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What are Skin Boils?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Skin boils, also called skin abscesses, are deep skin infections which are localized to one specific spot. These infections can be painful and unsightly, but are not usually dangerous. Most people can treat skin boils at home with simple natural remedies, but people with certain health problems may need medical attention.

Skin boils can develop for a variety of reasons, all of which relate to the development of a localized infection in the skin. Boils may develop when a hair becomes ingrown in a follicle, or if the skin is broken by a splinter or other foreign object. Acne-related boils are caused by clogged, infected sweat glands. In all cases, the boils develop because bacteria have infected the deeper layers of the skin at one specific spot.

As a skin abscess develops, it goes through several stages. In the initial stage of infection the boil becomes red and tender to the touch, and then becomes harder as the infection proceeds. The boil softens again when tissue begins to break down, and it becomes filled with pus, a soft matter which is made up of immune cells, proteins, and bacteria. After several days, a white or yellow head begins to form on the boil, and at this point it may spontaneously break, allowing the fluid to drain. Most boils will begin to heal once this occurs.

There are several natural cures for skin boils that can safely be tried before visiting a doctor. It is important to understand, however, that natural remedies don’t always work, and sometimes a doctor’s visit is needed. Anyone trying to treat skin boils at home should monitor the abscesses carefully and be aware of symptoms that might indicate a worsening infection.

Natural remedies for skin abscesses are fairly simple. The best results are obtained when the boil is treated as soon as it appears. Applying heat to the boil is the most effective method of treatment, as this improves circulation to the area. This helps to bring infection-fighting antibodies and immune cells to the area. Heat can be applied with a hot towel, water bath, or other method. Care should be taken to keep the area clean and dry when not applying heat.

If the boil is getting larger, if pain is worsening, if fever develops, or if red streaks develop near the boil, it’s time to get medical attention. People with diabetes, a cardiac condition, or a suppressed immune system, should not try to treat boils at home. Instead they should seek medical attention immediately when a boil develops to prevent complications.

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Discussion Comments
By anon284420 — On Aug 10, 2012

Bacon fat will bring a boil to a head. Put the fat on the boil and secure with a band aid before bed. In the morning, the boil will have a head on it and will be ready to drain.

By Mykol — On May 28, 2011

A hot compress usually works very well at softening the boil so it can begin to drain. I don't really know what the causes of boils are, but they sure can an embarrassment sometimes depending on where you get them.

I had to have sitz baths to treat boils that appeared on my buttocks. Thankfully they went away, but it was painful at first. I hope I never get another one.

By andee — On May 25, 2011

@somerset - That is really an interesting remedy. I am always interested in natural methods to help with medical conditions. I think it usually worth a try to see if it works before resorting to medication.

Not only are skin boils ugly to look at, but they can also be very painful. One natural skin boil treatment that I read about is to take hot towels soaked in vinegar and apply as a hot compress to the boil.

I don't think it would hurt to also apply some antibacterial cream to the area.

By somerset — On Sep 30, 2009

A boil will heal quickly using following home remedy. Cut an Italian plum in half, remove the pit and fill the space with regular table sugar. Place the plum with the sugar side on the boil and secure with a clean gauze.

I heard about this cure from a water polo coach who had to solve different medical issues for his players using home remedies.

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