A boil is a bacterial skin infection that forms in hair follicles and oil glands. Boils usually develop in regions of the body that experience friction or pressure, such as the face, armpits, groin, shoulders, and buttocks.
Boils begin as painful, red bumps that develop a pus-filled head as they progress. Most boils burst, drain, and heal within 2 days to 3 weeks of forming. A boil on the eyelid is known as a stye.
While it is never recommended to attempt to open or drain a boil at home, there are several relatively simple ways to help speed up the process naturally. Most boils do not lead to scarring unless forced open.
A collection of boils (carbuncles) and very large boils require medical attention to prevent the risk of serious complications, including sepsis and death.
The safest, easiest way to remove a boil at home is to use a warm compress to speed up the natural drainage process. Warmth increases the pressure in the infected pore as it slowly draws pus and blood to the surface of the skin.
With regular application of a warm compress, the boil should eventually burst open and drain fully.
As long as the opened boil is kept clean, dry, and protected, it should heal within a few days to weeks depending on its size and location.
A person can treat small, uncomplicated boils by:
- soaking a clean washcloth or towel in hot water
- wringing most of the water out of cloth and squeezing it into a compress
- applying the warm compress to the boil for 10 to 15 minutes
- repeating this process 3 to 4 times daily, or until the boil has opened
Once the boil has opened, a person can help it heal and prevent infection by:
- Rinsing the sore gently with antibacterial soap and covering it with a sterile bandage or gauze.
- Washing the hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap any time they touch, handle, or change the dressing on the boil or sore.
- Changing bandages and gauze 2 to 3 times a day depending on the area.
- Cleaning the area immediately whenever it may have become dirty.
- Not touching or rubbing the sore as it heals.
- Washing clothing and bedding with hot water and drying it on a hot setting while the sore is healing.
Using anti-inflammatory and pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help reduce the pain, swelling, and redness associated with boils as they heal.
Typically, antibiotic ointments and creams are not helpful in treating boils, as they do not penetrate infected skin or pores.
It is essential never to force a boil to burst or open at home. While painful, a boil is the body's way of defending itself from a much more serious risk.
If boils cluster together or develop into pockets deep under the skin (cellulitis), they can burst and leak the infection into the bloodstream.
If left untreated, bacterial bloodstream infections can cause organ failure, sepsis, coma, toxic shock syndrome, and eventually death.
While less studied, several additional home remedies have been shown to encourage boils to drain or improve healing time naturally.
According to a 2014 study, one community in Northern India uses at least 32 individual plant species to treat boils.
In general, the recovery process can be sped up by applying any compound that improves blood flow, is immune boosting, or has antibacterial, antiviral, or antifungal properties.
There is limited evidence, however, on how effective natural remedies are for treating boils.
The following are natural home remedies with evidence for treating boils:
- Raw onion can be cut in a thick slice, wrapped in gauze and placed over the boil or wound for 1 hour once or twice daily.
- Fresh garlic can be pressed and the extracted juice applied to boil or wound for 10 to 30 minutes once or twice daily.
- Tea tree oil can be applied directly to the boil or wound whenever changing bandages or gauze. It is available to purchase online.
- Turmeric and ginger can be mixed to make a paste, or boiled together alongside a clean washcloth in salted water, and applied to the boil for 5 to 10 minutes daily.
- Castor oil extract can be applied to the boil whenever changing the gauze or bandage. It is available to purchase online.
- Tridax daisy essential oil can be applied to the boil whenever changing the gauze or bandage.
- Neem essential oil or fresh ground leaves made into a paste and left on the boil or wound for 10 to 30 minutes once or twice daily. It is available to purchase online.
- Goatweed essential oil or extract can be applied to the boil whenever changing the gauze or bandage.
- Devil's horsewhip extract or essential oil can be applied to the boil whenever changing the gauze or bandage.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of getting boils, but there is no way to prevent the risk of developing them entirely.
Tips for preventing boils include:
- regularly washing the skin with a mild soap or antibacterial rinse
- using a textured cloth, brush, glove, or loofah to exfoliate the skin once a week, especially the armpits, groin, face, and shoulders
- staying hydrated and eating a nutritious diet to improve immune function
- exercising regularly
- cleaning and covering broken or damaged skin with a sterile dressing, such as a bandage or gauze
- washing hands thoroughly with antibacterial washes or soap after touching a boil or someone with one
A person should seek medical attention for large or complicated boils.
If a boil gets worse after draining or does not improve on its own with basic home care after a week or more, a doctor should rule out infection.
Most boils heal on their own with basic at home care and good hygiene within 3 weeks of forming.
Rarely, however, boils can cause complications, especially in people with weakened immune systems.
Possible complications of boils include:
- carbuncles or boils that form or reform in clusters
- infection in the deeper layers of the skin
- infection of hair follicles usually caused by Staphylococcus bacteria
- infection and swelling of the heart valve tissues
Most boils drain and heal within 2 days to 3 weeks of appearing.
Boils that do not begin to improve within a week, have severe symptoms, are very large, or seem to be clustered or deep in the skin require medical attention and commonly antibiotic treatment.
A person should never attempt to burst a boil at home for any reason, as this may lead to serious health complications.
Applying a warm compress several times each day will often encourage the boil to drain naturally. Although studies are limited, several herbal remedies have been shown to speed up the boil drainage and healing processes.