Why Do Pimples Hurt? Causes & Pain Relief Methods

You’ve probably wondered why pimples hurt so much. It’s not just about the clogged pores; there’s more going on beneath the surface of your skin. When excess sebum and dead skin cells block your hair follicles, bacteria get involved, and inflammation sets in. This swelling presses against your nerve endings, causing that unmistakable pain. But there’s another layer to this story involving your immune system and specific types of acne that can worsen the discomfort. Are you curious about how all these factors tie together and what you can do about it? Let’s explore further.

What Are Pimples?

Pimples are small skin lesions or inflammations when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Your skin constantly produces sebum, an oily substance meant to lubricate and protect. However, when sebum overproduces, it can mix with dead skin cells to form a sticky plug in the hair follicles, leading to clogged pores.


When your pores are clogged, it creates an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. The accumulation of sebum and dead skin cells forms whiteheads and other pimples. Each type of pimple, whether a whitehead, blackhead, or cyst, results from these clogged follicles. The blockage traps sebum and dead skin cells inside the pores, where bacteria can multiply.

Your skin’s natural processes sometimes can’t keep up with the excess sebum production and dead skin cells, leading to clogging and blockage. This sets the stage for pimples to form.

Understanding this basic mechanism helps you see why maintaining clean skin and managing oil production are key to preventing pimples. Keeping those follicles clear of excess oil and dead skin cells is your first defense against these pesky skin issues.

Causes of Inflammation

Have you ever wondered why your skin becomes inflamed when dealing with pimples? 

  • When your pores get clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria, your immune system kicks into action. It treats the blockage as an infection, sending white blood cells to the area to fight off the invaders. This immune response causes inflammation, which manifests as redness, swelling, heat, and tenderness in the affected area.
  • Inflammation itself is a double-edged sword. While it’s your body’s way of protecting and healing the skin, it also results in pain. This pain occurs because the swelling pushes against the sensitive nerve endings in your skin. The larger the pimple, the more inflammation there is, leading to increased pain and discomfort.

Understanding the relationship between inflammation and pain can help you better manage your pimples. It’s not just about the surface appearance; it’s about what’s happening underneath.

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Types of Painful Pimples

When dealing with painful pimples, you might encounter various types, such as nodules, cysts, pustules, and papules. Each form of acne can bring a different level of discomfort.

  • Nodules and cysts, often associated with cystic acne, are deeply embedded in the skin and cause significant pain. These pimples hurt because they form deep within the skin layers, leading to intense inflammation and pressure.
  • Pustules and papules are other common forms of acne that can be painful. Pustules are characterized by a visible pus-filled center, which results from the body’s inflammatory response to bacteria and debris trapped in the pore.
  • Conversely, papules are small, red, and tender bumps that don’t contain pus but are equally painful due to inflammation.

The inflammation associated with these painful pimples leads to redness, swelling, and tenderness, making them sensitive to touch. Each type of pimple, whether an abscess or a cyst, can vary in severity and the level of discomfort it brings. Understanding these distinctions can help you better manage and treat the different forms of acne you might experience.

Role of Bacteria

Understanding bacteria’s role in acne can explain why certain pimples become so painful and inflamed. Bacteria, particularly Propionibacterium acnes, are a key player in the development of acne. These bacteria thrive in clogged pores, where they multiply rapidly.

  • When the body’s immune system detects this bacterial overgrowth, it triggers an inflammatory response. Inflammation causes the redness, swelling, and pain associated with pimples. As the immune cells rush to the site of the clogged pore, they produce substances that make the area tender and sore.
  • Pus-filled pimples are particularly painful because they contain bacteria, dead skin cells, and oil, heightening the inflammation and discomfort.

Why Do Pimples Hurt

Here are some key points to bear in mind:

  • Bacteria, especially Propionibacterium acnes, contribute significantly to acne pain.
  • Inflammation is the body’s response to bacterial infection and causes redness and swelling.
  • Clogged pores provide an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
  • Pus-filled pimples are more painful due to the accumulation of bacteria and immune cells.
  • The immune response exacerbates the sensitivity and discomfort of pimples.

Impact of Hormones

Hormonal changes often lead to increased oil production, which can cause painful pimples. When hormones fluctuate, like during puberty, menstruation, or pregnancy, your oil glands can go into overdrive. This excess oil mixes with dead skin cells and clogs your pores, leading to inflammation and painful pimples.

