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What Are the Common Causes of Black Pus?

By N. Swensson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Substances in the body that look like black pus can be caused by a variety of things, ranging from very minor to serious problems requiring medical attention. A type of acne called a blackhead occurs under the surface of the skin and looks like a small black dot; the color comes from bacteria and dirt that are trapped in the clogged pore. Some body infections can also produce pus that looks black due to the presence of dried blood in the wound. Another possible cause of black looking pus is a serious skin infection that can cause the skin and tissue to break down, which is a serious issue requiring medical attention. In any case, anyone who is concerned about the presence of black pus should consult with a medical professional for evaluation.

Blackheads look like small black dots on the surface of the skin, appearing most often in oily areas like the nose and chin. When squeezed, they produce hard black pus that is caused by an infection in the pore mixed with dirt and bacteria. Although blackheads are not medically concerning, people who are bothered by them can often minimize their appearance by using exfoliating treatments on the skin. Dermatologists can also remove the pus and treat the skin to help prevent new blackheads from forming.

Pus in an abscess or other type of skin infection is created by the immune system’s response to the invading bacteria. When black pus appears in an abscess, which is an infection underneath the surface of the skin, it can be caused by blood mixing with the pus. Abscesses can be caused by a number of things, including a large pimple or boil or an infection in the teeth or gums or in the tonsils or throat. In most cases, it is better to see a doctor to treat the abscess instead of trying to remove it at home. Often, home treatment can damage the surrounding skin or spread the infection to other parts of the body.

One of the most serious causes of black pus is a skin infection caused by a form of streptococcus bacteria. The infection spreads quickly and causes the surrounding skin and underlying tissue to break down and die, at which point it turns black. The dark colored tissue is sometimes accompanied by a drainage that is described as black pus and is often accompanied by a foul smell. People who have this type of wound should see a doctor as soon as possible because it can cause permanent damage and cannot be treated at home.

What is Healthy Pus vs. Unhealthy Pus?

Healthy pus is usually white, opaque, or a light yellowish green. Usually, healthy pus will not have an odor. Pus can be a few different colors, each meaning something different. In general, the presence of pus means the body is fighting an infection. It is a natural byproduct. Although some pus is not necessarily a cause for concern, any sign of pus could indicate an infection somewhere in the body. 

Black pus could mean that one’s body is expelling dirt and bacteria. However, one should pay attention to the color of the pus to ensure it’s nothing serious. The different colors of pus should be noted to understand what could be the true cause.

A build-up of dark pus, brown or black, means there may be signs of a liver infection. Green pus may be a sign of a pseudomonas bacterial infection and will also be associated with a foul odor. Yellow pus is usually a sign of a staph infection or strep inside the throat. Black or reddish pus can also mean blood has seeped into the infected area. 

How Can I Prevent Black Pus? 

After knowing what causes black pus to form in pimples, blackheads, and other skin infections, one may be able to take steps to prevent black pus from forming in the first place. However, it is critical to note that, as previously mentioned, some causes of black pus are due to severe medical conditions that may be difficult or impossible to prevent without medical help. 

A consistent skincare routine can prevent the buildup of dirt in pores or wounds. There are many different skin cleansers for a variety of skin types. By talking to a doctor, a person can find out their exact skin type and what cleanser would work best for their skin type. 

There are skin cleansers that work well for many skin types. Basic cleansers can be bought over-the-counter and are usually recommended to be used twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed. 

A moisturizer can also help rebuild the skin’s protective barrier, which makes it harder for dirt and oil to nest in one’s skin. Dermatologists recommend moisturizers with ingredients that will not clog pores or cause other skin issues. 

After surgeries or other wounds, one can prevent black pus by sticking to the cleaning routine recommended by their doctor. Cleaning the wound and changing the bandage when advised to do so can help mitigate the risk of infections. Keep the wound covered and out of contact with others to prevent the risk of further infection. 

When Should I Talk to a Doctor? 

If there is an abundance of pus in any location on the body, it is best to talk to a doctor immediately to understand what is causing it. By talking to a doctor, one can also learn the treatment options that work best for them. If the pus is associated with acne, talking to a dermatologist can ensure one is getting the right treatment. Over-the-counter cleansers and creams may not be enough depending on the cause of the pus.

Only a doctor can determine the true cause of the pus. Determining the cause is important because treating black pus, along with any color of pus, comes down to treating the cause of it. 

A doctor will be able to prescribe the right antibiotic or medication to fight the infection causing the pus once they determine exactly where the pus originates from. If the buildup of pus comes from acne, a doctor can prescribe topical and oral medications specific to the patient’s skin type. 

If the source of the pus has not improved in 2-weeks, there is pain or redness surrounding the wound or abscess, or there is an excessive amount of pus, one should notify their doctor.

Lastly, A person should notify their doctor immediately if they are experiencing fever, chills, or nausea, alongside the presence of pus, especially if they have just had surgery or a major wound. These symptoms could be the signs of major infection and require immediate medical attention. After surgery, always keep an eye out for signs of external or internal infections.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Dec 02, 2013

@fBoyle-- I know what you mean. I experienced that after my partial hysterectomy. There was discharge or pus that looked dark brown. I thought that it was an infection, but it turned out to be cervical mucus and old blood. I'm glad I checked with my doctor though, because it could have been an infection as well.

By fBoyle — On Dec 01, 2013

Most pus is not black, it just appears that way. As the article said, if pus or a wound truly is black, that's a reason for worry because it means that there is necrosis, or tissue death. This is very, very serious.

Usually pus looks brown or black because of old blood. Blood turns from a red color to dark brown as it waits. So if blood is exiting the body after waiting for a few days, it can look brown or black. That's not necessarily a sign for worry, but it does show that there was bleeding somewhere. For most wounds that bled, this is normal though.

By SteamLouis — On Dec 01, 2013

I've never thought of blackheads as pus before. Blackheads are more like oil and dirt plugs that settle in pores. I think pus is more fluid and contains more than oil and dirt. Pus also contains bacteria and white blood cells that fight bacteria. I don't think either of those exist in a blackhead.

A blackhead could develop into a pimple though which eventually fills with pus.

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