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Pustule vs whitehead: spot the differences!

4 mins

Andela Patrnogic

Pustule vs whitehead: they’re both types of acne, but their causes and treatment are different: here’s all you need to know to keep your skin healthy and plump!

Pustule vs whitehead: can you spot the differences? 

To have that complexion you’ve been dreaming of you need to know the causes of your blemishes.

Sometimes pimples, whiteheads, and other forms of acne can be similar. To minimize the breakouts and long-term effects, aka scars, you need to stop picking at your skin. And, you need to apply the adequate treatment. 

Here’s all you need to know!

Table of Contents:

  • Pustule vs whitehead: how do they form?
  • What is the difference between whiteheads and pustules?
  • What type of acne do you have?
  • The causes: why do pustules appear? 
  • Is that a pustule, a whitehead, or is it milia?
  • Are pustules a form of acne?
  • How do you treat pustules?
  • How long do pustules take to heal?
  • Should you pop a pustule?
  • Natural remedies to treat pustules

Pustule vs whitehead: how do they form?

Those bumps on your face could be whiteheads, pustules, or milia. They could also be another form of acne. 

It’s essential to know the differences between them to find the best treatment. Pustules are inflamed bumps. They appear as red bumps with white centers. Or simply as white bumps. They are hard and often tender to touch. 

how pustule form, what to do with whiteheads

Whiteheads are closed comedones. A comedo is a pore that has become clogged with excess sebum, dead skin cells buildup, and bacteria. A comedo can be open (a blackhead) or closed (a whitehead). 

A pustule, aka a pimple, forms when comedones (white or blackheads) become so inflamed that the walls of the pores break. When the area becomes infected, pus forms due to dead blood cells trying to fight the infection. 

That is a pustule.

What is the difference between whiteheads and pustules?

While both whiteheads and pustules may appear as white bumps, they are different. Whiteheads are the simple closed clogged pore.

If not treated, they can evolve into papules and pustules. Pustules differ from whiteheads since they are surrounded by a red area and feel tender or sore to touch.

What type of acne do you have?

If it’s still confusing, here are all the forms of acne and how they can develop:

  • Blackheads are open comedones. They appear back because the debris and oil in the clogged pores become oxidized.
  • Whiteheads are closed comedones. Since the air cannot get to the gunk inside them, they remain white.
  • Inflamed comedones are called acne papules. They have inflamed skin but no center. Their pores are not wider.
    acne pustules, what acne do i have, different types of acne
  • Acne pustules happen when a papule becomes filled with pus. The skin around them is red or pink. They are larger.
  • Acne nodules are a severe form of acne. They occur when bacteria are trapped within the skin and form large, hard, inflamed bumps. You can recognize them easily since they are bigger, painful, and do not have a “head” or opening, to pick at them.
  • Acne cysts form when bacteria underneath the skin travels to form deep, painful bumps. Pore walls become so damaged due to bacteria and debris inside the skin that they crash, and bacteria infect surrounding areas. The immune system produces pus to cover the bacteria. That’s when cysts form.

The causes: why do pustules appear?

Oily skin that is prone to acne can be a cause of developing pustules. Besides acne, folliculitis is a common cause. Other skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema, can trigger pustules.

Is that a pustule, a whitehead, or is it milia?

More often than not, pustules are mistaken for milia cysts. While we cleared the whole pustule vs. whitehead debacle, milia cysts are a different problem. 

Milia cysts are also small, white bumps. But they are filled with keratin, the protein of the skin. They are not bacterial nor hormonal. 

They can appear due to sun damage, topical steroids, or smoking. They are not to be removed at home. 

Are pustules a form of acne?

Yes, pustules are a moderate type of acne. They can evolve in more severe cases of acne if left untreated, if you use comedogenic skincare, and if the genes predispose you to it.

How do you treat pustules?

Small areas of inflamed skin with pustules may heal on their own. Some treatments and home remedies can help speed up the process. 

It helps to keep the surface clean and oil-free. Some over-the-counter soaps, creams, and ointments can help. 

face cream, face care

They usually contain salicylic acid to dissolve and remove dead skin cells, and azelaic acid and benzoyl peroxide to kill off bacteria, and sulfur.

In some cases, a dermatologist may recommend antibiotics to reduce the infection or photodynamic therapy to shrink the skin’s sebaceous glands.

How long do pustules take to heal?

Some pustules - the small ones - go away on their own with no acne products. All you have to do is resist the urge to pick at them and keep the area clean. In a week or two, they should be gone. 

Larger areas affected by pustules may require treatment options, as mentioned above. 

If you don’t see results in six to eight weeks, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends you seek the help of a dermatologist.

Should you pop a pustule?


It’s better to avoid picking or popping pustules. 

While it seems like the way to go, this can cause damage, such as scars. It can also make healing even longer, and you can infect other areas of the skin. 

See a dermatologist for treatment or seek out natural alternative options.

Natural remedies to treat pustules

Aggressive treatment options are effective but dry the skin out. If you have sensitive skin, it’s even more important to choose skincare products that don’t irritate but rather moisturize and nourish the dermis. 

  • Essential oils can diminish inflammation and reduce pain. According to research, tea tree oil is effective against acne forms. Lavender, peppermint, and rosemary can also be helpful in topical applications.
  • Aloe vera has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects while it provides hydration. It’s mild enough not to irritate the skin, and it has nourishing properties. There is also scientific data to support Aloe Vera as an important part of treating acne.
  • Apple cider vinegar contains alpha-hydroxy acids. They act like chemical peelers and dissolve the mixture of dead skin cells and sebum. Apple cider vinegar also has mild antibacterial effects, helping keep P. Acne, the bacteria that causes pimples to appear, in check. Exfoliating with apple cider vinegar can help acne-prone skin. We recommend you choose a face wash with apple cider vinegar or aloe vera for daily use if you’re dealing with a couple of pustules. 
    apple cider vinegar face wash, wow face wash
  • Clay is an effective natural compound that helps remove debris and dead skin cells buildup. 
  • Green tea extract has purifying effects and restores the skin to a supple, plump, and clear complexion. A face mask containing any of the previously mentioned ingredients can help keep acne at bay. 

So, it’s pretty simple: stop squeezing and start cleaning. With care and information, pustules stand no chance!

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