When you hear the word “acne,” you probably picture shiny red pimples with raised white heads or clogged pores. And that makes sense—because that’s what we can see. But what about “blind pimples”?
The term “blind pimple” refers to under-the-skin acne that doesn’t develop a red or white head. Cystic acne, which may include “blind pimples” is often more painful than surface blemishes like whiteheads or blackheads. But what causes cystic acne? And how are we supposed to treat pimples when we can’t even see them?
This quick guide will show you the causes of blind pimples, preventative measures, and treatments for cystic acne.
“Blind pimples” (not an official medical term!) are pimples that are formed beneath the surface of the skin.¹ They’re called blind pimples because we can feel them more than we can see them. They can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. They may feel hard to the touch, there may be swelling, and the skin may look and feel tight, red, and irritated. They might also feel painful.
Some serious bacterial infections (like MRSA) can present with symptoms similar to blind pimples.² It’s best to consult with a licensed dermatology provider to make sure that something else isn’t causing what appears to be cystic acne.
Blind pimples generally have the same causes as surface acne. Here are a few of the more common reasons they might develop.
Your skin produces a naturally oily substance called sebum. Sometimes excess sebum gets trapped in pores, along with dead skin cells and bacteria (C. acnes), leading to an inflammatory response. Additionally, some skincare and makeup products contain pore-clogging ingredients (comedogenic ingredients), which can cause or exacerbate acne.
Your body goes through many changes throughout your life, and hormones can contribute to acne during these times. A common symptom is a spike in sebum production, leading to oily skin. Puberty, menopause, pregnancy, and menstrual cycles can cause hormonal fluctuations.
Some medications, including hormonal contraceptives and some corticosteroids (such as prednisone), can cause cystic acne and other blemishes to develop.³ Potential side effects of any medication should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
Ask people who have experienced acne breakouts right before an important test or a big job interview—stress can contribute to breakouts.⁴
If you experience chronic or frequent acne, you might be tempted to use an abrasive exfoliating cleanser or a harsh skin-drying astringent to help unclog stubborn pores. But that can further irritate your already-inflamed skin and potentially make your cystic acne worse.⁵ Instead, you may want to try a cleanser like Curology’s Gentle Cleanser. It’s lightly foaming with a gel-texture designed to not strip the skin or clog pores.
Even though it seems like acne under the skin would be harder to manage, treatment options for “blind pimples” are similar to treatments for surface acne. But because they’re so deep, they do tend to take a little more time and patience to heal.
A dermatology provider can help you find a personalized solution for your skin, but here are some general prevention and treatment guidelines that may help.
Use lukewarm water and a gentle, non-comedogenic cleanser regularly, but don’t over-wash. It’s generally recommended to cleanse your face once in the morning and again before bed, and any time after working up a sweat.⁶ Just use your fingers—sponges and washcloths may irritate your skin.
Makeup and skincare products that contain pore-clogging ingredients are called “comedogenic.”⁷ There are lots of known comedogenic ingredients, and many people unknowingly use them every day. Fortunately, researchers have studied and identified many of these ingredients, and there are plenty of non-comedogenic options available today.
Don’t try to squeeze or pop blind pimples (or any acne, for that matter).⁸ It can push the contents of the pimple even deeper into your skin and increase inflammation. Plus, you run the risk of scarring. Use pimple stickers or patches (like our Emergency Spot Patch) that can help keep you from touching it.
Usually, blind pimples will go away with gentle cleansing and avoiding the area (so as to not cause further irritation and swelling). In rare instances, they’re more persistent and painful, which could indicate an infection that may require a more clinical approach to treatment. A licensed dermatology provider can determine if prescription treatment is appropriate for you.
Clinical options include topical treatments and medications (like the personalized prescription formulas at Curology!). Many times an effective treatment includes a combination of medications like antibiotics to fight bacteria, such as clindamycin, and other ingredients including azelaic acid or tretinoin.
Ultimately, your solution to blind pimples and other acne will depend on several factors and can vary from person to person.
When you’re dealing with certain skin concerns, professional help can be a game-changer—and Curology is all about making expert guidance and clinically-proven ingredients more accessible.
Curology was founded in 2014 by a board-certified dermatologist. Since then, we’ve been providing people with personalized solutions to meet their skincare needs. Whether you’re dealing with acne (including blind pimples), rosacea, melasma, hyperpigmentation, or signs of aging, our licensed dermatology providers can help you understand the options for your skin. Simply fill out a questionnaire about your skin and snap some selfies to start your skincare journey.* If Curology is right for you, one of our licensed dermatology providers will prescribe a personalized formula to help you achieve your skincare goals—in addition to answering skincare questions you may have.
Even with treatment and appropriate cleansing, it could take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks for your blind pimples to go away.
Sadly, that is not likely. We can try to speed the process up a little bit, but there’s no such thing as an “overnight miracle cure” for acne.
While it is sometimes possible to get a blind pimple to come to a head, we advise against it. Agitating your acne could irritate your skin and potentially make things worse.
Mellody, K.T., et al. Multifaceted amelioration of cutaneous photoageing by (0.3%) retinol. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. (December 2022).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). (2019, June 26).
Oakley, A., et al. Acne due to a medicine. DermNet. (2014, n.d.).
Jović, A., et al. The Impact of Psychological Stress on Acne. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. (July 2017).
American Academy of Dermatology Association. 10 Skin Care Habits That Can Worsen Acne. (n.d.).
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Tips for Managing. (2022, November 16).
Nguyen, S.H., et al. Comedogenicity in Rabbit: Some Cosmetic Ingredients/Vehicles. Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology. (2007, n.d.).
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Pimple Popping: Why Only a Dermatologist Should Do It. (2022, November 16).
Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.
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Elise Griffin, PA-C