Skin Boils

Pictures of Conditions That Cause Skin Boils

Skin boils are infections caused by bacteria or fungi. They commonly develop as a lump around a hair follicle or oil gland.

Looking at pictures of boils and understanding the conditions that cause them can help you recognize them if they appear on your body and know what to do for treatment.

This article explains boil symptoms, how boils differ from other similar skin conditions, and conditions that result in boils.

Boil Symptoms

An infection of Staphylococcus bacteria is often the cause of skin boils, but boils may develop from other infectious agents, like group A Streptococcus. Skin boils can have a pinkish, red, or whitish-yellow color with symptoms that include:

  • Swelling
  • Oozing of pus or clear fluid
  • Crusting
  • Pain

Boil vs. Pimple

Skin boils and pimples can look similar, but there are differences. For example, unlike boils, an infection is not the cause of pimples. Instead, pimples are usually the main symptom of acne—a common skin condition that occurs from blocked pores.

Due to this blockage, pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads may form a bump on the skin. Sometimes, with acne, bacteria can infect clogged pores, leading to redness and inflammation. This type of acne is known as inflammatory acne.

Boil vs. Cyst

Boils also differ from cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs that are typically non-infectious and non-contagious. However, cysts can become infected if bacteria gets in broken skin. In addition, boils usually multiply and can be painful, while cysts typically grow slowly and aren’t painful.

MRSA Blister

A blister caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is also called a staph infection. But even though it’s common for MRSA to show up as blisters or boils, not all blisters or boils are from MRSA.

Other forms of MRSA and group A Streptococcus bacteria cause skin infections that look very similar.


MRSA can colonize (live) on the skin and cause no harm. However, when you have a cut or scrape, the bacterium can enter the body and cause infection. When this occurs, symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Fever

MRSA can spread by touching someone’s skin colonized with MRSA or touching contaminated surfaces.

MRSA blisters commonly form on areas covered by hair, such as the back of the neck, groin, buttocks, armpit, and beard areas.


Due to this bacterium’s resistance to many standard antibiotics, treating it requires specific types of medication and dosages. Usually, treatment involves a seven to 10-day course of oral antibiotics such as:

  • Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole
  • Clindamycin
  • Minocycline
  • Linezolid
  • Doxycycline

Cystic Acne

Women with cystic acne on the face

Cystic acne is the most severe type of acne. It causes acne cysts that form deep under the skin.

It occurs due to the pores in the skin becoming clogged with excess sebum (an oily substance found in glands) and dead skin cells. When bacteria infect these clogged pores, the immune system reacts to fight the threat. This reaction causes deep swelling in the skin’s middle layer (the dermis).


An acne cyst is usually red and may have a whitish-yellow head. A cyst can be crusty, painful, or tender to touch, and either large or small in size.

Since the face has an abundance of oil glands, acne cysts tend to appear there. However, they can also appear on the back, butt, chest, neck, shoulders, and upper arms.


Treating cystic acne typically includes taking oral antibiotics and applying certain topical gels or creams (often prescription-strength) to the affected area. Some treatments include the use of:

  • Azelaic acid
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Retinoids
  • Salicylic acid


Child with Impetigo on face

Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that is pretty common in kids (in fact, some incorrectly pronounce it infantigo). It comes from either Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria.

Impetigo is highly contagious and can spread by contacting an infected person’s sores, mucus, or nasal discharge. It can also spread by sharing towels or clothing with an infected person.


Symptoms of impetigo typically occur within three days after infection and can include:

  • Skin lesions on the lips, nose, arms, and legs
  • Pus-filled blisters that can easily burst
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the infected area
  • Reddish skin with blisters that contain tan or yellowish fluid
  • Rash


Impetigo is treatable, doesn’t cause a fever, and healthcare providers will most likely be able to identify it just by looking at it. However, if they aren’t sure, they may take a biopsy of the affected skin to see if it’s impetigo or not.

Treating impetigo typically involves applying prescribed topical antibiotics such as mupirocin or taking oral antibiotics such as cephalosporins, clindamycin, and sulfamethoxazole.

Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa sometimes referred to as acne inversa, is a chronic skin disease that affects the sweat glands and hair follicles. This condition causes bumps on the skin that can turn into painful boils. After they heal, scarring occurs.

