Red bumps on my butt keep rearing their ugly heads

Originally Published: June 21, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 29, 2014
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Dear Alice,

For the last several years, I've had problems with red bumps (some cyst-like) on my bum. As you can imagine, it has made changing/showering at the gym, wearing higher cut swimsuits, massages, sex, etc., humiliating!

I have tried everything: Desitin, various powders, anti-perspirants (as I think sweat is the main cause), lotion, rubbing alcohol, Neutrogena body wash, Clearasil, and Retin A (which my doctor prescribed), to name just a few. In addition, I shower twice a day and always wear cotton panties. I've slept sans underwear, worn loose clothing, you name it — all in the name of getting "some air."

I've seen my regular doctor and a dermatologist about the problem and it still persists! What can I do?

Desperately embarr-ASS-ed

Dear Desperately embarr-ASS-ed,

Thanks for the pun, and sorry you're feeling so frustrated.

While it's impossible to make a diagnosis via the internet, your description sounds like it may be either folliculitis or boils. Both of these are tiny little pockets of infection, sort of similar to pimples. The difference between them is that folliculitis forms around the place where a hair sprouts (the hair follicle), while a boil is freestanding. A cluster of boils is sometimes referred to as a "carbuncle." Bumps from boils or folliculitis can be filled with fluid or pus, or they can appear as red bumps that crop up around hair. These infections are usually caused by bacteria (possibly including staph), although other microorganisms, such as yeast, are sometimes responsible.

When you notice these bumps, try placing a hot compress on them for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, or sit in a nice hot bath. This can help them come to a head and drain, although it may take about a week for them to do so. Once the area is draining, put some antibiotic ointment over it and bandage the spot; reapply the ointment and re-bandage it three or four times each day until it appears totally healed. Also, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands and any towels or clothing you have used.

It's terribly tempting, but don't squeeze them! You could drive the infection deeper, resulting in an even greater infection.

In addition to the hot compress suggestions, keep the area clean by washing with mild soap. Dry the spot thoroughly. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to avoid any harsh ointments or solutions like alcohol, or even soaps with perfumes or dyes — strong soaps and certain chemicals in cleansers can make sensitive skin irritated and more prone to infection, rather than less. Have you tried just washing the affected area several times a day (rather than several showers a day) and using only mild soap? Check out the skin care tips from Mayo Clinic for more information about caring for your skin.

If these measures don't improve your bumps, if you are getting more and more, if the "cysts" are located between your buttocks, if they are increasingly red and painful, or if you develop a fever or other symptoms, you may need to see your health care provider to have the bumps drained and to be placed on oral antibiotics.

Unfortunately, some people are prone to these kinds of "eruptions," and you may find them rearing their ugly heads on an occasional basis. Whenever they crop up, revert back to your treatment plan to find peace. Remember that you are not alone in this experience and with some trial and error you can find the solution that works best for you!

Alice