Vaginal area boils are pus filled, inflamed bumps that form under the skin of your vaginal area. They’re often caused by impacted and infected hair follicles, but may have other causes too. Boils around the vagina may be confused for herpes.

All types of unusual bumps and spots can develop in the area around the vagina. The moist environment invites bacteria, and the hair follicles are ripe for in-grown hairs or inflammation.

A boil in the vaginal area can be especially painful. These pus-filled bumps are benign and rarely serious, but they can grow quite large. What starts out looking like a pimple can develop into a painful and irritating bump in a matter of days.

Read on to learn more about what causes vaginal area boils, what they look like, and how to treat and prevent them.

Vaginal area boils are pus-filled, inflamed bumps that form under the skin of your vaginal area. These bumps can develop on the outside of the vagina, in the pubic area, in the skin folds of the groin, or on the labia.

They’re often caused by impacted and infected hair follicles, but there can be other causes, too.

Boils around the vagina may be confused for herpes. Both types of bumps can look like pimples at first, and both may have a yellow discharge. But herpes sores typically remain small and develop in clusters, unlike boils.

Vaginal area boils are rarely a cause for concern. Most will clear up on their own in a couple of weeks. A few may need medical treatment. Treatment can help ease the pain and clear up the infection.

In severe cases, your doctor may lance, or cut, a boil to drain the infection.

If you have a spot on your vaginal area and aren’t sure if it’s a boil or the result of something else, such as a sexually transmitted infection, make an appointment to see your doctor or gynecologist.

A boil in the vaginal area often starts as a small red bump. It can resemble a pimple at first, but it may develop into a swollen, painful sore with a pus-filled white or yellow tip in a matter of days.

Boils may remain small, but some can grow to the size of a walnut.

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Boils are painful infections that occur around a hair follicle. This skin infection commonly occurs in the vaginal area.
Photography by DermNet New Zealand
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Boils are common infections that occur around a hair follicle. Antoksena/Getty Images

In most cases, a vaginal area boil develops when a hair follicle becomes impacted and an infection develops. This is known as folliculitis.

These boils can have other causes, too, such as:

  • A staph infection. Staphylococcus aureus (also known as staph) naturally lives on the outside of your body and in the opening of your nose. If the bacterium makes its way into the roots of the hair (the hair follicles), an infection can develop.
  • A cut in the skin. Staph and other bacteria can get through the skin around the vagina from minor cuts that occur while you’re shaving or from an injury. Once bacteria enter the body, they can develop into an infection.
  • Irritation. Friction from tight clothes can cause small tears and make skin around the vagina more susceptible to infections. Also, some people may have skin folds that rub and cause friction and irritation.
  • Ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs won’t always develop into boils, but if the hair follicle develops an infection, it can grow large and pus-filled.
  • Close contact. If you’ve been in contact with someone who has a boil, shared clothes, or reused a towel, you may be more likely to develop a boil.
  • Insect bites. Like cuts from razors, insect bites or other injuries can open the skin up to bacteria.
  • Blocked Bartholin’s gland cysts. Bartholin’s glands are pea-sized glands near the opening of the vagina. If these glands become blocked, they can develop into cysts, and the cysts could become infected. This infection can lead to vaginal boils.

Having one boil doesn’t make you more likely to have another. However, some of the risk factors that lead to one boil can easily lead to another. These include:

Most boils will go away on their own in a few days or within a week or two. You can help ease the symptoms and speed up the process by taking the following steps:

