home remedies for boils
There’s only one thing to do with a boil: Get rid of it ASAP. And you can, but
not by putting on the squeeze. Instead, use heat and moisture to hustle it to a
head, then safe and sterile methods to induce draining and provide pain relief. Or
try drying treatments to shrink the offender out of existence.
Sometimes called an abscess or a furuncle, a boil by any other name is still a
boil. Highly infectious bacteria—usually staphylococci—work their way down a
hair follicle into your skin. The boil fills with pus, swells, and forms a white or
yellow “head” as the fluid forces its way upward. Most often, boils arise where
clothing rubs against your skin or where moist body parts are in constant
contact: on the neck, under the arms, near the buttocks, or around the inner
thighs. Typically, a boil bursts on its own within about two weeks, and that
starts the healing process. If you can bring the boil to a head and help pus
escape, you can often safely accelerate this process.
Put Heat on the Boil
- Moist heat will help bring a boil to a head. Among folk remedies, there is a
grocery list of items that seem to work when heated—including warm bread,
milk, cabbage, and even figs. But a simple washcloth works too. Soak a clean
washcloth or towel in very hot water—as hot as you can stand without burning
yourself. Wring out the cloth and apply it to the boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
Repeat this several times a day
- You can also use warm thyme or chamomile tea instead of plain water
when you prepare the compress. Thyme has an antiseptic compound called
thymol that may help prevent infection. And chamomile tea contains a chemical,
called chamazulene, that has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Also beneficial is a compress of the homeopathic tinctures of calendula
(marigold) and hypericum (St. John’s wort). Put one teaspoon of each tincture
in a cup of hot water and saturate three layers of cotton gauze. Apply this
compress several times daily to decrease pain and inflammation.
- A warm, moist tea bag will serve as a compress all by itself. Tea contains
tannins, astringent compounds with antibacterial properties.
- If you favor old folk remedies and have a green cabbage on hand, use a
well-cooked cabbage leaf to pull the pus out of a boil. First, boil a cabbage leaf
for a minute or so. Let it cool slightly, then wrap it with gauze. Fasten the gauzecovered
leaf over the boil with a bandage and leave it for an hour. Use a fresh leaf
and gauze each day
- If the boil is in a hard-to-reach area, simply soak in a hot bath. While you’re
in the tub, keep the water as hot as possible without burning your skin.
Should I call the doctor?
Boils on the face pose a special risk because they might allow bacteria to get
into your sinuses (leading to sinusitis), blood (septicemia), or even brain
(cerebral abscess). So seek a doctor’s treatment for these. And if you
frequently get boils of any size, you should have a medical examination to make
sure you don’t have diabetes or an immune-system problem. Also check with
your doctor if you develop boils in the armpits, in the groin, or (if you’re a
nursing mother) on your breasts. Otherwise, a boil needs attention if it’s larger
than half an inch in size or if you detect signs of infection—intense redness,
chills, a fever, or swelling anywhere on your body.
A Draining Experience
- To drain a boil after it comes to a head, sterilize a needle by holding it over
an open flame, using tongs or an oven glove so you don’t burn your fingers.
Then gently prick the thin layer of skin on top of the boil. (Of -limits . . . if you
detect any signs of infection such as redness or inflamed-looking streaks.)
- Once the head is popped or has ruptured on its own, place a clean, warm
washcloth on top. First soak the washcloth in a solution of salt water and
hydrogen peroxide. (Mix one teaspoon each of 3% hydrogen peroxide and salt
in a cup of hot water.) During the next three days, as the boil drains, replace the
compress as frequently as possible.
- Each time you take off the washcloth, use liquid antibacterial soap and
water to clean the boil and the surrounding skin area. Then apply an
antibacterial ointment on and around the boil with a cotton-tip applicator to
guard against infection. Or try Silver Liquid 400 PPM, a natural homeopathic
antimicrobial agent, instead.
All Dried Up
- Sometimes a boil will go away if it just dries out. To help kill the bacteria
causing the boil—as well as dry it out—apply an acne medication containing
benzoyl peroxide twice a day.
- Another way to make a boil clear out is by applying tea-tree oil. This
natural antiseptic kills germs and helps your skin heal faster.
The Power of Prevention
- If you’ve had problems with boils in the past, consider switching to an
antibacterial soap, such as Dial, or an alcohol-water-based cleansing gel.
- With heat and pressure, bacteria can get trapped in body hair. Avoid wearing
tight pants, a sweatband, or any other clothing that rubs against your skin and
captures perspiration. Instead, opt for loose, comfortable clothing.
- Don’t share clothing with anyone who has a problem with boils. The
infectious material can spread on contact. For the same reason, you shouldn’t use
anyone else’s washcloths and towels. If someone in your household has boils,
their laundry should be washed separately.
- If you’re overweight, you’re at greater risk of boils because they tend to crop
up where moist skin is rubbing against itself. Shedding a few pounds can help.
- In areas where skin friction leads to boils, dust on some talc to reduce
moisture and chafing. (Of -limits. . .for women’s use in the genital area. Talcum
powder has been linked to ovarian cancer.)
- Pressure on the skin can also lead to boils, which is why they so often crop
up on the part of your body you sit upon. If you sit in a car a lot, consider getting
a beaded seat pad, which allows air to circulate behind you.