Boil vs Cyst

Many skin conditions may warrant an unscheduled trip to the doctor’s office. It might be unexplained, unexpected boils or cysts. It could be one of them, but how can you tell? 

What you can do about a boil or cyst, and should it warrant a trip to your doctor? 

In this article, I’ve summed up the information you need to:

  • Make the distinction between a boil and a cyst. 
  • Treat and manage your symptoms with a few cost-effective ways to help you from the comfort of your own home. 
  • When it may be time to seek medical attention.

What is a Cyst?

Cyst natural remediesCyst
  • Cysts are an auto-immune reaction, appearing under the skin and are usually filled with either gas, fine hairs, fluid or other semi-solid materials. This fluid or material build-up under the skin is the result of gland or organ secretion which have not drained properly.
  • Cysts may at times become infected, which is then called an abscess. These cysts may be found on any part of the body, but are more commonly found on the buttocks, ovaries, kidneys, liver, brain and the inside of tumors. 
  • It is important to mention that internal cysts are less likely to become infected. 
  • Most cysts are not a medical emergency, but ovarian cysts which do not heal themselves over time may need to be surgically removed to prevent the trapped fluids from leaking or bursting into the body. 
  • Ovarian cysts can present with complications and cause severe internal injury, should they keep growing without medical intervention; they may leak into the body or burst.
  • While cysts are usually painless and present without any signs or symptoms, some, however, are quite the opposite. Cysts should be examined by a medical professional to rule out the possibility of cancer. Some cysts do present with worrying signs and symptoms, and for this reason, they should not be ignored. 
  • There are a few types of cysts that are quite common. Sebaceous cysts and cystic acne are two of them.

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Sebaceous Cysts

sebaceous cystSebaceous Cyst

Some cysts (ear image cyst) are filled with an oily substance called Keratin. These cysts are called sebaceous cysts and are found on the face, neck and upper torso area as well as the female genitalia. They gradually increase in size, growing for a few years, but aren’t painful. 

This type of cyst, however, can become infected (an abscess), but the likelihood is rare. 

The cause of a sebaceous cyst includes swollen blocked hair follicles and a previous injury to the region of skin. 

It appears as a painless lump that can move around freely under the skin, stay for a period and then suddenly disappear on its own.

Uninfected cysts can be treated safely at home.

Infected sebaceous cysts:

In the above image, the cyst has become infected. Some of the signs or symptoms to follow include:

  • Localised pain
  • The area may be warm to the touch and slightly reddened.
  • Putrid smelling drainage from the cyst.

What causes a sebaceous cyst?

  • Warm compress. Heat can help the built-up material inside the cyst break down and liquefy to be reabsorbed into the body. Repeat the warm compress as frequently as possible. The cyst should gradually disappear.
  • Anti-bacterial soap/liquid. Keep the area clean and dry to prevent infection. 
  • Tea tree oil. Tea tree oil has many healing properties. Clean the infected area with anti-bacterial soap or liquid, pat dry gently and rub a few drops of the oil over the cyst and surrounding area. Repeat twice daily.
  • Do not attempt to drain the cyst on your own as this may cause infection. Sebaceous cyst treatment is not always necessary, and therefore the cyst should be left alone if there is no cause for immediate intervention. Surgical removal is usually done only if the cyst becomes infected, painful and very large. If the sack is not completely removed during surgery, the cyst may return.

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Cystic Acne

The appearance of cystic acne is quite commonly found in children and adults alike. Acne can strike at any age, but what causes cystic acne? 

Often this type of cyst is caused by hormones called androgens. This hormone is present from birth but increases in the teenage years. 

Adult cystic acne is the result of fluctuations in hormones.  The cysts are in fact an infection deep under the skin (the skin becomes clogged with dead cells, bacteria gets trapped, and the cyst grows (spreads). It may appear to be nothing more than a painful bump, but the cyst will be filled with pus. 

The areas of the body affected are not limited. These cysts can appear on the face, back, shoulders, chest, and arms. In extreme cases, these cysts linger for years leaving the unfortunate individual with permanent scars. Men are more prone to this type of acne than women. Women may experience a breakout on the cheeks, chin, and forehead especially during menstruation, pregnancy, menopause whereas men may get them all over the face, neck and upper torso. 

Cystic Acne Causes:

  • Hereditary factors
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle

Cystic acne can cause a variety of complications such as:

  • Oily skin with large open pores
  • Itching and peeling
  • Depression (especially in teens)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Worry and anxiety

