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Things that boil: water, lava, and ouch, sometimes your skin!

Boils generally form when pus collects under your skin, centered on a hair follicle. When this is due to an infection, it’s known as a furuncle. Boils are not always due to an infection and can happen in an auto-inflammatory condition known as hidradenitis suppurativa.

Boils most often form where there’s friction, sweat, or hair. The neckline, face, armpit, and, yes, butt crack are some common hot spots.

A boil is no simple pimple — it’s a painful, irritated volcano. Draining a boil isn’t as explosive as, say, Mount St. Helens, but more like an oozing Kilauea.

A close cousin to a boil is an abscess. Boils/furuncles by definition involve a hair follicle, while an abscess can essentially occur anywhere in or on the body.

But fear not: Most simple boils can be treated at home, though some do require a doctor’s care.

We’ll look at some home remedies for boils:

  • tea tree oil
  • warm compress
  • turmeric
  • Epsom salts
  • castor oil
  • neem oil
  • raw onion
  • garlic
  • Tridax daisy oil
  • goatweed
  • devil’s horsewhip extract

Do natural remedies work for boils?

A warm compress is the only method with any substantial medical proof of effectiveness.

Keep in mind that homeopathic therapies are not meant to replace conventional treatments and are more useful when used in combination with traditional therapies than when used alone.

Some of these remedies can also cause allergic reactions or contact dermatitis, which can make skin conditions much worse. Speak with your primary doctor or dermatologist before trying any of these options.

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1. Apply heat

We don’t mean sriracha. A warm compress applied to a boil can help facilitate drainage of the boil. This is the MVP of healing a boil and should be your first course of action. Plus, it’s free!

How to use it

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests soaking a washcloth in warm water and applying it to the area for 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times a day. This will help break down the pus from within.

2. Tea tree oil for boils

Tea tree oil comes from the Australian melaleuca tree and has powerful antibacterial and antiseptic properties. That makes it useful in treating bacterial infections that can cause boils.

How to use it

Dilute a few drops in a spoonful of a carrier oil like castor oil, then apply it to the boil and cover with a bandage. Repeat twice a day until the boil has healed.

3. Turmeric: Not just for curry

Turn that boil into tikka masala! Turmeric’s main compound and active ingredient is curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties and may help combat an infection if one is present in the boil.

How to use it

The amount of curcumin found in the common household cooking spice isn’t enough to heal a boil.

You might consider taking an oral turmeric supplement that contains black pepper extract, which helps the body absorb more curcumin. But be sure to talk with your doctor to learn about possible side effects before taking any new supplement.

4. Maybe Epsom salts for boils?

Magnesium sulfate is a naturally occurring mineral that was discovered in Epsom, England. The salt dissolves into magnesium and sulfate when added to warm water.

Some claim that Epsom salts can promote relaxation, loosen stiff joints, and even help dry out the pus from a boil. However, there’s not enough evidence to support that this is any more beneficial than warm water alone.

How to use it

To target the affected area, soak a warm washcloth in Epsom salts and apply it to the area for about 30 minutes. Do this three times a day until the boil is gone.

5. Cast out boils with castor oil

Made from the castor bean plant, this oil contains ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid that may help break down trapped bacteria.

Castor oil has been used since ancient times to heal wounds and moisturize skin (though it’s important to note that there’s no scientific evidence to support the routine use of castor oil on the skin for treatment of boils or other skin infections).

How to use it

Apply castor oil directly to the boil three times a day until the boil is gone.

6. Neem oil (but “Indian lilac” sounds prettier)

Neem oil, aka Indian lilac, is made from the fruits and seeds of an evergreen tree found in India.

Because of its antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties, it can be found in soaps, lotions, bug repellents, and ointments that treat skin infections (including boils).

How to use it

Ingesting neem oil is a bad idea, since it’s toxic. Instead, apply it directly to the boil three or four times a day, and plug your nose — this stuff is pungent! Be sure to wash your hands before and after.

Keep in mind

There’s not much evidence to support the routine use of neem oil for boils. Using an oil-based product on your skin may prevent drainage of the boil and lead to further clogging of hair follicles. Oil-based products can also contribute to breakouts if you’re acne-prone.

