Why Pimples Form in the Ear—And How to Get Rid of Them

Pimples in the ear form the same as most acne spots. Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when hair follicles (pores) become clogged with dead skin cells and sebum (oil). When pores become clogged, bacteria form on the skin, which can lead to an outbreak of lesions, or pimples.12

The pimples typically appear as white or yellow pus-filled bumps, sometimes with a red base. Blackheads, also known as comedones, are also common in the ear.21

While pimples commonly occur on the face, they can also occur on the back, chest, shoulders, and other parts of the body, including the ear.1 Like other acne on the body or face, a pimple in the ear can usually be treated at home using a variety of home remedies and treatments.3

What Causes a Pimple in the Ear?
The bacteria Cutibacterium acnes or C. acnes (formerly called Propionibacterium acnes or P. acnes) is a natural part of the human skin, external ear canal, oral cavity, and intestinal tract. The presence of this bacteria makes it possible for a pimple to form in your ear canal or ear cartilage (the outermost portion of the ear).425

A pimple in the ear can appear as a raised white or yellow bump that may have a red base.1 A build-up of sebum and dead skin cells in the ear canal or cartilage can cause C. acnes bacteria to multiply, creating an inflammatory response that causes a pimple or outbreak of pimples to form in the ear.2
Can You Pop a Pimple in the Ear?
While it might be tempting to pop a pimple in the ear yourself, it's best to avoid doing so as the inside of your ear is delicate.6 Popping a pimple in your ear (or anywhere else on your body) can increase the risk of scarring, risk of infection, and cause pain, injury, or more noticeable acne in the ear.3
If you have tried at-home treatments with little to no success, visit a healthcare provider such as a dermatologist (a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of skin, hair, and nail conditions) to discuss your treatment options.7 If needed, the provider can safely pop the pimple using the proper technique and sterile tools.3

Treatments for a Pimple in the Ear
Treatment options for a pimple in the ear include home remedies, topical treatments (over-the-counter treatments applied directly to the skin), and prescription medications.3 Try to avoid touching the pimple as this can worsen the pimple, cause more acne, or prolong healing.8

Some treatment options include:8910

Wash your skin and ears regularly. Keep the skin around the pimple clean and dry to avoid irritating or worsening the pimple and to promote healing.
Ice the surrounding area. If you are experiencing pain in the area of the pimple, apply ice to provide relief and reduce inflammation.
Apply an over-the-counter acne spot treatment: Topical products like benzoyl peroxide (Benzoyl) or salicylic acid spot treatments can help reduce bacteria and decrease the production of sebum. These treatments often clear or improve the pimple in days, but they may take up to four to six weeks to work.
Visit a dermatologist or medical professional: If home remedies and over-the-counter treatments aren't working, a healthcare provider can discuss other options, such as a topical or oral antibiotic. They may also perform an extraction of the pimple.
Use a prescription retinoid: These topical treatments, such as high-concentration adapalene (Differin), are derived from vitamin A. They reduce inflammation and speed skin turnover to help heal the skin. Retinoids may be used alone or in combination with benzoyl peroxide and topical or oral antibiotics.
When using topical treatments, take care to only apply a small amount of medication to the ear area, as the skin inside the ear is sensitive and delicate.6

How To Prevent Pimples in the Ear
Implementing a few simple steps to care for your ears can help prevent pimples from forming. Avoid touching and picking your ear. Make sure to cleanse your face and wash your hair frequently to prevent the build-up of dead skin cells and sebum that cause acne-causing bacteria to form.8

Another part of ear hygiene is removing excess earwax. While it's good to clean your ears regularly, earwax is a natural substance that is beneficial to the ears, preventing infection and outside objects from entering the ear. However, a build-up of earwax may irritate the ear.11

If you have a build-up of earwax, you can clean your ears safely by using a soft washcloth or facial tissue to remove wax that has softened and come out of the ear (such as after a shower). You can also use olive oil or over-the-counter ear drops and sprays to soften hardened earwax, which will allow it to come out of the ear more easily. Avoid using cotton tips (such as Q-tips) to clean the ear, as research shows this method can cause injury to the ear.111213
Similar Conditions
There are a number of other conditions that can look similar to a pimple in the ear. These include:12141516

Epidermoid cysts: This common, non-harmful skin disease is caused by inflammation of hair follicles and a rapid increase in epidermal cells (cells of the outermost layer of skin) within the middle to deepest layer of skin. An epidermoid cyst is a slow-growing, round mass that can either remain small for years or grow to a larger mass.
Folliculitis: In this common and generally benign skin condition, the hair follicle becomes infected. The infected hair follicle then becomes inflamed and can form either pustules (small lesions filled with pus) or papules (raised red bumps). Both are similar in appearance to a pimple.
Ear infection (Swimmer's ear): Swimmer's ear is a type of non-contagious, bacterial ear infection that causes symptoms such as redness, swelling, itchiness, and drainage from the ear. It is typically caused by water that gets into the outer ear canal and remains there for a long period, which provides a moist environment for bacteria to grow.
When To See a Healthcare Provider
You can typically treat a pimple in the ear using over-the-counter treatments or home remedies, but if you do not see improvement, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. They can ensure the pimple hasn't become infected, discuss other treatment options, and rule out similar conditions.3

You should also seek medical care if there is persistent pain in the ear, if you experience fever or hearing loss, or if you experience other symptoms of an ear infection (such as pus or discharge).17

Some people may also experience side effects from topical medications, such as skin irritation, redness, or burning. If these occur, promptly see a medical provider or dermatologist.10