Pimples and Boils. How Natural Therapies Can Help
Pimples ane boils (furuncles) can be painful and unsightly and are usually the result of bacteria entering through an oil gland or hair folicle on the body.
What is a Boil?
A boil or furuncle, otherwise referred to as an abscess, is a skin infection that begins in an oil gland or a hair follicle. They are defined as a painful collection of pus, commonly caused by a bacterial infection known as staphylococcus aureus or simply termed, “staph.” Other bacteria or fungi found on the skin’s surface can also cause boils, but staph is the most common cause.
A boil or abscess is typically round in shape and raised from the skin’s surface. They are tender to the touch and when they first appear, the skin turns pinkish red in the affected area, and a tender bump arises from the skin’s surface. After four to seven days, the boil will start turning white as pus collects under the skin. It is tempting at this stage to want to pop the boil, but the liquid contained in the boil is highly infectious and if popped, can cause the infection to spread.
Boils can occur in the hair follicles anywhere on the body, but they most commonly occur on the face, neck, armpits, buttocks and thighs. They can also occur in areas like the ear canal or nose. It is not uncommon to have one boil or multiple boils.
If several boils appear together in a group, this is a more serious type of infection called a ‘carbuncle’.
Recurring boils are also known as chronic furunculosis, a condition in which crops of boils occur over a period of time continuously or from time to time.
Symptoms of a Boil
- Swollen, red lump deep in the skin
- Pain, especially when touched
- Size can vary from the size of a pea to larger than a golf ball
- May develop a central, whitish-yellow “head” that may break and release pus
- May “weep” or ooze clear fluid, or develop a crust
- As the infection gets worse, a whitish point or head can appear at the centre of the boil — this is where the boil’s pus will drain from if it begins to drain on its own
- May spread to surrounding skin, creating a carbuncle
Who is Prone to Boils?
- Athletes participating in contact sports or using shared equipment
- Individuals with a weakened immune system, such as people who have diabetes, HIV, are taking certain medications like the types of medications used to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ, or are receiving chemotherapy to treat cancer
- Individuals with other skin conditions that lead to scratching and injury to the skin, such as eczema or scabies
- Staph carriers
- Obese people
- Individuals with poor nutrition
- Individuals living in close quarters with other people like prisons, military barracks or homeless shelters
Boil Precautions and Complications
Boils can be very contagious and therefore it is not recommended that an infected individual share clothing, towels, bedding or sporting equipment with others whilst they have a boil.
Washing hands frequently to avoid the boil spreading is highly recommended.
It is important to seek medical attention if a boil hasn’t shown improvement with home treatment after approximately one week and an infected individual exhibits one or more of the following:
- A boil that lasts more than two weeks
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A fever
- Severe pain and the boil does not drain on its own
- Skin around the boil turns red or red streaks appear
- The original boil comes back
- A second boil or a carbuncle forms
- The boil is located on the spine or face
- Repeated outbreaks of boils
- An infected individual has diabetes, a heart murmur, a problem with the immune system or was taking immune-suppressing medications when the boil developed
- If an infant develops a boil of any size, he or she should be taken to the doctor immediately
Possible Complications of boils include:
- Abscess of the skin, spinal cord, brain, kidneys or other organ
- Bone, brain, heart or spinal cord infection
- Infection of the blood or tissues (sepsis)
- Spread of infection to other parts of the body or skin surfaces
- Permanent scarring
What is a Pimple?
A pimple, (acne vulgaris) is a small ‘comedone’, pustule or papule that forms a skin lesion. Pimples develop when an oil gland gets clogged and infected from bacteria. This is the reason pimples swell and become red, pus-filled lesions on the surface, and just under the surface, of the skin. Most people get pimples on the face, neck, chest, upper back and shoulders.
Pimples can cause scarring but this is more likely when the skin is inflamed, swollen, red and painful, such as in the case of cystic acne and nodules. This form of acne penetrates deep into the skin, causing damage.
Picking at pimples can makes them worse by causing inflammation, reducing healing time, and increasing the risks of scarring.
Pimples or acne is classified as mild, moderate or severe. Mild includes the comedones, which are considered non-inflammatory lesions or slightly inflammatory lesions called papulopustular. Pimples that are more inflammatory are denoted as ‘moderate acne’. This happens when there are occasional nodules and possibly mild scarring. Severe pimples/acne, occurs when there are a lot of inflammatory lesions, nodules and possibly scarring.