The reason some people develop this condition is unknown. However, it’s thought that genetics and sex hormones may play roles.

Experts believe that hidradenitis suppurativa occurs when an abnormal growth of cells clogs hair follicles. This debris buildup eventually causes the follicle to rupture, leading to inflammation and scarring. Inflammation is an immune system response to aid in the healing process.


Symptoms of hidradenitis suppurativa include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Pimple-like, pus-filled lesions
  • Scarring

The condition typically affects areas where skin touches the skin, such as the underarms, groin, buttocks, and breasts.


For mild cases, treatment usually involves taking anti-inflammatory medications. In addition, applying topical cleansing agents, such as acne washes and antibacterial soaps, can help.

Treatment for more severe cases include:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Antibiotics such as tetracycline and erythromycin
  • Humira (adalimumab)
  • Acne surgical procedures


A stye (hordeolum) is a painful, red bump that develops on the eyelid. A blockage of oil-producing glands in the eyelash follicle and Staphylococcus bacterial infection usually cause it.

A stye can form either on the outer or inner eyelid. A stye isn’t usually contagious, but a stye can release small amounts of bacteria. This bacteria can spread through physical touch or contact with items such as pillows.


Symptoms of a stye can include:

  • Eyelid crusting
  • Teary or itchy eyes
  • Swelling on the eyelid
  • Light sensitivity


Styes typically clear without medical treatment in one to two weeks. Self-care methods may speed healing.

A common way to clear a stye is to clean the eyelid with a half-and-half solution of baby shampoo and water. In addition, you can place warm compresses on the eyelid for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, three to five times a day.

Seeing an ophthalmologist may be wise if your stye doesn’t improve with at-home care. They may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics and ensure there’s no underlying problem. Also, a doctor may surgically drain a stye if it blocks vision or does not clear with antibiotics.


A single boil is called a furuncle. On the other hand, a carbuncle is a cluster of boils that form on a particular body area. Like a boil, a carbuncle results from a bacterial infection, usually by Staphylococcus aureus.


A carbuncle affects deeper layers under the skin, making symptoms more severe than a single boil.

Typically, the affected area is red and inflamed with multiple pus-filled boils. Carbuncles can develop anywhere on the body, but they commonly occur on the back and neck. A carbuncle may also include symptoms like:

  • Pus-filled boils
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Scarring


Although warm compresses may help it drain, it’s not uncommon for a carbuncle to need to be surgically drained by a doctor. A doctor may also prescribe antibiotics like trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and doxycycline, especially if it returns.

When to See a Doctor

Skin boils usually heal on their own, especially with proper self-boil treatment. However, some things may indicate an infection is brewing. If you notice any of the following, contact a healthcare provider:

  • Fever
  • Boils that last longer than one week
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Boils that return

A doctor can provide proper treatment and ensure there isn’t an underlying problem.

Skin Boils

When to See a Healthcare Provider

See your healthcare provider if:

  • The boil is on your spine or your face
  • The boil doesn’t heal within two weeks
  • You have fever or chills
  • The boil is painful or in an uncomfortable spot
  • The boil develops a red streak
Skin Boils

Treatment For Skin Boils

Treatment for a skin boil depends on the cause. A MRSA infection, for example, will need to be treated by a healthcare provider.

There are some first aid tips you can try at home to make boils more tolerable. These may help them heal on their own.

First, keep the boil clean. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing. Wash your hands after touching the boil or changing the dressing.

Place a warm, moist cloth on the boil. This might help it come to a head, break open, drain, and heal.

Do not pop the boil or try to drain it yourself. It should break and drain naturally.

Never reuse a cloth you used on a boil unless it has been washed in hot water. Do not share items that have been in contact with the boil. Be sure to wash everything that touched the boil in hot water.

Skin Boils

Who Is At Risk for Skin Boils?

Boils occur more often in teenagers and young adults. People in communal living situations are also at higher risk. This includes:

  • People living in military barracks
  • People living in homeless shelters
  • People living in other types of close-quarters housing

The spread of the infection in these places can be prevented with antibacterial soaps and good hygiene.

