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What is a Pustule?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A pustule is a vesicle filled with pus and located under the surface of the skin. They are probably most commonly associated with acne, a common dermatological condition for teenagers, although they are linked with other medical issues. While one may look unpleasant, it is often benign, as long as it is well cared for. Recurrent pustules, those which grow large, or ones that develop signs of additional infection and inflammation may require the attention of a dermatologist.

Pustules can form inside the layers of the epidermis, or just below it, in the dermis. They are filled with a collection of dead cells that are in the process of breaking down. If one is ruptured, a thick white fluid will ooze out. White blood cells are typically abundant in a pustule, in contrast with normal vesicles that are simply filled with fluid, and no necrotic inflammatory cells.

Many of these lesions will resolve themselves on their own. The dead cells may be reabsorbed and expressed, or the pustule will eventually rupture, allowing the pus to drain. The site will eventually heal, with the skin returning to normal, but if it becomes severely inflamed, it can cause a scar. Scars can also occur when lesions keep occurring in the same spot, or when people pick at them.

Treatment for pustules at home usually involves keeping the area clean by gently washing it with warm water and soap. A dermatologist may also recommend hot compresses to see if they will open the pores in the skin enough to allow the vesicles to drain. For larger or more serious ones, a dermatologist can drain the pus and flush them to reduce the risk of developing an infection. People should try to avoid draining or rupturing them on their own, as this can increase the chances of developing an infection.

Patients should be aware that not all pustules are acne related. Some are associated with certain types of rashes, and a sudden outbreak can be a sign that someone has an underlying disease or condition which merits a trip to see a medical professional. He or she can examine the lesions to determine the cause and make recommendations about treatment. They can also form when there is a foreign body under the skin that the body cannot get rid of, such as a splinter, which leads to inflammation and a subsequent buildup of pus.

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.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon293662 — On Sep 26, 2012

Do not pick at a pustule. When I was younger I had one on my chin and I kept picking at it and eventually it turned into a cyst.

By allyours — On Oct 25, 2010

Thought I had an ingrown hair but I don't know. it's like something sticking out pink. What is it?

By BlueMoon — On Jul 19, 2010

@tridelta, I use different brands of clay masks. After showering I apply the mask to whatever area has pustules or is breaking out and then leave it on over night. By morning the pustules have either gotten smaller or the redness in and around them has reduced.

By TriDelta — On Jul 19, 2010

@litnerd, There are other ways to prevent or treat pustules. A great way is to apply a clay type facial mask or cream to the area that is broken out. This will absorb the moisture in your skin and help to heal the pustules that have formed.

By LitNerd — On Jul 19, 2010

Always be aware that if you attempt to pop or scratch a pustule it can cause the spreading of bacteria leading to the development of even more pustules. By getting in the shower and allowing the steam to open your pores the pustules will heal more quickly.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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