  • Apply a warm compress. Place a clean, warm, wet washcloth over the boil, and leave it there for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat this process three or four times a day until the boil is gone. The heat from the compress helps promote more blood circulation, so white blood cells can fight off the remaining infection.
  • Wear loose bottoms while it’s healing. Until the boil disappears, reduce friction in the area, and wear loose underwear and clothing. After workouts, change into clean, dry underwear.
  • Clean and protect. If the boil bursts, clean the area thoroughly and apply an antibiotic ointment like combined bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin B (Neosporin). Then, cover with a sterile gauze or adhesive bandage. Keep the area clean, and change the dressing daily.
  • Don’t pop or prick. Avoid picking or piercing the boil. Opening the boil releases the bacteria and can spread the infection. You may also make the pain and tenderness worse.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers. OTC pain medication may be necessary to ease the pain and inflammation the boil causes. Take ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) according to the package directions.
  • Wash your hands. Before you touch the boil or surrounding area, wash your hands with antibacterial soap and warm water. This will help keep you from introducing new bacteria to the boil. Wash your hands after you’ve touched the boil, too, to prevent spreading the infection to other areas of your body.

If these home remedies don’t help or the boil doesn’t clear up within 3 weeks, make an appointment with your gynecologist or doctor.

A boil typically clears up on its own in one to three weeks. Some boils will shrink and disappear. Others may burst and drain first.

If the boil grows significantly or is very painful, or if it doesn’t heal within 3 weeks, make an appointment with your doctor. They’ll examine the boil to determine if an antibiotic is necessary, or if lancing and draining the boil is required.

Most boils will remain small and can be treated at home. But if the infection grows larger, begins to spread, or shows signs of worsening, you may need medical treatment from a doctor.

The following symptoms may be a sign that the infection is worsening:

  • fever
  • chills or cold sweats
  • a bump that grows rapidly
  • a bump that’s extremely painful
  • a bump that’s larger than 2 inches wide
  • a boil that doesn’t clear up after 3 weeks

If more boils develop, or you notice a a cluster of boils, it’s also important to talk with your doctor. An underlying factor may be contributing to the boils. Treating the root cause can help prevent future boils.

Your doctor has two primary treatment options if the boil is too severe for home remedy treatments:

  • Lance and drain. If the boil is extremely painful or large, your doctor may lance or cut the bump to drain the pus and fluid. Boils that have a severe infection may need to be drained more than once. Your doctor will use sterile equipment, so don’t attempt to do this at home.
  • Antibiotics. Severe or recurrent infections may need antibiotics to prevent future boils. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics after the boil is drained to prevent secondary infection.

Preventing boils isn’t always possible, but these tips may help reduce your risk of future vaginal boils:

  • Trim your pubic area. Trimming your pubic area with sharp, clean scissors rather than shaving minimizes any risk of ingrown hairs.
  • Change your razor frequently. If you choose to shave, a dull razor can increase your risk of ingrown hairs. Change razors or blades every 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Don’t share personal items. The bacteria responsible for a boil is easily transmitted if you share razors, towels, wash cloths, and other personal items. Keep these items stored away and don’t share them with other people.
  • Shave in the shower or bath. Don’t dry shave your pubic area. Use a shaving lotion or cream to add extra moisture to your skin and to reduce friction.
  • Shave in the direction of hair growth. Shaving in the direction your hair is growing can help reduce the likelihood of an ingrown hair.
  • Gently exfoliate. By gently exfoliating the area around your vagina, you can remove dead skin cells and reduce the risk of ingrown hairs.
  • Take all antibiotics. If your doctor prescribes oral antibiotics to treat your infection, complete the entire prescription, even if the boil starts improving. Stopping before you’ve taken the full course of antibiotics may lead to reinfection.
  • Treat for staph. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium commonly found on the skin, and it can cause recurring boils, as well as other infections. If this bacterium is responsible, your doctor can specifically treat for it.
  • Wash your hands. Before and after you touch your genitals, wash your hands with an antibacterial soap. This can help stop the spread of infection-causing bacteria.

Most vaginal area boils will shrink and disappear within a couple of weeks and will respond to at-home treatments.

Some boils, however, don’t respond to self-care treatments. If you notice that a vaginal boil hasn’t improved, is getting worse, or shows signs of infection, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Larger, more severe vaginal boils, or those that have become infected, will likely need to be lanced and drained, and possibly treated with antibiotics.