papules and pustules

Papules and Pustules: What’s The Difference?

Papules and pustules are two common skin issues that can lead to unsightly breakouts. They are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Understanding what causes each, and how to treat them, is key to healthier, clearer skin.

What Is A Papule?

A papule is a raised area of skin less than 1/4 inch in diameter. They can be red, pink, or skin-colored. Papules are typically caused by inflammation of the skin due to an infection or irritation. Papules can also be caused by acne, a reaction to an allergen, or contact dermatitis.

What Is A Pustule?

A pustule is a raised area of skin that is usually filled with pus or fluid. It is typically between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in diameter. Pustules are also typically caused by an infection or irritation. They are often associated with acne or an allergic reaction, but can also be caused by other skin issues like eczema.

The Difference Between Papules and Pustules

The main difference between papules and pustules is that papules are solid, while pustules are filled with pus. Papules are usually smaller and less noticeable than pustules. Papules usually do not cause pain, but pustules can be tender.

Treating Papules and Pustules

Treating papules and pustules depends on the underlying cause. Here are some of the most common treatments:

  • Topical creams or ointments - antibacterial or antifungal creams for infections; antihistamines or corticosteroids for allergies; or benzoyl peroxide for acne
  • Oral antibiotics - for bacterial or fungal infections
  • Oral retinoids - for severe acne
  • Oral antihistamines - for allergies

If any of these treatments do not provide relief, talk to your doctor about other options.