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Ear pimples: What you need to know

They can be uncomfortable and annoying to deal with! Luckily, there are steps you can take to help prevent and treat them.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Melissa Hunter, NP-C
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Melissa Hunter, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

No one likes an unwelcome pimple—and the ones that show up in unexpected places can be especially frustrating. Pimples in your ear, in particular, can be painful and annoying, making you wonder what you can even do about them. While most ear pimples are harmless and can be treated at home, they can sometimes lead to infections or other complications if left untreated.

Rest assured, there are a number of ways to treat and prevent ear pimples, from gentle cleansing to topical remedies. Here’s what you need to know to tackle this tricky issue.

What causes ear pimples? 

Just like the skin on the rest of your body, the skin on your ear contains pores that can become clogged with body oils, sweat, and dead skin cells. This can lead to the development of acne in your ear. 

Research shows that some of the main causes of acne development include:¹ 

  • Use of certain medications, such as lithium, steroids, and anticonvulsants. 

  • Wearing occlusive clothing or gear such as headbands, or earphones. 

  • Excessive sun exposure. 

  • Endocrine disorders, like polycystic ovarian syndrome.

  • Genetic factors which influence the composition of sebum in your skin. 

Acne may further be aggravated by additional factors, such as consuming food with a high glycemic index (like dairy products, junk food, and chocolates), or by high levels of stress and anxiety.²

Treatments: What to do if you have a pimple in your ear 

Many people make the mistake of believing that they need to clean their ears more frequently to prevent acne in their ears, but this usually isn't the case. Your body naturally cleans your ears and expels old earwax through your jaw movements and natural migration from inside to outside.³ 

So put down the cotton swab! Instead, you can treat the pimples in your ears by using medication, trying home remedies, and seeking help from a medical provider. 

Topical acne medications

Topical creams and medications that contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are proven to help treat your acne. They may also be used on your ear, as long as you’re careful not to push any product into your ear canal.

Benzoyl peroxide for acne

Benzoyl peroxide is a topical medication that is commonly used to treat acne. It works by reducing inflammation and unclogging pores, which can help to prevent new acne breakouts and improve existing ones. Benzoyl peroxide is FDA-approved for the treatment of acne vulgaris.⁴ If you're struggling with blackheads on the outside of your ear, introducing a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide into your skincare routine might be helpful. 

As Elise Griffin, PA-C suggests: “It might be helpful to use a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide, such as Curology’s Acne Cleanser. You can gently massage it around the ear, being careful not to push the cleanser into the canal. Rinse well with warm water. As always, reach out to your dermatology provider to see if this might be right for you!”

Salicylic acid for acne

Salicylic acid is a type of beta-hydroxy acid that is commonly used to treat acne. It works by decreasing skin lipids (sebum) and having an anti-inflammatory effect.⁵ Research shows that using salicylic acid at concentrations of 0.5% and 2% can effectively treat acne.⁶

Aside from using these topical medications, you can also try home remedies that are backed by science.

Home remedies

You should never treat clogged pores within your ear canal by yourself, and in such cases, it's best to see a healthcare professional for treatment. However, if you have blackheads on the outside of your ear, there are several ways to help treat them:

  • Clean your earbuds often with an alcohol wipe.

  • Use an acne-fighting cleanser with benzoyl peroxide and gently massage it around your ear. Make sure to avoid pushing the cleanser into your ear canal.

  • Wipe gently with a Stridex 2% salicylic acid pad once a day or less often if you experience dryness or irritation.

  • If the lesion is on your earlobe, it may be helpful to apply a personalized formula, such as the Curology Custom Formula to the affected area with a Q-tip up to once every night, as long as your skin is not dry or irritated. Before doing this, reach out to your dermatology provider for specific advice. Do not try to treat clogged pores or pimples in the ear canal.

Blackheads are typically easier to treat than other forms of acne. For other forms of acne, you may want to try other remedies. Research shows that using jojoba oil can help clear your acne when used correctly.⁷ Tea tree oil also significantly improved mild to moderate acne and was tolerated well by patients.⁸

It’s vital to avoid getting anything into your ear canal when using these home remedies.

Consult a healthcare provider

You should consult a healthcare provider if you have a large or painful pimple in your ear or if you experience any complications such as hearing loss, fever, or ear discharge.

