- When to see a doctor
An acne pimple develops when an oil gland becomes blocked and inflamed. A pimple is a small, swollen, red lesion. It may have a whitish top, which indicates that it contains pus.
These pimples most commonly affect the face, chest, and back. Acne does not develop on the hands, which do not have the necessary oil glands.
However, other types of skin lesion can develop on the hand, and they may look like pimples. These lesions may be cysts, warts, or calluses, or they may result from a condition such as eczema.
This article lists the most common causes of pimple-like bumps on the hand. It also describes their treatments and when to see a doctor.
Potential causes of a pimple-like lesion on the hand include:
Eczema on the hand can look like pimples.
Atopic dermatitis (AD) — also known as eczema — is a common skin condition. Globally, it affects about 15–20% of children and 1–3% of adults.
AD can cause small, red, itchy bumps to form on the hands, face, and other areas of the skin.
These bumps can be so itchy that they disturb a person’s sleep. Scratching may provide temporary relief, but it increases the risk of infection.
People with eczema may need to try several treatments before they find one that works. A combination of medical treatments and home remedies may be necessary.
Treatment options include:
- corticosteroid creams to treat lesions
- topical calcineurin inhibitors, such as tacrolimus (Protopic), when AD forms in sensitive areas of the body
- oral antihistamines to help with itching at night
- antibiotics for infections
- light therapies, including narrowband ultraviolet B therapy or controlled exposure to natural sunlight
A doctor may prescribe a biologic drug for eczema that does not respond to the above treatments.
A biologic, such as dupilumab (Dupixent), targets a specific component of the immune system involved in AD to improve skin health and reduce inflammation.
Home remedies for AD include:
- moisturizing the skin regularly
- bathing in warm (not hot) water that contains colloidal oatmeal or baking soda
- wearing a bandage on the area to prevent scratching
- wearing comfortable clothing that does not scratch or irritate the skin
- using gentle, unperfumed skin care products
- using a humidifier in the home to counteract the effects of dry air
- learning to manage stress and anxiety, through yoga, meditation, or other relaxation techniques
Some people shave or pluck hair on their hands, and this could theoretically result in an ingrown hair.
Ingrown hairs grow back, after being plucked or shaved, at an angle that causes them to turn inward. This can cause a red bump to form, as well as redness and swelling in the area.
An infection can develop in the follicle of an ingrown hair. The name for this infection is folliculitis, and it can spread.
An ingrown hair usually does not require treatment. The following home remedies can help alleviate any pain and itchiness:
- applying a warm compress to the affected follicle
- gently exfoliating the skin around the follicle
A ganglion cyst is a benign, or noncancerous, bump. These cysts can develop on the joints of the hands, wrists, or fingers. They tend to be round or oval and may contain a jelly-like substance.
Ganglion cysts may be painful, especially if they press on a nerve. They may also affect the movement of the joint.
Around 58% of ganglion cysts go away without treatment. Cysts that do not cause pain or joint issues do not require treatment. However, some people choose to remove them for cosmetic reasons.
Some options for cyst removal include:
- aspiration,in which a physician drains the cyst
- immobilization,which involves restricting movement to help shrink the cyst and alleviate pressure on the nerves
- surgeryto completely remove the cyst
The itching from a fire ant bite can last up to 7 days.
Several types of insect bite result in a red bump on the skin. One type is a fire ant bite.
A fire ant bite causes a pustule to form on the skin. Pustules look like acne pimples and contain yellow pus.
According to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, around 96% of these pustules develop within 24 hours of the bites occurring.
The pustules are quite itchy and can persist for up to 7 days.
Insect bites clear up on their own. In the case of a fire ant bite, it may take a week or so for the pimple and itchiness to resolve completely.
In the meantime, the following can help manage insect bite symptoms:
- applying a cold compress to the wound
- applying a thin layer of 1% hydrocortisone cream to the bite three times daily
- taking an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- treating any pain with an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
If an infection develops at the site of the bite, the person may need antibiotics.
Learn more about insect bites here.
Common warts are small skin growths that frequently appear on the hands and fingers. Warts are flesh-colored and uneven to the touch. They may also contain clotted blood vessels that appear as black dots.
People develop warts following exposure to certain strains of the human papillomavirus, better known as HPV.
Common warts are not generally a cause for concern, and they tend to clear up without treatment. However, this may take more than 2 years, in certain situations.
Treatment for warts is not usually necessary. However, some people choose to have warts removed:
- for cosmetic reasons
- if the warts become bothersome
- if they spread to other areas of the body
Some methods of removing warts involve:
- freezing them off, in a procedure called cryotherapy
- receiving laser treatment
- applying salicylic acid
- receiving intralesional immunotherapy injections, though this is an off-label use
Some people recommend applying the following items or substances to warts to remove them naturally:
- duct tape
- clear nail polish
- apple cider vinegar
- tea tree oil
However, little scientific evidence suggests that these home remedies work. Anecdotal evidence indicates that a person needs to use the remedy regularly to see results.
Moisturizing the hands regularly may help prevent bumps and lesions.
The following lifestyle tips can help reduce the risk of pimples, warts, and similar skin conditions:
- using a moisturizing hand creams or ointments
- practicing stress management techniques to prevent acne and eczema flare-ups
- wearing padded gloves to protect the hands from friction
- using proper shaving techniques to prevent ingrown hairs
When to see a doctor
See a doctor if one or more pimple-like bumps appear on the hand regularly, if they do not go away, or if they ooze fluid.
Symptoms such as severe pain, itching, or skin flaking also indicate a need for medical treatment.
Acne pimples do not occur on the hands because the hands have no sebaceous glands.
Other skin issues commonly affect the hands, and it can be easy to mistake these bumps for pimples.
Pimple-like bumps can result from friction or AD. Or, a bump may be an insect bite, an ingrown hair, a wart, or a cyst.
The first step in treatment involves identifying the underlying cause. If one or more bumps persist, if they are painful or itchy, or if the skin oozes or flakes, see a doctor.