Skin Boils: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

There are a ton of different skin conditions that cause bumps and lumps. The terms for all of these types of lesions can be confusing(zits, cysts, pustules, blemishes, and boils, just to name a few), but they’re all different.

Some are relatively harmless, while others can be a cause for concern. While boils rarely cause serious complications, you shouldn’t ignore them. But what exactly are they, and how can you reduce them? 

Read on to learn everything you need to know about boils and how you can kiss them goodbye.


What Exactly is a Boil?

A boil is a large painful lump on the skin. It’s a type of infection that tends to develop around an oil gland or a hair follicle. At first, the skin  turns red in the area of the infection, then a small tender lump develops. After about four to seven days, the small, red lump starts turning white as pus collects under the skin.

The most common spots where a boil may pop up is on your face, neck, shoulder, or booty. They can also form under your armpit as well as on the eyelid, which is known as a stye. If several boils appear in a group, this is a more serious type of infection, known as a carbuncle


Causes of Boils

Believe it or not, there are many causes of boils. Some can be caused by ingrown hair, while others form as a result of a foreign material (like a splinter) that has become lodged in the skin. Other boils, such as those of acne, are caused by clogged sweat glands that become inflamed and infected. 

Your  skin is such an essential part of your immune defense against materials and microbes that are foreign to your body. Any break -- no matter how small that break might be -- can develop into an abscess should it become infected with bacteria. It gets real, fast.

Although just about anyone can get a boil, these health problems make people more susceptible to skin infections:

  • Diabetes

  • Poor nutrition

  • Poor hygiene

  • Exposure to harsh chemicals that cause skin irritation

  • HIV and other autoimmune conditions

  • Obesity


How to Treat Boils

Medical professionals are the only ones who can safely remove the core of a boil. Removing the core is an outpatient procedure that requires a local anesthetic. Once the boil is numb, the doctor will cut a small incision, allowing some of the pus to drain out. A doctor may then insert a little gauze into the incision to help drain additional pus. 

A boil will typically heal on its own within one to three weeks, but if you happen to experience one or more of the following symptoms, it’s important to check in with your doctor immediately. 

Why, might you ask? Well, because in some cases, the bacteria from a boil can get into your bloodstream, which can then affect your heart and other internal organs -- not good!

When to seek medical care:


  • Swelling or worsening pain after several days 

  • Fever

  • Vision problems

  • Development of an additional boil or stye

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Recurring boil

  • You have diabetes or a heart murmur, any issues with your immune system, or if you use suppressing drugs such as corticosteroids or chemotherapy. 

Boil or MRSA Infection?

MRSA can look exactly like a boil: red, inflamed, swollen, pus-filled, and tender to the touch. But MRSA infections are caused by one particular type of staph that is resistant to many antibiotics. 

If what you think is a boil spread or doesn’t improve after 2-3 days of antibiotics, your doctor may suspect MRSA. The right treatment given promptly is crucial to healing MRSA, preventing a deeper, more dangerous infection. 


How to Treat Boils

Boils can be an absolute pain, and in some cases, they can grow as large as an egg! 

Since bacteria and germs are everywhere in our environments and on many people’s skin, the very best defense against these lumps includes:

  • Careful cleaning of scrapes, cuts, and other wounds

  • Handwashing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer

  • Not sharing towels, razors, sheets, clothes, etc. 

  • Keeping wounds covered

Always wash your sheets, towels, and anything else that comes in contact with an infected area in very hot water. For disposal, toss any wound dressings in a tightly sealed bag. You got this.

What About Skincare?

Taking care of your skin with a great skincare routine can help immensely to prevent boils from popping up. As we mentioned a little earlier, boils can occur due to acne, which can be prevented with top-notch, blemish-fighting products.

Treating a boil can be tough, but preventing one from occurring is simple, especially with the help of a poppingskincare routine. 

How To Treat Boils

Home treatment is an option for most simple boils. Ideally, you should begin treatment the moment you notice one, as early treatment may prevent later complications. 

The treat a boil or stye at home, experts recommend the following  steps:

  • Make a warm compress.  Applying heat is arguably the best way to treat a boil at home. To make a warm compress, all you need to do is soak a clean washcloth in hot water, but be careful not to use water that is too hot, as we don’t want to burn your delicate skin!

  • Apply the warm compress.  Hold your warm compress to the boil for roughly 10 to 15 minutes. Do this a few times daily until the boil releases pus and heals. Whatever you do, never squeeze, pinch, or piece a boil yourself because this can spread the infection. 

  • Consider taking ibuprofen.  If your boil is painful -- which chances are it is -- consider taking a pain reliever like ibuprofen to help reduce the pain. Your body will thank you for it, believe us.

  • Always keep the area clean.  In addition to never popping it, it’s also important to always keep the area clean and avoid touching or rubbing the boil. If you have a stye on your eye, avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses until it heals. That flawless beat can wait.

  • Keep it covered.  When your boil starts to drain, wash it with an antibacterial soap until all of the pus is gone and then clean it with rubbing alcohol. Apply a medicated ointment and cover it with an unused,sterile bandage (or gauze) to help prevent infection while it heals. 

Once the boil has drained, you’ll need to clean the infected area two to three times a day until the wound has totally healed. If the area turns red or the surrounding skin looks angry, contact your doctor. 

Are Boils Contagious?

Technically, no. However, the germs that cause boils (staph) are easily spread through skin-to-skin contact and contaminated objects. These bacteria are usually harmless unless they find a break in your skin (like a tiny cut). It’s okay though, we’ll put you on so you know how to avoid it.

To avoid spreading staph, don’t share towels, clothes, bedding, or even sports gear while you have a boil. Keep it covered at all times, and whatever you do, don’t touch it! Frequent hand-washing can also help to prevent the spread of bacteria.


Bottom Line

Boils are painful bacterial skin infections that cause red, pus-filled bumps, usually forming around hair follicles or oil glands. Home treatments can help alleviate symptoms and prevent the spread of infection. Treatment generally consists of keeping the area clean and applying a warm compress to encourage the pus to drain from the core.

Although a boil can pop up at any time without warning, there are some things you can do to lessen the chance of getting one, such as having a top-notch skincare routine. 

Stay away from products made with harsh chemicals and questionable ingredients since they  can do more harm to your skin than good. Instead, reach for dermatologist-approved products made using healthy ingredients and herbals from a science-backed skincare company, like Topicals. We’ve got your back, always.

Topicals is a company like no other, using powerful medicated botanicals to fight marks, scars, and flare-ups on your skin. Formulated by experts, using scientifically-proven ingredients and made for every shade, Topicals is your secret weapon for healthy, happy skin.