Pimple That Won't Go Away: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Pimples are a common, usually harmless, type of skin lesion. They happen when your skin's oil glands make too much oil called sebum. This can lead to clogged pores and cause pimples.

Pimples can take as long as six weeks to go away, but smaller, single pimples may take only a few days to disappear.

They aren't dangerous, but a doctor can help you treat long-lasting or painful pimples.

Causes of pimples

While most pimples will go away with a few weeks, some can take longer. This is especially true of deep or painful pimples. Here are some common causes of pimples that won't go away.

Acne

Acne is an outbreak of pimples. It can take a few weeks to a few months for an outbreak to go away, but it can keep coming back.

If you have acne, you may also have whiteheads, which are closed clogged pores, and blackheads, which are open clogged pores. Severe acne can cause red and painful nodules under your skin.

Acne usually appears on your face, chest, back, or shoulders. It's most common among teenagers, and often stops occurring naturally by age 20.

Cystic acne

Cystic acne is a severe type of acne. It's caused by oil and dead skin cells building up deep within your hair follicles. These buildups can rupture under your skin and cause cysts.

Cystic acne should be treated by a dermatologist. They can give you prescription medication to help get rid of your cystic acne and prevent infections.

Fungal acne

Fungal acne is a condition where Pityrosporum, a type of yeast, gets into your hair follicles, then multiplies. It can also lead to acne-like eruptions. These are itchy, pink pimples. Fungal acne most commonly occurs on the chest and back.

Pityrosporum is found normally on your body, but can grow out of control. The reasons for this aren't fully understand, but may be caused by:

  • oily skin
  • medications, such as corticosteroids
  • conditions, such as diabetes
  • stress
  • fatigue

Because fungal acne is caused by a fungus, it can't be treated with normal acne treatments.

Could it be skin cancer?

There are three types of skin cancer:

  • melanoma
  • basal cell
  • squamous cell

A symptom of both basal and squamous cell skin cancer is a spot that looks like a pimple and doesn't clear up for at least several weeks. The spot may also look like a pimple that disappears and reappears in the same spot.

These bumps aren't pus-filled like pimples, but may bleed easily and crust over and itch. They may also have a blue, black, or brown area and a dimple in the center of the bump.

Basal and squamous cell skin cancer usually occur on areas of the body that get the most sun exposure, such as your face, head, neck, and back of hands.

If you notice any new growths or other areas you're concerned about, talk to a doctor, especially if these growths don't go away. A doctor may send you to a dermatologist, who can check your skin more thoroughly.

Treatment for pimples that won't go away

In many cases, you can get rid of pimples — even long-lasting ones — with home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. If they don't get rid of your pimple, a doctor can give you a prescription treatment.

Leave it alone

Avoid popping, picking at, or touching your pimple. Popping may seem like the quickest way to get rid of a pimple, but it can cause scarring.

In addition, touching your pimple can transfer oil and bacteria from your hands to your face. This doesn't give the pimple a chance to heal.

Wash your face regularly

Washing your face twice per day, especially when it gets sweaty, can keep oil from building up and clogging your pores. But be careful: Washing more than that can irritate sensitive skin and make pimples worse.

Warm compress

A warm compress can help your pimple open, so it can release pus and start to heal. It's especially effective for pimples under your skin.

Soak a washcloth in warm water, and apply it to the pimple for 10 to 15 minutes. You can do this several times a day until the pimple is gone.

OTC creams, ointments, and medication

Use OTC treatments on your whole face, not just the pimple itself. This helps stop new pimples from forming. Be sure to follow treatment directions exactly and give it at least four weeks to work. Many pimple treatments dry your skin, so be sure to moisturize.

Common types of OTC pimple treatments include:

  • Retinoids. This ingredient is made from vitamin A and comes in creams, gels, or lotions. Don't apply these products every day at first to give your skin time to adjust.
  • Salicylic acid. This helps clear mild acne. It comes OTC in lower doses, but you can also get it from a doctor.
  • Benzoyl peroxide. This fights bacteria that can cause pimples. You can also get this in prescription form.

Cortisone

Cortisone comes in a cream and a shot. It can help reduce redness and inflammation but doesn't actually treat the root causes of acne.

Hydrocortisone cream works best when paired with another treatment, such as benzoyl peroxide. You can get it over-the-counter, but shouldn't use anything with more than 1 percent hydrocortisone on your face.

A cortisone shot can be injected directly into the lesion by a doctor. It helps shrink inflammatory acne quickly.

Prescription medication

Some OTC treatments, such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, also come in stronger prescription forms.

Other prescription treatments, such as dapsone gel, specifically treat inflammatory acne.

Antibiotics may also be used to kill the bacteria that can make acne worse and keep your pimple from going away.

When it's not a pimple

Sometimes, you may have a blemish that looks like a pimple, but isn't really one. These need to be treated differently than pimples. Some conditions that cause pimple-like blemishes don't need treatment at all.

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a type of viral infection that can cause a rash of small, raised, white or pink bumps, often with a dimple in the center. These bumps may be itchy, sore, and swollen.

Molluscum contagiosum can happen anywhere on the body. It's common, and spreads from person to person. In most cases, it goes away by itself in 6 to 12 months.

Cold sores

Cold sores are a common viral infection caused by herpes simplex 1 virus and spread from person to person. This virus can cause cold sores on your mouth or genitals, but many people with the virus never get cold sores.

Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters around your lips. You may have one or several at a time. They may burst and crust over, but usually heal within their own within four weeks.

There's no cure for cold sores, and they can come back. If you get severe outbreaks or get cold sores often, an antiviral medication may be able to help.

Ingrown hairs

Ingrown hairs are hairs that curl and grow back into your skin. They usually occur when the hair follicle becomes clogged with dead skin cells. They're more common in people with coarse or curly hair and in shaved areas.

Ingrown hairs can cause raised red spots that look like pimples. These spots may be itchy.

Ingrown hairs usually go away on their own. However, they can become infected and turn painful and pus-filled. Mild infections often go away on their own, but see a doctor if your ingrown hair is very painful or long-lasting. They can release the hair and give you antibiotics if the infection is severe.

Boils

A boil is a painful, pus-filled bump that happens when bacteria infects a hair follicle. It usually starts out pea-sized and red, then grows as it fills with pus.

Many boils rupture and drain on their own. However, you should see a doctor if you have more than one boil, if you have a fever, or if the boil is extremely painful or large or lasts for more than two weeks.

When to see a doctor

Most pimples will eventually clear up on their own. But see a doctor if your pimple:

  • is very large or painful
  • doesn't go away after at least six weeks of home treatment
  • is accompanied by signs of an infection, such as fever, vomiting, or nausea
  • is accompanied by signs of skin cancer

You should also see a doctor if you have more than one of what you think might be a boil.

Takeaway

Most pimples are harmless, but can take a long time to go away. If you're consistently using home remedies and OTC treatment as directed but your pimple still isn't going away, a doctor can help.

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