Why Do We Break Out on Our Ears

We take them for granted, neglect them — even periodically poke them with foreign objects. It’s true: sometimes we forget that ears need TLC, too.

According to dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), ear pimples are perfectly normal — particularly if you’ve been leaving them out of your self-care routine. Here’s what can cause them, and how to take care of them like a pro when they pop up.

Ear buds can cause ear pimples treated with salicylic acid Spot Check by SLMD Skincare

What causes a pimple in your ear?

Dr. Lee says it’s really not that surprising that pimples pop up in the ear on occasion: she points out that the skin on the ear is very similar to the skin on the nose. Basically, it’s got more sebaceous glands — and more oil means more potential for clogged pores.

On top of that, your ears are producing wax, which can also 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 the ear canal itself.

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 AirPods? 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.

Spot Check with salicylic acid to treat ear pimples by SLMD Skincare

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. SLMD Skincare Salicylic Acid Cleanser 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.
  • Spot treat when pimples pop up. SLMD Skincare BP Spot Treatment is loaded with benzoyl peroxide to kill the bacteria that causes inflammatory acne, while Spot Check acne patches — packed with a potent dose of salicylic acid — absorb fluid and pus to protect and clear pimples, pronto.

Ear acne can be painful (and annoying), but it’s not serious. Staying consistent with your skincare will help prevent ear pimples from appearing in the first place — and having a few spot treatments on hand will take care of the occasional breakout.

Dr. Lee’s last word

If you have a pimple in your ear, first and foremost: I suggest trying to refrain from popping! Squeezing your skin certainly increases your risk for scarring and infection. Plus, you cannot see your ear — so how are you going to properly extract a bump? If it’s a blemish and it’s outside of the ear canal, use your acne regimen. If you suspect it’s not a blemish and the problem persists, please see your dermatologist to have it evaluated.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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