Pimples and boils both appear as bumps on the skin. A pimple happens when pores become clogged. A boil, or furuncle, is a pus-filled lump caused by bacterial infection. It can appear red and swollen.

While a person can treat both boils and pimples at home, boils can sometimes turn into a severe infection known as a carbuncle.

Learn more about the difference between boils and pimples in this article.

Pimples

A pimple is often the result of excess oil production or a buildup of dead skin cells and bacteria. People may be more likely to develop pimples during puberty, when the body makes more hormones that can cause excessive production of oil.

Sometimes, a bacteria type called Cutibacterium acnescan infiltrate the skin and causefurther pain and irritation.

Pimples most commonly occur on the face but can also appear on the back, chest, and shoulders. They have many forms, including blackheads, whiteheads, and papules. Some may be pus-filled, so they may closely resemble boils.

Boils

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria usually live on the surface of the skin but can reach the inner layers via a cut, bug bite, or infected hair follicle. This infiltration can lead to a boil.

Boils may appear on the following:

  • armpits
  • groin
  • genital area
  • back
  • bottom
  • thighs

Boils start out as a small, round bump, which is usually swollen and red. Over several days, the bump will fill with pus. As the bump grows, pressure on the skin increases, eventually causing the boil to rupture and drain.

A doctor can often diagnose a boil or a pimple with a visual examination. The doctor will ask about symptoms, when the person first noticed the bumps, and whether they have tried any treatments.

Additional symptoms, the location of the bumps, and the condition of the surrounding skin help a doctor diagnose pimples or boils. Invasive testing is usually not required.

Treatments for boils and pimples differ. Below, find some of the most common techniques.

Pimples

For most people, a thorough skin care routine can help to reduce the incidence of pimples. However, it can take 6 to 8 weeksfor acne treatments to work.

A skin care routine for pimples should include:

  • using a product containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to reduce oil and buildup of dead skin cells in the pores
  • avoiding squeezing or popping the pimple, as this can invite bacteria into the skin and lead to scarring
  • applying a warm, damp washcloth to pimples for 10-15 minutes, three times daily, to draw the pimple out
  • protecting skin with an SPF of 30 or higher, as some acne products can make a person’s skin more sensitive to the sun

If pimples do not go away with home remedies, a person may wish to speak to a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in managing skin conditions.

Boils

Applying a warm compress to a boil will help to reduce pain and may encourage the boil to drain. If the boil is in a hard-to-reach area, a person can try resting in a hot bath instead.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also reduce discomfort.

A doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment designed to fight the bacteria inside the boil. Or, they may prescribe oral antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading to the bloodstream.

In some cases, a doctor will surgically drain the boil and apply topical antibiotics to the area to combat the infection.

A boil and the skin around it should be kept clean and dry. A person should wash their hands with soap and water after touching a boil, to avoid spreading the infection. Sharing personal care items, such as towels, razors, or makeup brushes can also pass the infection from person to person.

If pimples are very painful or do not improve with over-the-counter treatments, see a doctor.

A person with a boil should seek professional advice if they have the following symptoms:

  • more than one boil at a time
  • a fever
  • a boil wider than 2 inches
  • a boil that has not disappeared after two weeks, despite efforts to treat it at home
  • a boil that keeps coming back
  • a boil near the eye

Several boils that appear in the same location can join together, forming a cluster, which is known as a carbuncle. This can lead to an infection that causes cold or flu-like symptoms.

Boils and pimples are bothersome but highly treatable skin conditions.

If over-the-counter and home remedies are not sufficient, see a doctor for additional treatment.

Below are some frequently asked questions about pimples and boils.

Can a boil look like a pimple?

Boils may look similar to pus-filled pimples. However, pimples only involve one hair follicle, whereas boils involve several follicles and the adjacent tissue, making them bigger than most pimples.

Bacterial folliculitis can involve pimples, which may progress to boils without treatment.

Can a person pop a boil like a pimple?

People should avoid trying to pop a boil like a pimple, as this can increase the risk of further infection. A warm compress can help to encourage draining.

How does someone know if they have a boil or pimple?

Boils typically occur on body parts that sweat a lot. Pimples can be more common on the face, neck, and back. People should speak with a doctor for a proper diagnosis if they think they may have a boil.

Is it OK to squeeze a boil?

People should not squeeze, pick at, or pierce a boil. Cleaning the area and applying a hot compress will help the boil to drain and heal.

Will a boil go away on its own?

Yes, most boils will go away on their own. A person should consult a doctor if they keep getting boils.

Pimples and boils both appear as bumps on the skin. Pimples result from clogged pores due to excess oil production or bacterial infiltration, and boils are caused by a bacterial infection.

While both can be treated at home, boils can escalate into severe infections known as carbuncles.

Diagnosis usually involves visual examination, and treatments vary. A skin care routines may be recommended for pimples, and antibiotics or surgical drainage for boils.

If a person keeps getting boils, and has accompanying symptoms such as fever, they should speak with a doctor.