What Causes Pimples in the Ear and What's the Best Way to Get Rid of Them?

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The best way to prevent getting a zit in your ear canal is to clean your ears regularly.
Image Credit: Jennifer Friel Moore/Moment/GettyImages

A zit on your face is mildly annoying. But getting a pimple in your ear can be both distracting and downright painful. Popping and picking aren't recommended, but there are other ways to manage the blemish and ease your discomfort.

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Here's the safe, expert-recommended advice for getting rid of a pimple in your ear, plus how to keep those pesky pustules from coming back.

What Causes Pimples in the Ear?

Pimples inside the ear are just like pimples that form on your face. "They occur for similar reasons as one would experience acne in other locations, such as increase oil production, clogged pores, bacteria or inflammation," explains Marisa Garshick, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell-New York Presbyterian Medical Center.

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Sometimes an ear zit can just show up out of nowhere, just like the occasional blemish on your nose or chin. But certain factors can also make ear pimples more likely to develop:

  • Frequently using earbuds or headphones can cause clogged pores and pimples in the ear, especially if the devices aren't cleaned regularly, Dr. Garshick says.
  • "Not cleaning your cell phone regularly can also transfer bacteria, which may contribute to breakouts," she adds.
  • Heavy earwax buildup can play a part too, because the gunk can also lead to oil buildup and pore blockages.

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How to Get Rid of a Pimple in Your Ear

If you came here looking for instructions on how to pop a pimple in your ear, you won't find them. (Sorry!) Tempting though it might be, popping pimples is always a no-no. "It can contribute to inflammation and scarring and increase the chance of infection," Dr. Garshick warns.

You can still encourage the pimple to clear faster and make your ear more comfortable, though.

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  • Apply a spot-treatment gel with benzoyl peroxide​, such as Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Gel ($7.47, Amazon.com), to kill off bacteria in the pimple and reduce redness, recommends the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
  • Warm compresses​ applied for 10 to 15 minutes at a time can speed up the healing process even more and ease the pain, the AAD adds.
  • Keep earbuds out of your ears​, too. "If the breakout is painful, avoiding headphones will minimize friction in the area," Dr. Garshick says.

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As for those tips about putting toothpaste in your ear for a pimple? Don't do it. "It can be drying and irritating," Dr. Garshick says. Plus, some toothpastes contain ingredients that can actually clog pores and make your breakout problem worse, the AAD notes.

Can You Prevent Pimples In Your Ear?

Cleaning your ears regularly and avoiding introducing dirt and grime from the outside are your best bets for keeping pimples at bay.

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"It can be helpful to use similar products as you would use for traditional acne, including benzoyl peroxide such as CeraVe Acne Foaming Cleanser ($16.49, CVS.com) or salicylic acid such as St. Ives Acne Control Cleanser ($5.99, Target.com)," Dr. Garshick recommends.

Make an effort to keep objects that go in or near your ear clean too. Give your earbuds or headphones a regular wipe-down and get into the habit of disinfecting your cell phone. (In addition to staving off breakouts, it just might help you avoid getting sick.)

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If you suspect heavy earwax buildup is the culprit, clearing out those ear canals can also help. But see your doctor instead of using DIY methods like digging out the wax with a cotton swab, recommends the Mayo Clinic. (Doing so can actually push wax further into your ear.) Your provider can safely remove the wax with a suction bulb or a curet and help you decide whether you should use earwax-removal medication at home.

When to See a Doctor

While ear pimples can be uncomfortable, they're not usually cause for concern. However, you should see your doctor or dermatologist if you have a pimple-like bump that's tender, itchy, bleeds easily or doesn't seem to be going away on its own, Dr. Garshick says. "There are other red bumps that can occur in the ear that may resemble pimples, but actually be a precancerous or cancerous skin lesion," she explains.

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Seek medical attention, too, for ear pimples that are accompanied by a fever, drainage or increasing pain, Dr. Garshick says. These could be signs that the blemish has become infected and needs antibiotics.

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references

Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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