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Types of Pimples
There are several different types of pimples, and they have different signs and symptoms:
Whiteheads: Also known as a closed comedone, these are small pimples that remain under the skin. They appear as a small, flesh-coloured papule.
Blackheads: Also known as an open comedone, these are clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are black or dark brown, due to the oxidation of melanin, the skin's pigment.
Papules: These are small, solid, rounded bumps that rise from the skin. They are often pink.
Pustules: These are pimples full of pus. They are clearly visible on the surface of the skin. The base is red and the pus is on the top.
Nodules: These have a similar structure to papules, but they are larger. They can be painful and are embedded deep in the skin.
Cysts: These are clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are filled with pus and are usually painful. Cysts commonly cause scars.
Natural Treatments for Boils
Turmeric powder has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which can help heal a boil and get rid of it quickly. It’s been used as a natural blood purifier for thousands of years in eastern medicine as a result.
Turmeric powder can be ingested orally or used topically, or both.
To ingest it, boil a teaspoon of turmeric powder in water or milk, and drink it three times daily once cooled.
To use it topically, mix turmeric with water and/or ginger to make a paste, and apply it to the boil at least twice a day.
Epsom salts have numerous health benefits, including the ability to treat boils. The salt can actually help to dry out the pus, causing the boil to drain.
Dissolve Epsom salt in warm water and soak a compress in it. Apply the compress to the area for twenty minutes at a time. Do this at least three times daily until the boil is gone.
Castor oil contains a compound called ricinoleic acid, which is a natural but potent anti-inflammatory. This, combined with its powerful antibacterial properties, make it ideal in the treatment of boils. Apply a small amount of castor oil directly to the boil at least three times a day until the boil is gone.
Neem oil, also known as Indian lilac, has antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties that help treat skin infections including boils, fast.
To treat boils with neem oil, apply the oil directly to the boil three to four times a day.
Natural Treatments for Pimples
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is the most recommended remedies for pimples/acne because it has amazing microbial properties that help fight the bacteria causes acne. Tea tree can be blended with coconut oil and applied to the face and affected areas.
Coconut oil contains properties that encourage the elimination of bacteria, which is why there are so many uses for coconut oil on the skin. Lauric acid is the main ingredient in coconut oil, and this acid makes it an effective treatment against acne because it provides antibacterial results.
Frankincense Essential Oil
This contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is therefore amazing for almost all skin types and perfect for acne-prone skin. Frankincense invites new cell growth, which can help reduce the appearance of scars. It also helps prevent or eliminate bacteria, part of what can cause acne or boils in the first place.
A study conducted by the Department of Dermatology at the University of Freiburg in Germany reports that using frankincense and five other plant extracts for antimicrobial effects on bacteria and yeast relating to the skin proved effective. The study concluded that their antimicrobial effects were powerful enough to be used as a topical treatment of some skin disorders, including acne and eczema.
Lavender Essential Oil
Helps to prevent and keep acne at bay. Lavender helps regenerate skin cells, minimize sun spots and even reduce scarring caused by acne. Additionally, it can help reduce swelling and inflammation that may be caused by acne due to the polysaccharides it contains.
Castor oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can speed up healing, making it ideal for breakout-prone skin. Use it with jojoba oil, hemp seed oil or coconut oil, along with one of the essential oils above. Castor oil is high in unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, proteins and minerals, which can help reduce acne-causing bacteria and inflammation associated with breakouts. It can even help heal scars caused by acne.
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What Is Hidradenitis Suppurativa? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), also called acne inversa, is a chronic inflammatory skin disease. People with HS have lesions which can include painful, deep-seated nodules and abscesses that can cause permanent scarring, says Rita O. Pichardo, MD, a dermatologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston Salem, North Carolina. “It primarily occurs in places where skin rubs on skin, which are called intertriginous regions,” she says.
There can be periods of worsening (called flares) or improvement, but there’s usually some evidence of the condition at all times, says Dr. Pichardo.
Signs and Symptoms of Hidradenitis Suppurativa
A painful nodule can form in that area (most often in the armpit, groin area, buttocks, or inner thigh) that looks like a cyst, boil, or deep pimple.
