Zits happen, and your earlobe is unfortunately yet another potential location for breakouts. Acne is clever, and it can even show up on — or in — your ears.

But is that ear zit just an earlobe pimple, or is it something else, like an earlobe cyst? (Yep, those exist too.) Knowing the difference can help you treat whatever is happening on your ear and hopefully prevent it from reoccurring.

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Typically, a pimple on your earlobe is just that: a pimple, awkwardly placed. It was probably caused by dead skin, excess oil, bacteria, sweat, or some combination of those.

Your hair and skin produce oil (aka sebum) naturally, even if you’re a regular ear-scrubber. So if a pore on your ear gets clogged — voila, there’s your earlobe pimple.

In addition to oily skin and hair, a few other things can cause an earlobe or ear pimple:

  • Tight hats or headbands. That cute beanie hat or sports gear may be the culprit of the sinister ear pimple because it could trap oils or sweat underneath.
  • Stress. Stress can cause excessive sweating and hormonal changes, which can lead to a pimple on your earlobe — or just about anywhere else.
  • Allergic reactions. Your earlobe pimple may be a result of an allergic reaction to medicine, food, or metals.
  • Age. Surprise, surprise — acne can happen at any age. If your first earlobe pimple doesn’t pop up until you’re past your teenage years, don’t fret. It’s probably just a pimple, and it’s quite normal.
  • Piercing. Whether you just survived a trip to the parlor or you’ve had your earring holes for decades, they can lead to pimples if sebum or bacteria get into the open piercing holes.

The cause of the clogged pore on your earlobe can also determine the type of earlobe pimple you’re dealing with. Several types of pimples can pop up on your earlobe, including:

  • Whiteheads. These are closed blemishes with white or yellow centers.
  • Blackheads. A blackhead is an open pore filled with a dark or black top.
  • Papules. These small, red bumps occur when bacteria wrecks the walls of a pore, allowing a pimple to form deeper inside your skin. They may feel sore when touched or squeezed.
  • Pustules. Eek! This type of small red bump has a pus-filled top and forms from bacteria.
  • Nodules. These are large, firm bumps that feel deep inside the layers of your skin.
  • Cysts. Like nodules, these painful, pus-filled lumps happen when a pore is severely irritated.

Regardless of how that dang pimple got there, you are the master of your own destiny when it comes to ear acne, and you can fight — and win — that battle.

Depending on the severity of your pimple, several treatment options are available.

If you want to do the bare minimum, wash your earlobe with a gentle cleanser and do your best not to touch or pick at the pimple. Some zits go away on their own, but other types of earlobe pimples may need a little help exiting.

Skin care

Over-the-counter skin care products to help zap that ear zit include:

  • Azelaic acid. This acid helps kill bacteria that cause acne.
  • Benzoyl peroxide. Ideal for cysts, benzoyl peroxide can destroy acne-causing bacteria and reduce sebum production by removing top-level skin cells that can block sebum.
  • Sulfur. Sulfur can help clean out pores and kill bacteria by drying out excess oil.
  • Salicylic acid. This gentle exfoliator can unclog pores by dissolving skin cells and decreasing inflammation.

Home remedies

Want to banish that earlobe pimple without chemicals? You may be able to ease acne symptoms by:

  • Using a warm compress. Applying a steamy towel firmly to the affected area may release the buildup sans squeezing.
  • Applying tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is beloved because its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties can do wonders for skin. Just be sure to dilute it before applying.
  • Packing on ice. An ice pack can reduce inflammation and may relieve pain.

Prescription medication and treatment

If home skin care and other remedies just aren’t cutting it, visiting a dermatologist may help. Ear pimple treatments from a derm can include:

  • Antibiotics. These can fight acne-causing bacteria and help reduce inflammation.
  • Retinoids. These medications can help unplug pores by removing older layers of skin.
  • Resorcinol. Often paired with other ingredients, this topical treatment can break down blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Drainage and/or extraction. These in-office procedures — basically zit popping done by a professional — can help remove cysts.
  • Steroid injections. Injecting the problem area can help with a nodule or cyst.

*Really* want to pop that ear pimple? Here’s why you shouldn’t

You may be tempted to star in your own episode of “Dr. Pimple Popper” and go to town on that ear pimple, but there are a few reasons not to try to pop it.

If you press on it, you may push pus or bacteria farther into your skin. Doing so may also increase inflammation, cause an infection, lead to an ear boil, make it more painful or larger, or leave a scar behind.

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Is that earlobe pimple noticeably close to your earring hole? Acne can develop alongside an earring hole or even inside it if the hole has an open pore.

A sore on your earring hole may also be a pimple or infection caused by:

  • a recent piercing with dirty piercing equipment
  • a reaction to earring metal (like nickel)
  • a bacterial infection from touching a fresh piercing

It’s normal to experience swelling or even bumps after a recent earlobe piercing, so be sure your ear has had time to heal before you blame any issues on acne.

If the swelling is gone but the bump persists, you may want to see your doctor or dermatologist to find out if you have an infection.

Is it even an ear pimple to start with?

You’ve treated it, and you may have squeezed it (seriously, don’t), but you may not be sure the bump is a pimple at all. Here’s what else could lurk in the lump on your ear:

  • A keloid: a red or purple scar that can pop up at the piercing site
  • Seborrheic keratosis: a flat, light brown lesion that may not respond to traditional acne treatments
  • A sebaceous cyst: a small bumps beneath the skin that grows slowly
  • Granuloma fissuratum: red, tender patches of skin as a result of wearing glasses
  • Folliculitis: an inflamed hair follicle on your ear

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Pimples suck, no matter where they occur. Preventing pimples on your earlobes is pretty similar to preventing acne in general. Here are the best ways to keep your ears pimple-free:

  • Shampoo your hair regularly.
  • Wash your skin twice a day.
  • Take off your makeup before sleeping.
  • Avoid using harsh ingredients like exfoliants or astringents on your ears.
  • Stick with oil-free products.
  • Keep hair products away from your skin.
  • Wash your hats and pillowcases regularly.
  • Don’t pick at pimples.