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Medically Reviewed by Dr. Eva Simmons-O’Brien

Dr. Eva Simmons O’Brien received her MD from Yale University and is a board-certified dermatologist. With over 30 years of experience, she has worked for hospitals, established her own private practice, and consulted for organizations such as the FDA. Today, Dr. Eva runs her own practice in addition to serving as our Chief Science Officer.

Pimple vs. Boil: What's The Difference?

Pimple vs. Boil: What's The Difference?

Pimple vs. Boil: What's The Difference?

 

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It’s hard to tell if that giant lump on your neck is an ingrown hair, pimple, or a boil. All three can be painful, red, irritated, and pus-filled, but depending on which your blemish is, the treatment options are different. 

You can usually figure out if you’ve got ingrown hair, but a pimple and a boil can be so close in appearance you can easily mistake one for the other. 

We’ll help you figure out what you’ve got and how to get rid of them both fast.

What Is a Boil?

A boil is a large, pus-filled lump. It can also be referred to as a furuncle. A group or cluster of boils is called a carbuncle

Boils form when bacteria, usually staphylococcus aureus, enter the skin through a cut, bug bite, or infected hair follicle. Essentially, it causes staph infection. Boils take time to grow, usually growing more slowly than a pimple. 

Symptoms of a Boil

Boils can resemble pimples, and when they first form, you’ll probably think that’s what they are. Unless you remember specifically having a cut or a bite in the area where the lump is located, you’ll probably write it off as a new blemish, roll your eyes, and curse under your breath.

However, as a boil develops, the symptoms change. You will notice:

  • Increased size
  • Swelling, redness, and irritation
  • Pain and heat at the site of the infected area. 
  • Visible pus under the skin
  • If the boil remains untreated, you can develop serious illness, fever, and chills.

Generally speaking, boils are really irritating and usually get much larger than your typical acne blemish. 

What Is a Pimple?

Like boils, pimples form in the hair follicles, but you’ll most likely hear them referred to as “clogged pores.” The pore is the opening of your hair follicle. 

Pimples form when bacteria (usually P. acnes) enter the hair follicle, mix with dirt, oil, and dead skin cells. There are different types of pimples:

  • Blackheads. These pimples have an open-top that appears dark black or brown and is slightly swollen. 
  • Whiteheads. These pimples have a closed top. The material inside hasn’t been exposed to oxygen, so it hasn’t oxidized and changed color. 
  • Cysts. These are large, red, painful bumps that sometimes never develop a white or blackhead. 

Pimples are usually caused by an excess of sebum (your skin’s natural oil) that sticks to dead skin cells, bacteria, and dirt and form a clog in the pore.

Symptoms of Pimples

Pimples appear seemingly out of nowhere. Symptoms of pimples are:

  • Blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts on your face, neck, back, and chest
  • Excessively oily skin
  • Breakouts that form in clusters

Most pimples can be easily treated at home. For larger cystic bumps, you may need the intervention of a dermatologist. 

How Pimples and Boils Are Alike

Sometimes it’s super hard to figure out if you’re dealing with a pimple or a boil. Both types of bumps:

  • It can form on the face, back, or areas where you sweat. 
  • Cause large, swollen, painful, pus-filled bumps
  • Can be treated by a dermatologist or at home under normal circumstances.
  • They are caused by bacteria that enter the skin.

There are some key differences to help you determine if you’ve got a pimple or a boil.

How Pimples and Boils Are Different

Looking for an easy way to differentiate between a pimple and a boil? You might not have one. There are differences, but sometimes they’re hard to detect. 

  • Pimples can be caused by excess sebum production, hormones, bad skincare, and genetics. 
  • Boils form from staph bacteria.
  • Boils can become larger than even cystic acne bumps. They usually continue to grow, whereas a pimple will reach a certain size and then begin to shrink away.
  • Boils can become serious infections if they aren’t treated properly. 

Whether you’ve got a pimple or a boil, you just need to know how to get rid of them. Here’s what to do.

How To Treat Pimples and Boils

Both pimples and boils can easily be treated at home unless they become severe. Here’s what to do to get rid of them fast. 

For Boils

Grab a washcloth and soak it in hot water. Apply it to a boil for about 20 minutes. This will help alleviate the swelling and should break up the pus, allowing it to drain properly. 

You should never attempt to lance, cut, or pop a boil on your own. This could cause the infection to spread and can make you seriously sick. Instead, see a dermatologist if a boil doesn’t go away within a few weeks, causes excessive irritation, or continues to come back in the same spot.

For Pimples

You hate getting them, but for most guys, they’re just a part of life. The first rule is never to pick or pop them. We know. It’s bright, gleaming, and just waiting to squeeze, but popping your pimples can lead to scarring, brighter red marks, and even more pimples. 

To treat them at home, follow a few simple steps:

  1. Follow a good skincare routine. Disco’s Starter Set has everything you need to take care of your skin, keep it clean, hydrated, and clarified in just minutes each day. 
  2. Use a mask. If you’re constantly getting breakouts, a weekly mask on the areas where you get the most bumps can help deep clean your pores and keep your skin looking healthier. 
  3. Learn how to care for your blemish-prone skin. The Disco Journal is packed with information about how to deal with acne and other skin and grooming issues. We don’t mean to brag, but it’s basically the men’s skincare bible. 

See your dermatologist if your pimples seem out of control, hurt, or are leaving deep pockmarks on your skin. 

Let’s Disco

Pimple? Boil? You can figure it out with this handy guide. No matter what you’re dealing with, you’ve got the tools you need to get relief and get better, healthier-looking skin. 

Disco is your source for skincare and information that directly relates to your skin. Men’s skin is different from women’s skin, which is why Disco’s products are formulated to work with the pH balance of a man’s skin, not a woman’s. 

Don’t freak out over a pimple or a boil. Send them packing with better skincare from Disco and easy-to-follow at-home solutions. 

 

Sources:

Boils | UF Health.org 

Acne - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic 

Boils and carbuncles - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

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