As these bumps or nodules grow, they join together and fill up with fluid, becoming abscesses. When the mass breaks open, blood and pus is expelled. This fluid has a bad odor and can cause wet spots on clothing. The ongoing drainage that occurs with HS can be a tipoff that you have the disease. And as this process repeats, tunnels can form under the skin and cause permanent scarring.
Blackhead-like spots (often appearing in twos) can form in advanced stages. These may heal and skin may clear for a while, but then new breakouts reappear in the same area.
More on Hidradenitis Suppurativa
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Causes and Risk Factors of Hidradenitis Suppurativa
The exact cause for hidradenitis suppurativa is unknown, but it’s thought to be multifactorial, says Katherine L. DeNiro, MD, a dermatologist and acting assistant professor of medicine at UW Medicine in Seattle.
- Genetics Having a family member with HS can increase the likelihood that a person will develop the disease.
- Smoking Smoking seems to be a risk factor.
- Hormonal Factors These play a role, as women are more likely to have HS than men.
- Obesity Research links HS with being overweight as well as diseases that are related to obesity, such as diabetes and hypertension.
“That being said, there are plenty of people with develop HS and we don’t know why; they don’t have any of those risk factors. There’s still a great deal we still need to learn about what causes HS,” says Dr. DeNiro.
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How Is Hidradenitis Suppurativa Diagnosed?
On average, people have HS about eight years before they are given the correct diagnosis, says DeNiro. “This includes people who are staying home and suffering in silence or have seen a provider but haven’t been correctly diagnosed yet,” she notes.
Diagnosis can be delayed for a few reasons, says Pichardo. “It can be hard to spot at first, depending on the location in the body. Some patients are embarrassed about it and reluctant to talk to anybody — their friends or family or even a healthcare professional,” she says.
Some patients and medical providers may think the HS is something else, like an ingrown hair, folliculitis, or an acne-type rash, says Pichardo. “It’s important to seek treatment early and for physicians to recognize this condition to minimize the chances of scarring and other complications,” she adds.
The first way HS is diagnosed is through the type of lesions, which are inflammatory pustules, boils, or abscesses under the skin, Pichardo says. “They are bilateral which means on both sides of the body.”
The pustules are commonly found in certain areas of the body, although those areas are different for women and men, says Pichardo. “Usually for women these can appear under the arms, under the breasts, in the groin and pubic area, and in the inner thighs. In men, it’s mainly in underarms, groin area, and in the anal area.”
The most common way to assess the severity of HS is called the Hurley staging method:
Hurley Stage 1: Less Severe Disease There are isolated nodules, bumps, or abscesses with minimal or no scarring.
Hurley Stage 2 : Moderate Disease At this stage, there are widely separated nodules or abscesses that are connected to each other in what are called sinus tracts, which are like channels under the skin that connect one lesion with another and cause scarring, says Pichardo. There can be some scarring within a region of the body in this stage.
Hurley Stage 3: Severe Disease There are multiple or extensive sinus tracts, abscesses, and scarring affecting a whole area of the body at this stage.
Prognosis of Hidradenitis Suppurativa
Because these lesions are so painful, this is a disease that negatively affects quality of life, says Pichardo. “People with HS can be embarrassed about the lesions because of the way they look and smell,” she says.
12 Hidradenitis Suppurativa Home Remedies
Cory Martin is the author of seven books including "Love Sick" a memoir about dating, life in Hollywood and dealing with MS. Her essays have appeared online with CNN, HuffPost, Everyday Health, Psychology Today, Folks, The Mighty, and more.
Leah Ansell, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University.
Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes painful pus-filled pimple-like boils that can leave scarring in areas such as the armpits and groin. The hallmark boils of the disease are caused by blocked hair follicles and sweat glands that become inflamed or infected.
These boils often erupt and seep pus that can have a smell due to a combination of infection and dead skin cells. Some people may experience itching or pain in the areas before the boils form.
A progressive disease, HS is categorized into three stages through the Hurley staging system. While there’s no known cure for HS, treatment is available to help minimize flare-ups and prevent progression to stage three
Living with HS can be mentally and physically painful, luckily there are natural remedies to help alleviate symptoms.
In this article, you'll learn about various natural treatment options for HS and lifestyle changes you can make to prevent flare-ups of the disease.
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Best Home Remedies for HS
Many people with HS find that complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) options are quite helpful at relieving symptoms and preventing flare-ups.
