A pustule is an elevated lesion on the skin that is filled with pus. Pustules are typically found on the face and neck, though they can appear anywhere on the body. There are literally dozens of skin conditions and other ailments that can cause pustules to appear, though some are more common than others. Most causes of pustules are not serious and can be successfully treated by a dermatologist.
Acne is one of the most common causes of pustules. Acne pustules are typically found on the face and neck, though they can also appear on the shoulders, chest and back. Lesions caused by acne are red, raised bumps, and white pus is typically visible at the head. Hormones play a role in acne outbreaks, so acne is common in teenagers. Acne can manifest at any age, however. It is usually treated with either over-the-counter or prescription skin creams containing benzoyl peroxide, sulfur or salicylic acid. In severe cases acne may be treated with prescription oral medications.
Rosacea is an inflammatory skin disease in adults. It can be mistaken for acne or eczema due to the similar appearance of the red, pus-filled pustules on the face that characterize rosacea. Rosacea tends to worsen over time, and symptoms tend to appear in cycles lasting from a week to several months at a time. There is no cure for rosacea, but topical medications and oral antibiotics can help reduce flare-ups.
Folliculitis pustules appear as small pimples with white heads. Folliculitis can be caused by irritation from shaving or tight clothing, excessive sweating, skin conditions such as acne and dermatitis and skin injuries. The pustules manifest around hair follicles on any part of the body, and they often itch. Sometimes folliculitis pustules can be sore and painful, but they usually clear up on their own in a few days. Recurring folliculitis is usually treated with oral antibiotics or antifungals. Topical medications to reduce itching and topical acne medications are also often used on folliculitis pustules.
Various fungal infections can also be responsible for pustules almost anywhere on the body. Candida, or thrush, is a common fungal infection that often infects the mouth with painful white pustules. Thrush is caused by bacteria that are usually harmless but can cause an infection when the immune system is weakened by drugs or disease. Antifungal medications are typically very effective in treating thrush.
Staph infections generally cause minor skin conditions, but can move to the bloodstream, heart and lungs in more serious cases. They are common in hospitalized patients and those with chronic illnesses and weakened immune systems. Many of the bacteria that cause staph infections have become resistant to common antibiotics. According to the Mayo Clinic, less than 10 percnet of staph infections can be successfully treated with penicillin. Staph infection pustules appear as swollen, pus-filled boils. They are most commonly found in the armpits and near the groin and buttocks, though they can appear anywhere on the body.