People with certain health conditions are also more likely to get boils. These conditions include:

  • Diabetes, a disease that affects your body’s ability to control blood sugar
  • Skin conditions like eczema
  • Poor nutrition
  • Obesity, or having an excessive amount of body fat
  • A weakened immune system, such as in people taking drugs that suppress the immune system

Athletes who play contact sports or share equipment also have an increased risk of spreading the bacteria that cause boils.

It is possible for boils to occur only once. Some people, though, get them repeatedly. 

One study found that up to 10% of people who get a boil will develop another one within a year. Some conditions, like diabetes, make recurrence more likely.

Skin Boils

Symptoms of Skin Boils

Boils hurt and itch. A boil is usually diagnosed by its appearance.

A boil is a red, swollen bump surrounded by red, irritated skin. Usually, one or more small whiteheads, called pustules, will form in the center. These are filled with a white or yellow pus-like fluid. Sometimes boils heal without forming a whitehead.

Boils come in all sizes. They may begin pea-sized and can grow to the size of a golf ball. This can happen quickly.

Boils can occur anywhere on the body. They are most common on the face, neck, armpit, buttocks, and thighs.

Your skin may itch before a boil actually appears. Once the boil forms, you may feel fatigued or generally ill. See your healthcare provider if you develop a fever or chills.

Skin Boils

Causes of Skin Boils

Skin boil

Skin boils are usually caused by a bacterial infection. The most common boil-causing bacteria are Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph, and group A Streptococcus. Both of these infections can be treated with antibiotics if they become serious.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of staph that is resistant to common antibiotics. MRSA infections are harder to treat, but they look similar to those caused by other forms of staph.

Boils form when normal bacteria on the surface of the skin invade hair follicles. These are stocking-shaped structures in the skin that produce hairs. The infection often includes a group of follicles.

When the follicles are damaged, the bacteria can grow into the nearby tissue. Sometimes the infection can spread into the bloodstream. This is rare, but when it happens it can cause a serious illness called sepsis.

That is why it is important to know how to treat a boil, and when you should see a healthcare provider.

Skin Boils

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Skin Boils

Skin boils look like large pimples. They can sometimes be mistaken for spider bites.

Boils are also called furuncles or carbuncles. They are usually caused by bacteria. Some, though, can be caused by fungi.

Boils appear as a red to purple lump on the skin with a white head. The head contains a white-yellow pus.

Boils are relatively common and can heal within two weeks with proper care. Treatment is typically done at home. You may need to see your healthcare provider, though, if the boils are very bad or get worse.

This article will discuss some of the common causes and symptoms of skin boils. It will also provide information on how to treat a skin boil and when you should call a healthcare provider.

Skin Boils

When to See a Healthcare Provider

See a healthcare provider for boils on the face, around the eye, or near the spine.

Boils usually heal in a couple of weeks. If it isn’t healing on its own by the first week, it’s time to see the healthcare provider.

One boil that heals all by itself isn’t really a big problem. Several boils, either in clusters or occurring one after the other, warrant a trip to the healthcare provider.

You can also go see the doc if your boil is really big—think more brussels sprout than corn kernel—or if the pain is severe or unbearable.

Skin Boils


Don’t pop or lance it: Most boils will burst and drain on their own, but sometimes a healthcare worker needs to lance one so it’ll heal. This is not a do-it-yourself skill. Done incorrectly or with contaminated tools, lancing will result in a bigger boil or a spreading infection.

Don’t share: Keep your bedding, clothes, washcloths, and towels to yourself. Wash all contaminated bedding, towels, and clothing (anything that came in contact with the boil) in very hot water.

Skin Boils


Do keep skin boils clean: The immune system needs to focus on the infection that’s already there. Adding more bacteria will make it harder to fight the infection. Don’t bother with antibacterial soaps and cleaners; any soap is fine.

Do cover it with clean, dry dressings: The idea is to contain any drainage. Boils are hotbeds of bacteria and easily spread to other areas and other people. Change dressings frequently, especially if it’s oozing. Seal dressings in a bag before throwing the away.

Do wash your hands: Anytime you touch a boil or change a dressing, wash your hands with warm water and soap. If you don’t have the ability to wash your hands completely with warm water and soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used in a pinch.

Do place a warm, moist cloth on your boil: Heat encourages the formation of pus and might help the boil break, drain, and heal. Place a warm compress on the boil several times a day. Remember to use each cloth only once and wash it in hot water.