In one study from 2020, about 50% of participants reported supplementing with turmeric and zinc to help treat their HS, while around 90% said they've made dietary changes. Of those that made dietary changes, 46% noted the changes as beneficial.
While there are many options for treating HS at home, it is always best to talk with a healthcare provider before starting any new therapy.
1. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is an antimicrobial that’s known to kill certain bacteria. It can be applied to HS lesions to help prevent infections.
Turmeric (curcumin) is a spice known for its anti-inflammatory properties, It can be added to many foods such as eggs, soups, and salad dressings.
Supplements that contain high quantities of turmeric can also provide similar benefits.
3. Dry, Warm Compress
A dry warm compress such as a heating pad can help relieve pain from an inflamed pimple-like boil. Keeping the area dry can help prevent infection.
4. CBD Oils
CBD, or cannabinoid oils, either applied topically or ingested have shown to anecdotally improve symptoms and pain. However, more research is needed.
5. Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) Baths
Epsom salt baths can help relieve pain and reduce the inflammation that occurs due to HS.
6. Bleach Bath
Taking a bath in a diluted solution of bleach (sodium hypochlorite) has an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effect that can occur within five minutes.
Talk to your healthcare provider about the proper dilution of the bleach with water.
7. Natural Deodorant
Antiperspirants with multiple chemicals have been shown anecdotally to irritate the skin where HS lesions occur. Using a natural deodorant without aluminum can help prevent irritation.
8. Aloe Vera Gel
Using aloe vera gel has been shown to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and wound healing effects on the skin.
Zinc is known to help the immune system fight infection and has been shown to help with symptoms of HS.
Zinc can be found in foods like oysters, crab, beef, beans, chicken, or taken as a supplement.
Honey is widely known to have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to treat wounds.
Putting honey in food or drinking it in tea may help with HS.
10. Neem Oil
Neem oil can help with wounds that don’t heal. The inability to heal is common as HS progresses.
11. Apple Cider Vinegar
One study from 2018 found that apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties. Applying a diluted solution of apple cider vinegar to the wound can help fight bacteria and prevent odor.
Wound care is very important with HS to limit scarring and prevent further infection.
12. Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing Alcohol can help keep the skin clean and prevent further flare-ups. Don’t put rubbing alcohol on open wounds as it will burn. Hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean open wounds.
Natural Ways to Prevent Flare-Ups
Flare-ups of HS can be painful, causing wounds that don’t heal and scarring. Taking steps to prevent flare-ups can make life with the disease more manageable. Options to prevent flare-ups include lifestyle changes and maintaining proper hygiene and a healthy weight.
The following options can help prevent or minimize flare-ups. They include but aren’t limited to:
- Wear loose clothing to prevent friction and irritation of the areas that are most affected by HS.
- Be careful when shaving or avoid shaving altogether to stop friction on the skin.
- Keep susceptible areas dry to prevent irritation.
- Make dietary changes such as avoiding dairy and brewer’s yeast. Eat foods that are anti-inflammatory and avoid high glycemic foods like candy.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is associated with a higher prevalence of HS.
- Keep proper hygiene to help prevent future infections.
- If you smoke, stop smoking cigarettes as it’s associated with higher rates of HS.
HS is a progressive inflammatory disease. There's no known cure for HS, but treatment can help prevent flare-ups and stop disease progression.
There are many options for treating HS naturally, including making dietary changes, supplementing with turmeric and zinc, taking Epsom salt baths, and making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, among more. These can help relieve symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
Always talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new treatment to determine if it's the right fit for you.
A Word From Verywell
If you live with HS, it's best to talk with your healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan that works for you. Your provider will take into consideration your medical history and the stage of your HS. Most effective treatment plans for HS will combine natural and pharmaceutical methods to help you relieve symptoms and delay disease progression.
If you experience a severe flare-up and want to try a natural therapy, contact your healthcare provider immediately. While natural methods can be extremely beneficial it's always best to talk to your doctor before implementing them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Non-irritating soaps are best for HS. Some dermatologists may recommend or prescribe a soap that contains benzoyl peroxide to reduce bacteria.
Topical antibiotics, retinoids, oral antibiotics, and biologics are all used to treat HS.
Smoking is known to delay or prevent healing of wounds. In HS, delayed healing can cause complications and infection.