Medical News Today: Why is there a pimple on my neck?

Many people develop pimples on their neck for a variety of reasons. Pimples are small, swollen, hard lumps that develop on or under the skin and can be painful.

Most minor neck pimples respond well to home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and should resolve within a few days.

People with pimples on the neck that are severe, last for longer than a few weeks, or do not respond to primary treatment should seek advice from a doctor or dermatologist.

What causes pimples on the neck?

Woman holding her neck due to pimple on neck
Failing to wash the skin regularly can cause clogged pores and pimples.

Pimples occur when hair follicles become clogged. It is not uncommon for pimples to develop on the neck, especially around the nape of the neck.

Multiple pimples usually indicate acne, which is the most common skin condition in the United States.

A range of factors may increase the likelihood of clogged pores and pimples, including:

  • failing to wash the skin regularly with lukewarm water and soap
  • rubbing, scratching, or exfoliating the skin too aggressively
  • fluctuating hormones, especially during puberty and menstruation
  • being stressed
  • applying heavy makeup or lotions, creams, or sunscreens that block the pores
  • wearing products with artificial scents, flavors, or other non-natural additives
  • using shampoos, conditioners, body washes, or soaps that contain potentially irritating ingredients, such as artificial scents, flavors, and chemicals that promote lathering
  • exercising or sweating without washing the skin
  • wearing scratchy or irritating fabrics
  • washing the hair too infrequently
  • taking certain medications

Some things may increase the risk of developing pimples on the neck specifically, such as:

  • hair touching or rubbing up against the neck, especially unwashed hair
  • clothing or sports equipment that rubs or puts pressure on the neck, such as a bra strap, collar, chin strap, or helmet
  • not washing the neck properly or often enough
  • not cleaning the neck after exercising or sweating a lot
  • dirty clothes coming into contact with the neck
  • a dull razor or lack of a lubricant when shaving
  • not regularly or correctly exfoliating the neck after shaving
  • necklaces and other jewelry that may come into contact with the neck, especially those made of plastics, false metal, and some plant-based materials
  • synthetic and scratchy clothing fabrics that come into contact with the neck
  • non-breathable clothing, such as polyester and rayon


Treatments and home remedies

tea tree essential oil for treating scabies in glass jar with leaves in background
Tea tree oil may treat pimples.

Minor pimples should clear up after a few days. However, it can take weeks or months of continual, consistent use for products to work effectively on moderate or severe acne. People will also need to continue using acne medications or remedies once the symptoms have gone away to prevent them from returning.

Home remedies can often help to speed up the healing process for pimples. These include:

  • washing the area gently with soap and lukewarm water twice daily
  • applying a heated compress or cloth to the area for 10–15 minutes a few times daily to draw trapped debris to the surface of the pore
  • avoiding touching, picking, or scratching the pimple and the skin surrounding it
  • minimizing the exposure of the pimple to sun, wind, and humidity
  • loosening clothing straps or sports equipment to avoid putting pressure on the pimple and the skin around it
  • avoiding shaving the entire area around the pimple until it heals

Some people use specific herbal remedies for mild acne, as they have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Essential oils that may treat pimples include:

  • tea tree oil
  • evening primrose oil
  • rosehip oil
  • sandalwood oil
  • lavender oil

Dozens of OTC products exist to treat mild forms of acne. Many prescription acne medications contain the same ingredients as OTC products, just in stronger doses.

OTC washes, toners, creams, and gels for pimples typically contain between 0.025 and 10 percent of:

  • salicylic acid, which is anti-inflammatory and exfoliating
  • benzoyl peroxide, which is antibacterial and dries oil
  • alpha hydroxy acids, including glycolic acid and lactic acid
  • retinoids, such as adapalene
  • niacinamide, which has anti-inflammatory properties
  • sulfur, which is antibacterial

Always spread a thin, even layer of the acne medication onto the pimple and the skin surrounding it. Wash the hands carefully after using acne medications, as they often contain ingredients that can stain or bleach most fabrics and some stone or wood surfaces.

If OTC and topical prescription medications fail to clear acne, a doctor may prescribe systemic medications, which work throughout the body.

Depending on a person’s sex, age, and overall health status, a doctor or dermatologist may prescribe the following for severe or chronic acne that is nodular or cystic:

  • oral antibiotics
  • oral isotretinoin
  • hormone-control medications

Additional treatment options for severe or chronic acne include:

  • extraction surgery
  • chemical peels
  • microdermabrasion
  • phototherapy
  • laser therapy

Prevention tips

woman running at sunset
Washing the neck after exercising may prevent pimples.

People can reduce the risk of developing pimples on their neck by following the recommendations below:

  • washing the neck regularly with lukewarm water and scent-free, hypoallergenic soap
  • washing the neck thoroughly after exercising or sweating a lot
  • wearing clean clothes and changing them once they are dirty
  • cleaning sports equipment that comes into contact with the neck regularly or puts pressure on it
  • using soap when shaving and shaving gently
  • using skin products that are oil-free and do not block pores (non-comedogenic)
  • choosing makeup or beauty products that are free from harsh chemical preservatives, soaping agents (parabens), and additives such as scents, flavor, glitter, or tint
  • cleaning makeup brushes regularly with an antimicrobial cleaner
  • wearing cotton clothing that is free of potentially irritating chemicals
  • using hypoallergenic laundry detergent and avoiding using additives, such as fabric softener and dryer sheets
  • cleaning bed sheets weekly and other heavier bedding items, such as blankets and pillows, monthly (or fortnightly if the weather is warm)
  • wearing neck jewelry that is free of potentially irritating materials, such as false metals, plastics, and some plant-based substances
  • adjusting backpack or purse straps so that they do not put pressure on or irritate the neck


Why you should not pop a pimple

Dermatologists recommend never popping a pimple.

Popping a pimple can introduce bacteria and other microbes from the hands, potentially leading to infection of the pimple.

The forced popping can also cause the bacteria within the pimple to spread into the surrounding and deeper tissues, leading to more severe sores such as papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts. More severe acne sores can lead to permanent skin complications, such as scarring, pitting, and dark spots.

Takeaway and when to see a doctor

Many pimples on the neck will disappear on their own or respond to home treatments.

A person should talk to a doctor or dermatologist if the pimples on their neck have the following characteristics:

  • severe
  • painful
  • bleed a lot or drain pus
  • contain hard lumps or feel deep under the skin
  • will not respond to at-home care and OTC medications
  • last longer than 6 weeks
  • seem to heal and then immediately return
  • cause emotional distress

Pimples on the neck are not uncommon, and it is often possible to prevent them with proper hygiene and other lifestyle measures.

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