Home Health Acne Papules


Papules are an early sign of acne that present as small, tender red bumps on the surface of the skin. Papules are difficult to prevent, but they usually respond well to treatment with over-the-counter products. See a dermatologist if your papules do not clear with treatment.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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Diagnosing Papules

Papules are one of the earliest signs of developing acne. These small, red and raised bumps may be painful to touch. They usually appear in clusters, but they can surface individually.

They are easy to identify on sight, and you may not need to see a doctor to diagnose the issue. If you’re unsure or if the condition is severe, a dermatologist can diagnose papules for you with a routine skin exam.

Papules vs. Nodules

When papules aren’t treated early or don’t respond to treatment, they may progress into nodules. Nodules develop deeper under the skin and have a much higher chance of causing acne scarring than papules do.

You can usually treat papules successfully with over-the-counter consumer products. A dermatologist should manage care of nodules.

Causes of Papules

Papules are a type of acne, a skin condition that affects people of all ages. Most papules develop in response to hormonal changes that increase the level of androgens in your body — usually during puberty or menstruation.

Other factors linked to the development of papules include:
  • Bacteria
  • Stress
  • Excess skin oil production
  • Exposure to grease (for example, working at a fast-food restaurant)
  • Diet (whey protein, skim milk and excess sugar)
  • Air pollution and high humidity
  • Genetics
  • Certain medications

Poor hygiene does not cause acne. In fact, washing your face excessively to get rid of it can make acne worse. Sunscreen and most facial creams today are noncomedogenic and will not cause acne.

What are the Symptoms of Papules?

Papules neither contain pus nor develop a blackhead or white spot in their center. If a skin lesion resembles a papule and contains pus, it may be a cyst or a pustule, which is a more advanced form of acne.

Papules are small, red and cone-shaped bumps. They tend to be hard or tender and painful to the touch.

A dermatologist should always examine any skin lesions you can’t identify.

How to Treat Papules

You can approach acne treatment in several ways. Over-the-counter topical treatments are an option as well as prescription topical and oral medications.

Some of the most common treatments for acne papules include:
  • Benzoyl peroxide: This mild disinfectant is the active ingredient in topical gel and face wash products from major brand names such as Clearasil and Stridex. They kill bacteria on your face that may cause your acne papules.
  • Azelaic acid: This is a natural acid derived from grains such as barley and rye. It can kill some of the harmful microorganisms on skin and reduce swelling and redness.
  • Salicylic acid: This acid unplugs the blocked skin pores causing your acne, reducing swelling and redness. Many over-the-counter acne products and some prescription acne medications list salicylic acid as an active ingredient.
  • Oral contraceptives: These medications may reduce the hormonal surges you experience during menstruation. You can only get them with a doctor’s prescription.
  • Retinoids: Retinoids unclog the surface of your pores, breaking up existing blackheads and whiteheads and preventing new ones from forming. They are available in prescription and over-the-counter doses depending on the strength you need.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics fight off facial bacteria that may cause acne. Your dermatologist may prescribe antibiotics in topical or oral forms depending on the severity of your acne.

Sometimes you may need to mix multiple acne treatments to see results. Your dermatologist can tell you which combination of treatments is best for your needs.

Papules Home Remedies

Many home remedies for acne don’t have much scientific evidence to support their use. But they may be worth a try if other options haven’t worked. Consult your doctor before using any home remedies, especially if you take prescription medications that could interact with some of the home remedies listed here.

The most popular home remedies for acne papules are:
  • Apple cider vinegar: This vinegar has antibacterial properties that may help calm acne flare-ups. Mix some vinegar with a little water, then rub it gently against your papules with a cotton ball.
  • Tea tree oil: This oil may make it harder for bacteria to grow. Apply a few drops of tea tree oil to a cotton swab and rub the swab softly against your papules.
  • Lemon juice: Lemon juice can kill many of the facial bacteria that cause acne. Apply a small amount to your papules using a cotton swab. Take care not to use too much to avoid irritating your skin even more.
  • Honey: Honey has antibacterial properties and contains an anti-inflammatory enzyme called catalase. Apply a light coat of honey to your papules, then cover the area with a bandage or cloth.
  • Zinc: Zinc reduces inflammation in the body and speeds up its healing time, which may help to calm your acne. Take over-the-counter zinc supplements orally as directed on the packaging.
  • Ice: Ice can slow blood flow, reducing pain and inflammation in that area. Apply a towel-covered ice pack or ice cube to your papules for around 10 minutes.
  • Green tea leaves: Green tea leaves have anti-inflammatory properties. Mix some green tea leaves with water, then apply the wet leaves to your papules for around 30 seconds before rinsing them off.

A word of caution: Use acne remedies sparingly, even if they are homemade. Overusing remedies can irritate your skin more and worsen your acne.

Always discuss any acne treatments with your doctor or dermatologist before trying them, especially if you take any regularly prescribed medications.

When to See a Doctor for Papules

Contact your doctor if your acne papules do not clear up after using over-the-counter treatments or get worse. You may be referred to a dermatologist who may recommend a stronger or different prescription treatment.

Never pick at papules. Picking at acne blemishes significantly increases your risk of scarring.

How to Prevent Papules

Many causes of acne papules, including hormonal changes, genetics and stress, are difficult or even impossible to change.

However, you can take the following steps to improve your overall skin health and possibly make future breakouts less likely.

  • Wash your face daily using a gentle facial cleanser.
  • Use a facial moisturizer a few times a week.
  • Wash your hair regularly and keep it away from your face.
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Remove all makeup nightly before going to bed.

Some experts advise people with acne to avoid skin care products such as lotions, moisturizers and face masks. However, most skin care products on the market today are formulated to be noncomedogenic, meaning they will not clog your pores. In fact, establishing a good skin care routine may help make your acne less severe.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.