a reddish dome-shaped bump on the skin without a visible centre; and a pustule is defined as a pus-filled bump surrounded by inflamed skin. If your bump has a white-tipped centre, it contains pus (along with sebum and cell debris) - then it is identified as a pustule. This ‘white-tipped’ centre can also look cream-coloured or yellow. Pus is nothing but a natural product of the immune system. The two pimples are closely linked to each other - papules and pustules are caused by a build-up of bacteria and oil inside our pores. When this clogging of pores leads to the inflammation of a follicle, a papule surfaces. Our immune system, then, sends white blood cells to ward off the infection, and when these cells die within the papule, a pustule is formed. In other words, a papule might progress into a pustule. Don’t confuse a pustule for a whitehead though. The former is usually larger than the latter - they can range from small to large - and a whitehead is a non-inflammatory condition that’s caused by a plugged follicle. It doesn’t contain pus like a pustule.


05. How do you get rid of pustules?


According to Dr. Sharma, you must wear loose-fitting clothes, avoid scrubbing the skin harshly, wash your scalp thoroughly, moisturise your skin, and steer clear of oils or mousses for the hair (if you’re particularly prone to developing the condition) to prevent pustules - or to prevent intensifying them. If your skin is oily, don’t use skincare products containing oils - they can clog your pores, and lead to the formation of pustules.

Change your pillowcase every now and then. Our pillows hold onto dirt, bacteria, and oils from the environment, skin, and hair, and these conditions lead to acne. You can try diluting an essential oil with anti-inflammatory properties like rosemary oil or tea tree oil (with water or a carrier oil) to settle the inflammation, and reduce the pain. Ice the pimple once in a while - just wrap a cube of ice in a handkerchief, and set it on the inflammation for about three or four minutes.

Smaller pustules can heal on their own, but there are a few treatments that speed up the process. You must ensure that skin around the inflammation is free of oils. Just clean the area with some lukewarm water and a mild soap or cleanser to rid the pustule of any oil buildup. Even over-the-counter creams, ointments, and soaps containing salicylic acid, sulphur, and peroxide help. You can purchase makeup products that contain salicylic acid as well - this is a common ingredient that prevents and treats acne. Do not try to squeeze or pop the pustule at all. It can worsen the condition, and drive the contents deeper into the pore. It might also leave scars behind.





1) How long does it take for a pustule to go away?

It’s normal for pustules to last for a few weeks, and disappear on their own. If you notice that the pimple persists even after six to eight weeks, it’s time to consult a dermatologist - if you haven’t already.

2) Why am I getting pus-filled pimples on my face?

What you’re seeing on your skin is possibly a pustule. A pustule is a type of pimple filled with pus. It emerges when the walls of a pore break down. This, then, leads to the development of a papule - a reddish blemish on the skin. WBCs are sent to the site to ward off the infection, and when they die with the papule, they form pus. This is called a pustule. There are a lot of factors that trigger pustules: acne, environmental allergens, allergic reactions, folliculitis, pustular psoriasis, rosacea, ezcema, and chickenpox, boils, cold sores, and yeast infections, menopause, pregnancy, puberty, and poisonous insect bites to name a few. If you suspect that acne has caused a pustule, you must look into your family history - since acne has a genetic component.
However, don’t self-diagnose the condition. Even cystic acne bears a resemblance to pustules. Always consult a dermatologist, and follow the treatment-plan they prescribe to you.

3) Why do I keep getting pustules?

It’s possible that the affected pore might’ve been damaged - and is now vulnerable to re-infection. If you’re picking at the pimple, you’re inadvertently lodging the clogged oil deeper into the skin, and triggering another inflammatory reaction. And if you’re touching your skin too much, you’re transferring bacteria and oil to it, and this intensifies the pimple. Apart from the causes listed above, it’s possible that you’re using the wrong skincare products. If you have dry skin, and you’re using products that are meant for oily skin, you’re not cleansing your skin properly. This leads to pimples. There are products formulated for acne-prone skin. You can try using them, but consult your dermatologist before making the switch.  


Urvi Shah

Written by

A professional writer by day, and a poet by night, I'm a journalism graduate with experience in the news, travel, and food sectors. A frantic compiler of excerpts from books I've read, you can count on me to incorporate quotes and phrases into everyday conversations without a warning. On days I'm not working, I station myself in front of my laptop, and try to work my way through month-old drafts of my writings.


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