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Infected Pimple: The Complete Guide to Treating Infected Pimples

Oh, the dreaded pimple. Whether caused by genetics, skincare, unwashed pillowcases, or another of the endless possibilities, pimples are a fact of life that so many of us experience. If you have ever experienced an infected pimple, you know they are much worse than regular pimples, but what is an infected zit exactly?

Lower half of a woman's face with minor acne blemishes

What Is an Infected Pimple?

An infected pimple is a pimple that has been infected with bacteria, most commonly caused by a popped pimple. Once the pimple is open, it is susceptible to bacteria which can lead to infection. To be direct, infected pimples are a bacterial infection of the hair follicle or pore.

Who Might Get an Infected Pimple?

Anyone can get an infected pimple, but those who are more susceptible include people with acne, rosacea, and allergies. Those who pop their pimples are also more likely to get an infected pimple, as are those who do not keep their skin clean.

How Common Are Infected Pimples?

Infected pimples are a relatively rare occurrence, and though they can affect people of all ages and skin types, they are more common in teenagers and young adults. While anyone can get an infected pimple, people who pop their pimples make up a large percentage of those diagnosed with an infection.

What Causes Infected Pimples?

Pimples can develop when you have congested (or clogged) pores which are commonly caused by dead skin cells and excess oil. When these get trapped under the outer protective layer of skin, a regular pimple occurs. Once the pimple is popped, it is very simple to transfer bacteria from any number of surfaces into the open wound.

Popping and Prodding

focused woman popping a pimple in mirror

This transfer of bacteria can happen the moment you pop the pimple. Whether from your fingers, the tools you are using, or something used to wipe the skin afterward, it is possible to introduce harmful bacteria that can lead to infection immediately.

Bacterial Infections

Many different kinds of bacteria can lead to infection, including Staphylococcus aureus, better known as a staph infection, and Cutibacterium (formerly propionibacterium) acnes, according to the National Library of Medicine. Both of these bacteria are commonly found on the skin. When a pore gets clogged, and the bacteria multiply, you will experience infected acne.

Cystic Acne

An infected zit trapping oil, dead skin cells, or bacteria can cause an acne cyst. Cystic acne is acne in the middle layer of the skin. This is a type of infected acne and is characterized by a lump that is painful or tender to the touch.

What Are the Symptoms of an Infected Pimple?

Much like cystic acne, infected pimples can be tender. Often warm to the touch and larger due to the swelling, these skin infections are often painful and can last for several months if severe. Other symptoms include:

  • Fever or fatigue
  • Bleeding or oozing from the pimple (visible pus)
  • Excessive pain

How Are Infected Pimples Diagnosed?

You will need to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist to be diagnosed. If you have an infected lump on your skin and are unsure what it is, it is highly recommended to get the affected area medically reviewed.

How Can I Treat Infected Pimples?

There are many ways that you can treat infected acne at home. Most of the suggested tips below are also a great way to prevent future breakouts, which we will cover in the next section. Be sure to implement these steps to treat an infected pimple.

Many of these methods will help treat acne vulgaris (zits, pimples, or spots). Moderate to severe acne is more likely to result in oral treatment with antibiotics.

Clean the Area

happy man using cotton pad on face

Many different acne cleansers on the market would work great, though a gentle cleaner is recommended. Make sure all materials used, including your hands, are thoroughly cleaned beforehand, and be sure not to touch the wound after it is cleaned. This is important to encourage healing and prevent the spread of the infection.

Place a Warm Compress on the Pimple

A great way to take down the swelling is to apply a warm compress to infected zits. With warm water, wet a washcloth or disposable paper towel and apply to infected acne for about 10 minutes at a time. You want to do this multiple times a day and immediately follow up with a topical treatment.

Use Topical Treatments

There are many different OTC topical treatments on the market. Some of the better-known ingredients are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Both are great spot treatments for mild to severe acne though according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, benzoyl peroxide is better for pus-filled pimples, while Salicylic acid is better for blackheads and preventing acne-causing bacteria.

Another potential way to treat infected pimples is tea tree oil. While there is more research needed, it appears to be a great natural remedy to help with acne as it is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. Here is a great resource to learn more.

Avoid a Build-up of Sweat

Whether from a hard session at the gym or a hot sunny day, sweat creates the perfect breeding ground for staphylococcus aureus, or staph bacteria and numerous others to create a swollen pimple. Of course, everyone sweats, but it is essential to shower as soon as possible afterward.

