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A Patient's Guide to Recurrent Skin Infections (Boils, Pimples, Abscesses)

Written by
Dr. Davie Wong
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Feb 16, 2019 and last reviewed on Sep 12, 2022   -  4 min read


If you have recurrent skin infections caused by bacteria, here are some strategies to help minimize the risk.

A Patient's Guide to Recurrent Skin Infections (Boils, Pimples, Abscesses)


The skin is the largest organ of the human body. The skin has different functions, including protecting and covering the body. It helps in preventing germs from entering the body. Sometimes, these germs can cause a skin infection. This happens when there is a cut, break, or wound on the skin. It can also occur because of a weak immune system due to other medical conditions or treatments. Skin infections can be caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses, or fungi. The symptoms of skin infections vary depending on the type of infection and severity of the infection. Recurrent skin infections are the repeated occurrence of infections. Some of the recurrent skin infections discussed in this article include boils, pimples, and abscesses.

What Is a Boil?

A boil, also known as furuncle, is a skin infection characterized by a bump filled with pus that occurs on the skin. The skin of the affected area turns red initially, then a tender lump develops. After about four to seven days, the lump starts to turn white as the pus collects under the skin. Boils are caused by a bacteria named Staphylococcus aureus. This bacteria enters the human body through small nicks or cuts on the skin or can also travel down the hair to the follicle. Boils can occur anywhere on the hair-bearing areas of the body, but they are usually seen on the face, armpits, back of the neck, thighs, and buttocks.

What Is a Pimple?

Pimples are one of the most common skin infections that often develop on the facial skin. Pimples are small protrusions on the surface of the skin. They can get inflamed and discolored. Acne causes the occurrence of pimples on the face. Acne is a disease, and pimple is a symptom of acne. Pimples generally affect teenagers and young adults having hormonal changes. They can affect babies also. When the skin gets in contact with something that irritates it, a pimple develops in that area. Oil glands are located all over the human body. The inflammation or clogs in the oil glands cause pimples to occur.

What Is an Abscess?

A skin abscess is a tender mass filled with pus or a pocket filled with pus. It is similar to a pimple but deeper and larger than a pimple. It develops when the body tries to protect itself from infection by forming a wall around it. The pus has bacteria, dead skin, and white blood cells. The skin abscess is round and firm and squishy to the touch because of the thick membrane around it and the pus inside. There is a pinpoint opening in the center called a punctum. It is the weakest part of the wall, and it is from where the pus drains out spontaneously.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Recurrent Skin Infections?

The signs and symptoms depend on the type of infection. Common signs and symptoms of many infections are:

How Are Skin Infections Diagnosed?

The doctor will diagnose a skin infection by asking about the symptoms and based on physical examination. The doctor may also recommend laboratory tests such as skin culture. This test is done to identify the type of infection the patient has, using a sample from the skin. The doctor will take the sample by swapping or scrapping the skin or removing a small piece of skin. At times, the doctor may also recommend other tests, such as blood tests.

How to Manage Recurrent Skin Infections?

  • Hygiene - The bacteria that cause skin infections are transmitted by skin contact. Wash their hands diligently and frequently to minimize the spread of bacteria to other parts of their body, to other people, and to objects they touch.

  • Decontaminate Themselves - Bleach baths are an effective way to reduce the number of bacteria living on the skin (see instructions below). If people are unable to do bleach baths, they may use antiseptic wipes (Chlorhexidine) to wash their bodies daily. The doctor will give them a prescription for Chlorhexidine if required.

  • Antibiotics - Not all skin infections require oral or I.V (intravenous) antibiotics, as many of them are self-limiting. Antibiotics should be reserved for more severe infections. The doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic to apply inside the nose to reduce the amount of skin infection-causing bacteria.