  • Women, in particular, might notice more painful breakouts right before their menstrual cycle. These hormonal fluctuations can trigger the development of deep cystic acne, which isn’t only painful but also harder to treat. The increased sensitivity to hormonal influences means that your skin becomes more prone to inflammation and tenderness during these times.
  • Deep cystic acne is especially painful because it forms deep within the skin, where it can affect nerve endings. This type of acne is often linked to hormonal changes and increased oil production, making it a common issue for teenagers and women experiencing hormonal shifts.

Avoiding Pimple Aggravation

Don’t pop or squeeze your pimples to prevent further inflammation and pain. Doing so can push bacteria and excess oil deeper into your skin, causing more severe breakouts and prolonging healing time. Instead, focus on a gentle skincare routine to minimize irritation and help your skin recover.

Here are some tips for avoiding pimple aggravation:

  • Use non-comedogenic moisturizers: These won’t clog your pores and can soothe inflammation at the acne spot.
  • Opt for gentle cleansers: Over-cleansing or harsh products can strip your skin of natural oils, leading to more inflammation and excess oil production.
  • Incorporate acne-fighting ingredients: Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can help reduce bacteria and shed dead skin cells without causing additional pain.
  • Apply topical retinoids: These can reduce inflammation and unclog pores, effectively treating pimples without exacerbating discomfort.
  • Avoid touching your face: Your hands carry bacteria and oils that can worsen acne when you feel your face frequently.

Effective Pain Relief Methods

Effective pain relief methods can significantly improve comfort and healing when dealing with painful pimples. 

  • One of the quickest ways to reduce pain and swelling is to apply ice to the affected area for 5-10 minutes. This simple step can help reduce inflammation and provide immediate relief.
  • Another effective method is using benzoyl peroxide. This topical treatment kills acne-causing bacteria and reduces inflammation, which can greatly alleviate the discomfort associated with painful pimples. Apply it directly to the pimple, but be careful not to use too much, as it can dry out your skin and clog pores if overused.
  • Warm compresses are also beneficial, especially when a pimple forms a white center. Applying a warm compress for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times daily, can help draw out the pus and reduce pain.

It’s important to resist the urge to pick or pop your pimples. Doing so can increase pain and lead to scarring, making the problem worse.

When to Seek Help

If home treatments don’t ease your painful pimples, it’s time to consult a dermatologist for expert care. Deep, painful pimples, especially nodular or cystic acne, often require specialized treatment that over-the-counter products can’t provide. A dermatologist can prescribe stronger medications and treatments tailored to your skin’s needs.

Take your time seeking help if you notice persistent, deep, painful pimples or if you develop multiple such pimples. Partnering with an acne expert can lead to more effective treatment, preventing potential scarring and long-term skin issues.

Here are some clear signs that it’s time to see a dermatologist:

  • Persistent deep, painful pimples that don’t respond to home treatments
  • Development of multiple deep, painful pimples at once
  • Nodular or cystic acne that causes significant discomfort
  •  Recurring breakouts despite over-the-counter treatments
  • Scarring or dark spots from previous pimples

Dermatologists offer personalized care, using their expertise to create a tailored treatment plan for you. They can prescribe stronger topical treatments, oral medications, or perform procedures like drainage and extraction. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help and take control of your skin’s health.

Preventing Future Breakouts

Preventing future breakouts involves adopting consistent habits that promote clean and balanced skin. 

  • Start by maintaining a regular skincare routine tailored to your skin type. Use non-comedogenic products that won’t clog pores, reducing the likelihood of developing painful pimples.
  • Cleansing your face twice daily helps remove excess oil, dirt, and other impurities contributing to skin problems. Avoid touching your face frequently to prevent transferring bacteria and oils from your hands, which can lead to breakouts and pimple pain.
  • Regularly changing your pillowcases and cleaning makeup brushes are also important steps in preventing bacterial buildup on your skin. Managing stress is another key factor. High stress levels can lead to hormonal imbalances, which might trigger acne breakouts.
  • Incorporate relaxation techniques or regular exercise into your routine to help keep stress at bay. If you continue to struggle with breakouts despite these efforts, consider seeking advice from a board-certified dermatologist.

They can provide personalized acne treatment plans tailored to your specific needs. Taking these proactive steps can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts, leading to healthier, clearer skin.


In understanding why pimples hurt, you’ve learned about the causes of inflammation, the types of painful pimples, and the role bacteria and hormones play. You can manage discomfort by avoiding aggravation and using effective pain relief methods. Don’t hesitate to seek help and focus on preventing future breakouts. Remember, maintaining a good skincare routine and being mindful of changes in your skin can make a big difference in keeping pimples and their pain at bay.


  • Michael Reed

    Michael Reed is a medical writer at Sumlab, focusing on dermatological studies and treatments. His articles help demystify complex clinical results for a broad audience.

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