A healthcare provider can assess the pimple and determine the appropriate treatment, which may include prescription medications or other interventions. Trying to treat the pimple on your own may increase your risk of infection and other complications. Never pop or squeeze a pimple in your ear! Doing this can push the contents of the acne deeper inside your skin, and lead to scarring, inflammation, and even more severe acne. It's always better to be cautious and seek medical advice if you have any concerns or questions about a pimple in your ear.

Tips for preventing ear pimples in the future 

To prevent pimples from recurring in the outer ear, it's important to adopt good hygiene habits. This includes keeping the outer ear clean and dry, avoiding tight-fitting accessories, and sanitizing devices used in and around the ear. Maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding the use of harsh chemicals may help as well.

In addition to these measures, using a gentle and effective cleanser may also help to prevent pimples from forming. Curology offers a range of products that can be helpful in preventing acne breakouts, including Acne Cleanser and Acne Body Wash. These products are specially formulated to target acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation, helping to keep skin clear and healthy.

The Acne Cleanser is a medicated cleanser that contains benzoyl peroxide, a powerful acne-fighting ingredient that helps to kill bacteria and prevent new acne breakouts from forming. It can be used daily to cleanse the face and neck, as well as the outer ear.

The Acne Body Wash is a gentle yet effective body wash that contains salicylic acid, which helps to unclog pores and prevent acne breakouts on the body. It can be used in the shower or bath to cleanse the skin and prevent acne breakouts on the back, chest, and other areas of the body.

Incorporating these products into your daily routine, along with good hygiene habits, can help to keep your skin clear and prevent pimples from recurring. As always, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions about treating acne.

Start your journey towards clear and radiant skin

Curology offers a personalized approach to treating pimples. By completing a simple online questionnaire, sharing your medical history, and submitting photos of your skin, Curology's team of licensed dermatology providers creates a customized treatment plan that's tailored to your unique needs. 

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Why are ear pimples so painful?

Ear pimples may be more painful than pimples in other areas of the body due to the tightness of the skin in the ear. In general, tight skin tends to be more sensitive and may experience more discomfort or pain compared to loose skin. This is because tight skin is stretched and has less flexibility, which can make it more susceptible to sensations and pressure. On the other hand, loose skin is generally more elastic and has more give, allowing it to accommodate movements and changes in the body more comfortably. Loose skin may be less sensitive to certain sensations and may provide a cushioning effect, reducing the likelihood of pain or discomfort.

It's important to note that  your individual experiences with pain and sensitivity will vary. Factors such as your personal sensitivity thresholds, underlying conditions, and the specific context of the pain can also influence the level of discomfort you feel.

Is it normal to have a pimple in your ear?

Pimples in the ear can be relatively common and can occur due to various lifestyle factors such as wearing earbuds which may have bacteria on them and can cause occlusion/friction on the skin. This may contribute to clogged pores and potentially lead to breakouts.

How long do inner ear pimples last?

In most cases, ear pimples will heal on their own without the need for treatment. However, if the pimple persists for an extended period, it's important to consult a healthcare provider for examination and treatment.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Sutaria, A.H., et al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. (2023, February 16). 

  2. Sutaria, A.H., et al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. Ibid. 

  3. Hobson, J.C. and Lavy, J.A. Use and abuse of cotton buds. J R Soc Med. (August 2005).

  4. Matin, T. and Goodman, M.B. Benzoyl Peroxide. StatPearls. (2022, October 10).

  5. Lu, J., et al. Salicylic acid treats acne vulgaris by suppressing AMPK/SREBP1 pathway in sebocytes. Exp Dermatol. (July 2019).

  6. Zander, E. and Wiesman, S. Treatment of acne vulgaris with salicylic acid pads. Clin Ther. (March-April 1992). 

  7. Gad, H.A., et al. Jojoba Oil: An Updated Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Pharmaceutical Uses, and Toxicity. Polymers (Basel). (2021, May 24).

  8. Malhi, H.K., et al. Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open-label phase II pilot study. Australas J Dermatol. (August 2017).

Melissa Hunter is a board certified family nurse practitioner at Curology. She received her MSN from George Washington University in Washington, DC.

*Subject to consultation. Subscription required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Melissa Hunter

Melissa Hunter, NP-C

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