  • Decontaminate Nearby Environment - The bacteria that cause skin infections also live in the environment. The patient should routinely decontaminate high-contact surfaces, like tabletops, countertops, doorknobs or handles, chairs, handheld devices, etc., with antiseptic solutions. Do not reuse the same towels before they have been thoroughly washed. Clean the linens frequently. Avoid sharing personal items such as razor blades, nail clippers, towels, clothing, etc.

  • Cover Open Wounds - If the patient has an open wound on their skin, it is essential to keep it covered to prevent the spread of bacteria. Do not participate in activities requiring skin-to-skin contact with others until wounds are fully healed. Do not share personal items that come in contact with the wound.

  • Bleach Baths - Add ¼ to ½ cup of common 5 % household bleach to a bathtub full of water (40 gallons). The patient should soak their entire body, keeping the head above water, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Limit diluted bleach baths to no more than twice a week. Do not submerge the head, and be very careful to avoid getting the diluted bleach into the eyes. Rinse off with fresh water and apply moisturizer.

What Are the Preventive Steps to Avoid Recurrent Skin Infections?

The lifestyle changes suggested to prevent recurrent skin infections include:

  • Always use antiseptic body wash.

  • Avoid scratching, picking skin, and squeezing pimples.

  • Avoid over usage of antiperspirants (these are the products used to reduce sweat or perspiration on the skin).

  • Avoid dryness of the skin by effective use of moisturizer.

  • Avoid insect bites.


Recurrent skin infections can be prevented and managed in a lot of ways mentioned in the article. The prognosis of skin infections depends on the cause of the infection. Skin infections vary from mild to severe. If the skin infection is too severe and causes discomfort, a doctor should be consulted immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions


Which Condition Causes Repetitive Boils?

Various skin conditions can cause repetitive boils. A condition called Acne Inversa or Hidradenitis Suppurativa can cause recurrent boils. It is a chronic skin disorder that can cause nodules under the skin. They can rupture and release pus. Recurrent boils or skin infections can also be a symptom of diabetes.


Do Recurrent Boils Indicate Any Condition?

Recurrent boils can indicate a few health conditions, such as:
- Acne Inversa or Hidradentitis Suppurativa. 
- MRSA (methicilin-resistant streptococcus aureus) infection. 
- Diabetes.


What Are the Ways to Prevent Regular Skin Abscesses?

The ways to prevent recurring skin abscesses include
- Regularly cleaning hands. 
- Using separate towels and bathing bars, and avoid sharing it with others. 
- Avoid using swimming pools or gyms till you are completely cured.
- Wear comfortable clothing that is not very tight.
- Ask family members also to wash their hands regularly.


How Can You Be Cured of Boils Permanently?

A doctor may advise draining a boil or carbuncle to prevent its recurrence. This procedure is called incision and drainage. The doctor may nick the boil and drain the pus. This would be later packed with medicines and sterile gauze. The doctor will also prescribe antibiotics to cure recurring boils.


Which Is a Good Ointment for Boils?

Since boils are mostly bacterial infections, any good antibacterial ointment will do good. Neosporin is one such ointment that can help in curing boils. It can also prevent the infection from spreading. Applying the ointment twice a day can help in a quick resolution.


What Can Be the Reasons for Repeated Staph Infections?

Certain health conditions or medications can make a person more susceptible to infections, such as
- Diabetes.
- HIV (Human immunodeficiency)/ AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
- Environmental factors such as excess humidity. 
- Contaminated environments such as hospitals.


Can Elevated Blood Sugar Cause Boils?

Diabetes or elevated blood sugar levels does not cause boils directly. Diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels. It also lowers a person's ability to fight infection and heal. Hence, diabetes can indirectly causes boils.


What Can Be the Reason Behind Getting Multiple Abscess?

A staphylococcus infection can cause an abscess. It can cause multiple abscesses as well. A pus or abscess results from our immune cells attacking the bacterial cells. It can also be suggestive of certain health conditions such as diabetes.

Article Resources

Last reviewed at:
12 Sep 2022  -  4 min read




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