7. Put an (onion) ring on it

No, seriously. Onions contain a natural antibiotic compound called allicin, which gives them their powerful smell and ability to make you cry.

Onion’s natural absorption properties may even help draw the pus out of a boil. Applying onion to your skin also generates heat, stimulating blood circulation and your body’s natural wound-healing mechanism.

How to use it

Cut an onion into thick slices, wrap a slice in gauze, and apply it to the boil for an hour. Do this once or twice a day until it clears up.

Keep in mind

Applying onion to your skin can potentially cause a rash, especially if you do so frequently or for long periods.

8. Apply a garlic compress (and ward off vampires at the same time)

Garlic is a cousin of our friend the onion — both are members of the allium plant family. Like onion, garlic contains the antimicrobial compound allicin.

How to use it

Squeeze the juice from a clove of garlic and apply the juice directly to the boil. Then cover it with a bandage. Feeling extra? Combine onion juice with garlic juice for a potentially powerful poultice.

You can also apply garlic juice to an opened boil to help prevent infection. But you’ll want to rinse afterward so you don’t smell like garlic.

To prepare one, peel and crush five or six cloves and then boil them in a quart of water for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 to 45 minutes. Strain and discard the cloves. Add the water to a bath of lukewarm water and soak for 30 minutes, repeating daily until the boils have cleared up.

Keep in mind

As with onion, using garlic on your skin could cause a rash, especially if you use it often or for a long time. So, much as we love to eat garlic, you may want to use it sparingly when it comes to your skin.

9. Stop and smell the… Tridax daisy

Also known as coatbuttons, this tropical weed has long been used in India to promote healing. Tridax daisy oil is made from the leaves, stems, and flowers of the plant and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

How to use it

Add a little of this essential oil to a carrier oil like castor oil and apply it to the affected area twice a day.

10. Devil’s horsewhip extract: As cool as it sounds

Native to Nepal, this perennial plant can be used for medicinal purposes such as relieving nausea and diarrhea and healing wounds.

How to use it

You guessed it: Apply a few drops of the extract directly to the boil and cover with a bandage.

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent boils, you can reduce your risk of developing one.

To help prevent boils:

  • Keep your face and body clean and dry.
  • If you’re prone to boils and your skin tolerates it, use an antibacterial wash on your body, such as benzoyl peroxide 10 percent (be careful — it can be irritating and can bleach clothing and fabrics) or Hibiclens wash (avoid using this above your neck).
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Keep open wounds covered and clean.
  • Don’t share razors, towels, makeup, etc.
  • Don’t pick, pop, or squeeze the area to avoid making any potential boils worse.

Most boils heal on their own within a few weeks of forming.

Avoid trying to pop a boil. Squeezing will only lead to more pain and irritation. Popping a boil also increases the possibility of a deeper infection, redness, and scarring — and not the cool Harry Potter kind.

Very rarely, the bacteria from a boil could potentially enter your bloodstream and cause issues. This isn’t likely, but if the boil doesn’t seem to be healing and you have any other symptoms (such as pain, shivers, dizziness, high heart rate, or fever), speak with a doctor ASAP.

Most of these methods (aside from warm compress use) are not routinely recommended due to the unknown side effects, the unknown composition of many over-the-counter (OTC) products, and unknown efficacy.

There’s not enough scientific evidence to support the use of these homeopathic therapies in the treatment of a boil. In fact, the use of some substances recommended above may have no effect, make boils worse, induce more boils, or cause a rash. Be cautious in trying these remedies.

In addition, avoid OTC antibiotic ointments like Neosporin, bacitracin, or Polysporin. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology says that using these won’t work because they can’t penetrate the skin. Plus, those ointments are a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis. It’s not worth it.

When in doubt, speak with a doctor and ask about the use of these remedies. Always ask your doctor before trying a new oral supplement, especially if you have other medical conditions or take medications.

You should see a doctor if:

  • the boil keeps getting larger
  • you have multiple boils that form a larger boil, or carbuncle
  • it lasts longer than 2 to 3 weeks
  • it hasn’t gotten better after a week of at-home treatment
  • it’s accompanied by pain, fever, or heat around the area
  • you have recurring boils for several months
  • you also have diabetes or another immunosuppressive condition

If you do need to see a doctor, they’ll likely treat it by lancing and draining the boil and/or prescribing an antibiotic.