Avoid Tight Clothes That Don’t Have Proper Ventilation

Your skin is your largest organ and it needs to breathe. Tight clothes can cause skin cells to clog hair follicles and result in a pimple. They can also trap sweat and cause a breakout or skin infection.

Try switching to more breathable materials if you find yourself with body acne. Cotton is a great option.

Do Not Use Makeup

Makeup could also be clogging your pores. Being critical of what you are applying is essential to having clear skin. There is a specific type of acne, known as acne cosmetica, that is caused by wearing makeup.

The American Academy of Dermatology has a great article on managing and clearing acne while wearing makeup. Symptoms can take up to 6 months to appear, which makes this kind of acne difficult to identify. Be sure to check it out if you think this might be your problem.

How Do You Prevent Infected Pimples?

Developing a routine with healthy skin care habits is important to prevent further infection. While there is no one size fits all skincare solution, there are some practices that everyone can benefit from.


Exfoliating dead skin cells as part of your regular skincare routine can not only help prevent infected pimples but even limit mild acne breakouts. Be sure not to over-exfoliate, as this can cause your sebaceous glands (oil glands) to overproduce due to lack of hydration.

Practicing Good Hygiene

Good facial hygiene is important for preventing infected pimples. This includes washing your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser, using a moisturizer if needed, and avoiding touching your face.

Resisting the Urge to Pop Zits

Dermatologists warn against popping pimples. Popping pimples can push the bacteria deeper into the skin, leading to a more serious infection. It can also cause permanent scarring, which can lead to poor self-image, depression, and anxiety.

In addition, popping pimples can lead to other complications such as rosacea, a boil, eczema, and cystic acne, so it is best to avoid popping pimples altogether.

Drink More Water

Two joyful women drinking from water bottles outside

Adequate water intake can keep the toxins and bacteria on your skin at bay, thus reducing your likelihood of a clogged pore. Though the research is limited, studies show that water intake can help skin health in many different ways.

To keep your skin healthy, hydrated, and happy, be sure to drink enough water.

What Can I Expect If I Have an Infected Pimple?

Redness and swelling at the least, though most people experience more severe symptoms such as moderate to severe pain, oozing pus, and even a fever. The infection could last from 1 week to 6 months, depending on the severity.

When Should I See My Healthcare Provider About Infected Pimples?

One hand passing an Rx prescription to another

If you believe you have a severely infected pimple, or if at-home treatments do not work, you should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to receive a diagnosis and treatment.

What Are the Complications of an Infected Pimple?

Many skin conditions could irritate and lead to infected acne, such as rosacea, a boil, or Eczema.


Rosacea is a skin condition that is characterized by redness, flushing, and pimples and is caused by bacteria, and can be infected just like any other pimple. Symptoms include a flushed face, spider veins, bumps or pimples, and dry or irritated skin. The best treatment for rosacea is antibiotics, moisturizers, and laser therapy.

A Boil

A boil is a pus-filled lesion that develops under the skin, usually caused by a bacterial infection. Boils are most common on the face, neck, armpits, and buttocks. Symptoms of a boil include swelling, redness, pain, and pus.

Boils are easily treated with antibiotics and drainage. If the infection is severe, consult with your doctor to see if surgery is required.


Eczema is a skin condition that causes the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked, and inflamed. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can flare up at any time. There is no one cause of eczema, but many things that can cause a flare-up include stress, allergies, sweating, contact with irritants such as soap or detergent, extreme temperatures, and infection.

Is My Pimple Infected?

If you are experiencing the symptoms mentioned in this article, you should schedule an appointment with a medical professional to find out.

What Does an Infected Pimple Look Like?

Red swollen Infected Pimple

Infected pimples will be more red and swollen than an average pimple.

Infected Pimple FAQ

What Home Remedies Can I Use to Treat an Infected Pimple?

Clean the area with a gentle cleanser, apply a warm compress for 10 minutes, then choose your topical. Science says the best option is Benzoyl peroxide.

How Long Does It Take for an Infected Pimple to Go Away?

While it depends on the severity, most are gone within 1-2 weeks.

Should You Squeeze Out Puss From a Pimple?

No, you should not! This is likely to make it worse and potentially make the infection worse.

Does Ice Help With Infected Pimples?

Yes, applying ice can help reduce pain and inflammation.

Since an infected pimple is a skin infection, even with proper care, it can take anywhere from 1 week to several months to fully heal, though a few weeks is most common. It is important to implement the prevention steps mentioned in this article to avoid future infection.For all your questions on skincare, haircare, and more, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

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