Cystic Acne Remedies

  • Virgin coconut oil - Coconut oil is high in anti-bacterial, anti-fungal as well as anti-viral properties. Apply on a cleaned, dry face to keep the affected areas infection free. Coconut oil is a gentle, safe and natural treatment for cystic acne.
  • Milk thistle - Milk thistle improves the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the blood. Fewer toxins mean less chance of acne.
  • Jojoba oil - Jojoba oil simultaneously cleans and moisturizes the skin. It helps to dissolve the oil production that causes blackheads and pimples.
  • Castor oil - Ricinoleic acid found in castor oil fights acne-causing bacteria. It penetrates the layers of the skin effectively. After cleaning with warm water (to open the pores), gently massage the oil into your skin and leave on overnight. Wash off thoroughly the next morning.
  • Argan oil - Argan oil contains anti-oxidants which are known to help heal skin inflammation. It is not greasy and quickly absorbed. Why not add argan oil to your evening facial routine.
  • Grape seed oil - Linoleic acid in grape seed oil has anti-inflammatory, acne reductive, anti-allergen and moisture retaining properties. You can also use grapeseed oil for treatment of dermatitis, allergic reactions, eczema and dry or itchy skin conditions.
  • Other treatments for cystic acne also include making yourself a mask using avocado and raw honey or honey and cinnamon and applying directly to the skin before your regular facial routine. 
  • Wash off thoroughly after 15 minutes. You can rub a few drops of tea tree oil on the affected area. Tea tree oil is also an excellent anti-antibacterial skincare product for the treatment of cystic acne.

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Boils are typically found in a hair follicle or a gland that has become infected with bacteria. The affected skin is reddened in appearance and contains pus. 

The boil will usually form a head and then drain out by itself after a few days. Boils are found anywhere on the body, especially on the face, neck, armpit, thighs, and buttocks, they can be quite painful and are the result of bacteria called (staphylococcus) as well as ingrown hairs, blocked glands, and a poor diet. 

Skin boils usually take ten days to mature. Once the boil is mature (may treat sooner) you can apply a solution of sunlight soap and sugar (1:1) to the boil and cover with a plaster. This solution helps draw the head of the boil out quickly and efficiently.

Some types of boils can be contagious. It is therefore essential to refrain from sharing personal items such as towels, razors, soap, etc. Keep the area clean, dry and disinfected.

What causes a boil?

  • Toxic blood (dirty blood) as a result of a poor diet.
  • Constipation can cause the body to try and rid itself of toxins through the skin, which may result in all types of skin conditions including boil formation.
  • Ingrown hairs and blocked sweat glands are the culprits in the majority of boil related instances.

If you are pre-exposed to the following conditions, you may have a higher risk of contracting boils. 

  • Diabetes
  • Blood disorders such as HIV, cancer, anemia
  • Obesity
  • Exposed, open tears in the skin
  • Excessive stress
  • Exposure to harsh chemicals
  • Poor hygiene
  • A weakened immune system
  • Certain illnesses

Home Remedies for Boils

Treatments and prevention methods for boils:

  • Raw garlic and onion consumption. (capsules also available)
  • Cumin seeds (ground into a paste and applied to the affected area).
  • A warm raw honey compress. (Helps mature the boil and draw pus to the surface faster).
  • Boiled parsley compress. (Works like the warm honey compress.)
  • Taking supplements of Vitamin A, E, B, C, and Zinc as well as omegas 3:6:9.
  • A cold compress can give symptomatic relief. 
  • Nutmeg can help clean the blood by stimulating blood circulation and helps the body fight the bacterial infection.
  • Aloe Vera can be applied directly to the boil to help speed up the healing process.
  • Facilitate boil drainage by applying a warm compress to the affected area as frequently as possible. The heat will help increase blood circulation to the area and help ripen the boil.
  • Boils found in areas of friction such as the groin, for instance, will need to be seen to immediately as they can become exceptionally painful. Other such areas include the buttocks, inner thigh, armpits, etc.
  • Detoxing for a few days by eating an assortment of fruits and veggies as well as drinking plenty of water can assist in flushing the harmful toxins from your body. After the detox, you should try to limit (or completely avoid) triggers like coffee, salt, sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
  • Exercise can boost the immune system to facilitate healing.
  • Once the boil has popped, start cleaning it regularly with antibacterial soap and applying antibacterial ointment.
  • Be careful when popping the boil yourself, while this may appear to be a solution, it could cause further complications like infection and scarring.
  • Do not share bedding, clothing or any items of personal hygiene to prevent the spread of bacteria.

A sunlight soap and sugar (1:1 ratio) solution applied to a boil with a plaster, draws the head of a boil out quickly. 

What are the Differences between Cysts and Boils?

  • Cysts are formed within an enclosed sac and can contain a variety of materials from air, gas, fluid or semi-solid matter, which in turn are encapsulated by lipid tissue. 
  • Cysts are not commonly painful and can keep growing over a period before they disappear on their own, or require surgical intervention (in some cases).
  • Boils, on the other hand, are usually associated with some degree of pain. It is a pus-filled follicle caused by infection within the hair shaft and has a lifespan of only a few days to two weeks. Boils should be treated as soon as possible to prevent permanent scarring.


  • Not all boils or cysts warrant a trip to your doctor’s office, nor do you have to fear them. For the most part, a cyst or boil are signs of a minor underlining health condition that can be treated safely from the comfort of your own home with the help of natural home remedies. 
  • Should you notice any symptoms that were not present before such as fever, severe swelling and pain, it would be in your best interests to contact your healthcare provider immediately to rule out complications, which may have resulted from secondary infection of the boil or cyst. 
  • While it is not common, some cysts may be cancerous, and therefore they should at some point be inspected by your doctor. Recurring boils and cysts should be closely monitored. 
  • If you are experiencing a recurrence, it may be time to start evaluating your diet and lifestyle. 

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