Now Ear This: How To Treat The Breakout Nobody Talks About

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Acne can be sneaky, seemingly popping up whenever — and wherever — it can. While it would be nice if blackheads and blemishes could just stay in one place, unfortunately, acne doesn't discriminate when it comes to placement. And, if you've ever had a breakout in or around your ears, you're probably familiar with the distinct pain that is ear acne.
When we say "pain," we mean it — this stuff hurts. "Bacteria in and around the ear can cause infection [and] inflammation, which can lead to pain," says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon in New York City. "Additionally, because the skin of the ear is thin, the underlying cartilage can also become inflamed leading to chondritis, which is extremely painful." In other words, yes, ear pimples really do hurt more.
Although most of us associate breakouts with the T-zone, the ears are actually incredibly fertile ground for acne. As Dr. Engleman says, the earlobes and conchal bowls (the round, concave parts of the outer ear) are filled with sebaceous glands. Because those pores are so small, they're easily clogged, and bacteria can go to town. "If the bacterial load is significant and inflammatory response ensues, redness and pain follow," Dr. Engleman explains.
As for banishing zits from your ears? First, the bad news: Your hair care may be a culprit. "Hair conditioners, gels, and sprays can clog pores in this region and induce or worsen ear acne," says Dr. Engleman. So, be sure to clean your ears after applying conditioner, gels, sprays, and other styling products. Otherwise, think of your ears as you do the skin on your face, and care for them.
To prevent clogged pores, Dr. Engleman recommends wiping the inner and outer parts of the ear with a cotton dipped in alcohol or witch hazel. Look for over-the-counter treatments with ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, or tea tree oil to combat breakouts. (We like Clearasil's Daily Clear refreshing pads, which have salicylic acid.) In more serious cases, your derm may prescribe a prescription such as tretinoin or topical antibiotics. And, though it should go without saying, if you have an extremely painful blemish, one that lasts for more than a week, or a zit that's draining fluid, get to a dermatologist ASAP. Because while acne is never fun, it shouldn't have to be such a pain in the...ear.
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