Why You Keep Getting Pimples Inside Your Nose, and What to Do About It

But first, dermatologists explain how to figure out whether that achy bump up there is truly a zit or something else entirely. 

very close-up shot of a human nose with a purple tint on the image
Photo: Adobe Stock

Getting a pimple anywhere on your face (or body, for that matter) is far from fun — but annoyingly gross, achy, and tough-to-treat pimples inside the nose may just be the worst of the bunch. Sure, it might not be as visible as a blemish that crops up on your forehead, but its very location can make these bumps super uncomfortable and tough to treat in the way you would address zits elsewhere.

Here's the thing, though: What you think are plain old pimples in your nose may not actually be what they seem. Ahead, dermatologists explain why blemishes pop up inside your nose, how to tell if they're actually zits, and what you can do about them.

Causes of Pimples Inside the Nose

Let's start with a quick anatomy lesson since it's important to understand how differences in the skin inside your nose play a role in developing a pimple there.

"The inside of your nose has a lining that's covered in both mucus and small hairs, which work to capture dust, germs, and other small particles so that they can't get into the lungs," explains Annie Gonzalez, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami. However, the actual skin cells inside the nose are much smaller than those on the rest of your face — and the outermost layer, the stratum corneum, is thin to non-existent, adds Tracy Evans, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology in San Francisco. "It can be more prone to bacteria that may otherwise have a hard time entering the skin elsewhere," she says. ICYDK, in general, pimples pop up when a combo of bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells end up clogging a pore that then becomes inflamed and infected.

Similarly, when the mucus membrane inside the nose dries out, people tend to want to pick their nose, and this also transfers bacteria, says Ife J. Rodney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the founding director of Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, Maryland. Weather changes and low humidity can dry out the mucus membrane, which can lead to dried pieces of mucus, aka boogers, that you might feel inclined to pick and remove.

What Pimples Inside the Nose Can Look Like

It's very possible to get a "typical" pimple inside the nose, which could range from a whitehead to a painful red, cystic bump, says Dr. Rodney. Cysts and pustules are the most common types of nose pimples, as they tend to have more of a bacterial component than other varieties, she adds. That said, it's more likely that a blemish in your nose is not a pimple at all, but rather a sign of a different condition, notes Dr. Gonzalez. One option is nasal folliculitis or nasal vestibulitis, which is essentially an infection of those tiny hair follicles found in your nose. It typically manifests as a red, inflamed bump or a collection of red or white bumps at the openings of the nostrils and can be brought on by picking or blowing your nose too often, she explains.

It's also possible that a "pimple" inside your nose is actually a cold sore, as this area of the face (think: around the mouth, lips, and nose) is prone to the cold-sore causing herpes virus or HSV 1, says Dr. Evans. Staph infections can also cause what people mistake for pimples because the bacteria that cause these infections — aka Staphylococcus aureus — frequently lives inside the nostrils, she adds. That's totally normal: in fact, about 1 in every 3 people have staph in their nose or on their skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And even though nose hairs are small, it's also possible that the stubborn zit-like bump in your nose is actually an ingrown hair (which is usually the result of improper hair removal), adds Dr. Gonzalez.

How to Determine If It's Truly a Pimple Inside Your Nose

All of the pros agree: Unfortunately, trying to distinguish between the aforementioned scenarios can be very tricky. But there are a few key differentiators that might help you figure out if that aching bump is truly a zit or something else. "A classic pimple will usually go away on its own within three to seven days," says Dr. Evans. And you shouldn't be dealing with them constantly. If you're continuing to have reoccurring lesions or bumps, it's much more likely that they're being caused by folliculitis or a staph infection, she adds. Folliculitis bumps tend to go away within two to seven days and those of staph infections within one to two weeks.

Cold sores, on the other hand, are actually the easiest to self-diagnose (and go away within a week). "If there's both tingling and pain, it's more likely a cold sore than anything else, especially if you have a history of them in general," says Dr. Evans.

While you could technically figure all this out on your own, it's always a good idea to contact your dermatologist for their professional assessment and opinion — especially if you're continually dealing with any bumps, sores, or legions in your nose.

How to Treat a Pimple Inside the Nose

First, of course, you need to make sure it's actually a pimple before you start to address anything. And if it turns out to be a cold sore, staph infection, or folliculitis, then your doc will likely prescribe topical ointments and/or prescription oral antibiotics or antivirals to treat the condition, notes Dr. Evans.

If you're dealing with a one-off pimple, don't poke, prod, squeeze, or pop anything. "I understand the urge to pop a pimple, but I strongly advise against it," says Dr. Evans. "[In doing so,] you risk spreading any bacteria from your hands and the pimple to the rest of the nose, which can worsen the situation," she explains. If you feel that it's absolutely necessary to have someone manually get rid of the pimple in your nose, see a dermatologist or esthetician who can cleanly and safely remove the contents of the blemish, recommends Dr. Evans.

Otherwise, you can apply any topical, over-the-counter acne spot treatments that contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to the pimple in question, adds Dr. Rodney. A few caveats, though: One, these should only be used on pimples that are near the outer part of the nostril and easily visible. Placing products too deep inside the nose can end up causing irritation, she cautions. Two, make sure the area is clean and makeup-free before applying the spot treatment with a cotton swab (not your fingers!) to avoid accidentally transferring dirt or bacteria to the area.

As for that swollen, achy sensation that so often accompanies a nose pimple? A warm, wet compress applied to the inside of your nose for 20 minutes, three times per day, can help reduce discomfort, suggests Dr. Gonzalez.

How to Prevent Pimples Inside the Nose

As is often the case, a good defense is the best offense. When it comes to warding off pimples and other sores inside your nose, a few simple steps go a long way. Make sure you always wash your face with a non-comedogenic face wash daily and remove makeup before bed to prevent dirt and oil from possibly infiltrating the nostrils, says Dr. Rodney. Similarly, avoid picking your nose, as your fingers can harbor not only pimple-causing bacteria but also the other bacteria and viruses mentioned above, she adds.

You should also steer clear of plucking your nose hairs, which are important for the overall health and function of your nose. Plus, doing so increases the likelihood of ingrown hairs and, thus, pimple-like bumps in your nose. If you really want to remove them, though, make sure your hands and any tools (think: tweezers) are clean and sterilized before getting to work, says Dr. Rodney. An even better idea? Simply trimming any hairs that stick out past the tip of your nostrils with a clean pair of cuticle or eyebrow scissors, she adds.

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