18 December 2008

Boils and folliculitis

A boil is a red, painful bump under the skin which arises when bacteria invade a hair follicle.


A boil is a red, painful bump under the skin which arises when bacteria invade a hair follicle. It grows rapidly and develops a yellow head and will probably burst, drain and heal rather than simply resolve.

Boils may occur anywhere, but are most common on the head and neck and the flexures (armpit and groin areas).

Folliculitis consists of a number of small boils each centred on a hair follicle. A common site is the buttock, but they are often seen in the groin and on the legs.

Boils may follow an injury or picking and may occur when the skin has been chafed. Folliculitis commonly starts where the skin is macerated, i.e. from sitting around in wet bathing costumes or after the use of topical steroids for eczema, and even after waxing for hair removal.

Self care

  • Boils should not be soaked and old-fashioned poultices should be avoided.
  • Wash gently with an antibacterial soap or apply Hibitane to the wet skin after washing.
  • Apply a topical over-the-counter antibiotic to the whole area twice daily.
  • Lauder clothing that has been in contact with the infected area.
  • For folliculitis it is essential to treat the area for 8 weeks (which is long after the obvious infection has cleared up).

Medical help

  • Contact your doctor if the infection occurs on the face or over the spine.
  • If the pain is severe, the doctor may lance it in order to let it drain. This will relieve pain and speed up healing.
  • Red lines coming from a boil or fever are a warning that you may need an antibiotic.


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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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