A young man wearing earbuds which can cause ear pimples

Ear Pimples Are Totally Normal — Here's How to Treat Them

Dr. Pimple Popper explains everything you need to know about dealing with ear breakouts.


3 minute read

According to dermatologist and SLMD Skincare founder Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), getting pimples on your ears is perfectly normal — particularly if you’ve been leaving them out of your skincare routine. Here’s what can cause ear breakouts, and how to treat them like a pro when they pop up.


How common are ear pimples?

Although we don't necessarily think of the ears as a common location for acne, it's not rare — and an occasional ear pimple is not a particular cause for concern, says Dr. Lee. After all, the skin on the ear (much like that of the scalp) is very similar to the skin on the nose: basically, it’s got a lot of sebaceous glands — and more oil means more potential for clogged pores.

On top of that, your ears produce wax, which can get trapped inside pores and cause acne. Pimples can pop up anywhere around the ear, including the earlobe, the concha (the hollow part around the hole) and even inside the ear canal itself.

Dr. Pimple Popper's Ear Acne Picks

What causes ear pimples?

Typically, the skin on your ears is adept at keeping itself acne-free. Here’s what can go wrong — and how to fix it:

  • Not washing behind your ears. Or anywhere around them — you know who you are. Fact is, it’s easy to forget that ears need daily cleansing, a task that’s most easily tackled in the shower.
  • Using dirty gear in or around your ears. No judgment here, but when was the last time you cleaned your earbuds? Or washed your favorite hat? Chances are, you’re introducing bacteria into your ears on the regular, so keep those things clean.
  • You’ve got earwax buildup. According to Dr. Lee, some people just naturally make more (lucky you). Instead of jamming cotton swabs into your canal — which can cause infection and even hearing loss — try some over-the-counter ear drops to melt the wax.
  • Using pore-clogging products. Even if you’re diligent with your facial skincare, your ears are out there on the frontier: which means one side might be getting pampered, while the other is drowning in conditioner and oily hair masks. Try cleansing your ears after you take care of your hair.
  • You’re having a maskne flareup. Masks can cause both irritation and acne around the ears, so change them like you would your underwear, says Dr. Lee.

Could an ear pimple be something besides acne?

Dr. Lee says that sometimes, bumps, redness and rashes in and around your ears might not be pimples. Here’s a roundup of the possibilities:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis: a rash that occurs in areas with a high concentration of oil glands, characterized by waxy, flaky scales and sometimes red bumps
  • Psoriasis or eczema: these chronic skin conditions can lead to pain, inflammation and irritation
  • Fungal infection: aka otomycosis, which causes pain and inflammation inside the ear
  • Staph infection: inflamed boils that cause pain in and around the ear

If you suspect your pimple might not be acne, but you’re not sure what’s going on, talk to your doctor.

How to treat (and prevent) ear pimples

Maintaining a consistent skincare routine — one that includes showing ears some love — is the key to preventing ear breakouts. These strategies are a few of Dr. Lee’s favorites:

  • Cleanse ears with salicylic acid. This beta hydroxy acid is ideal for exfoliating and clearing out dirt, oil and debris. Don’t forget the backs of ears and the concha, but keep it out of the canal.
  • Use your facial acne products. Ingredients like AHAs, retinol, and benzoyl peroxide work well around the outer ear area. Just remember that benzoyl peroxide can bleach hair, so be careful.
  • Spot treat when pimples pop up. Use higher-strength concentrations of salicylic acid for blackheads and whiteheads, and benzoyl peroxide for red, inflamed pimples.

SLMD Skincare to try: Salicylic Acid Cleanser, AHA/BHA SwipesBenzoyl Peroxide Acne Lotion, Retinol Resurfacing SerumBP Acne Spot Treatment, SA Acne Spot TreatmentSalicylic Acid Pimple Patches


Dr Sandra Lee

Dr. Lee's Last Word

Ear acne can be painful (and annoying), but it's not serious. You can treat ear pimples with your facial acne products...but please, don't pick or pop, or stick anything down inside your ear canal. Keep you earbuds clean, and see a dermatologist if the problem persists.


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