Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that is especially common among young children: it is the fourth most common dermatological skin disorder for children who seek medical help via general practice (1). An impetigo infection is typically caused by the Streptococcus or Staphylococcus bacteria, which can enter the human skin through a rash, minor cuts or scrapes, or an insect bite. Impetigo is highly contagious, and can spread between humans via personal contact, and by the sharing of towels, razors or clothing items. Since impetigo symptoms typically emerge only after four to 10 days, someone who has been exposed to the bacteria often spreads it to classmates, colleagues, family, and friends unintentionally (2). Since the symptoms of impetigo are caused by bacteria, there are many home remedies for impetigo that can treat the infection at home that you should try.
A 2005 review by the World Health Organization Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development noted that impetigo is an endemic disease in many tropical and subtropical countries (3), but is also common in the developed world. Children are most susceptible, but also individuals affected by diabetes or a weakened immune system (e.g. due to HIV infection or chemotherapy) are also prone to catch the disease.
There are two types of impetigo: non-bullous impetigo (the most common manifestation) and bullous impetigo.
The symptoms of the non-bullous impetigo include the formation of itchy red sores (typically around the nose and mouth, but other areas may also be affected). After quickly bursting, these stores leave behind thick and golden crusts, which are commonly compared to cornflakes stuck to the skin. After drying out, the crusts leave behind a red mark that fades without scarring.
The symptoms of bullous impetigo involve the appearance of itchy and occasionally painful fluid-filled blisters (bullae) across the central part of the torso, or on the arms and legs. The blisters usually burst after a few days of quickly spreading, leaving behind a yellow crust that eventually fades without scarring. Bullous impetigo is more commonly accompanied by fever and swollen glands.
In most cases, a child’s compromised appearance as a result of impetigo will worry parents and prevent him or her from attending school or kindergarten. Most children can recover from the condition without treatment in between two to three weeks. Impetigo treatment (usually via antibiotic creams or antibiotic tablets) is nevertheless recommended to reduce the risk of the infection spreading to others, and to hasten the recovery process (4).
In rare instances, however, an alternative choice of treatments may be needed to cope with the outbreaks caused by strains of resistant bacteria (e.g. Methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA)). In particularly rare and acute incidences of impetigo, permanent skin damage and scarring, swollen lymph nodes and kidney inflammation or failure can occur.
For mild cases, you can treat the symptoms of impetigo with home remedies that are naturally anti-bacterial.
Home Remedies for Impetigo
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar has proven bacteriostatic and bactericidal properties against food-borne pathogenic bacteria (5). While any white vinegar will do, apple cider vinegar is the best home remedy for impetigo as it has more potent anti-bacterial properties.
You can create your own anti-bacterial solution with vinegar to accelerate the healing of your skin sores and blisters while keeping the affected area clean and preventing the germs from spreading to other parts of your body.
To create your homemade antibacterial solution, simply mix one tablespoon of white distilled vinegar in 2 cups of lukewarm water. Wash the affected area with a cotton ball dabbed in this solution, and then pat your skin dry. You can cover the area with gauze, and repeat the process two to three times each day until the infection has subsided.
- Grapefruit Seed Extract and Geranium Oil
A 2004 study that was published in Burns, a scientific journal, attempted to establish the anti-bacterial efficacy of using patchouli, tea tree, geranium, lavender essential oils and citricidal (grapefruit seed extract) – separately and in combination – against three strains of Staphylococcus aureus (6). The study concluded that a combination of grapefruit seed extract and geranium oil demonstrated the strongest anti-bacterial effects against MRSA, a resistant strain of bacteria that can cause impetigo.
To benefit from this potent mixture, add a few drops of grapefruit seed extract to two tablespoons of geranium oil. Use a cotton ball to apply the mixture to the affected area 2 or 3 times each day to clean the infection and prevent it from spreading.
Ginger, the rhizome of the Zingiber officinale, has been used in traditional medicine practices across the world since ancient times. It is also a fantastic home remedy for impetigo as it is so readily available. While scientists are still attempting to understand the exact mechanism of its actions in combating various diseases and promoting health, its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, gastroprotective, anti-emetic and neuroprotective properties have been proven by scientific research (7).
To benefit from ginger’s antimicrobial potential against pathogens, you can incorporate it into your diet by adding it to soups, curries, smoothies, salad dressings and fruit and vegetable juices.
Turmeric contains the active ingredient of curcumin, which is known for its potent antibacterial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (8). You can benefit specifically from its efficacy against Staphylococcus aureus: the strain of bacteria that is often responsible for impetigo.
Simply mix one teaspoon of ground turmeric with one tablespoon of coconut oil, and then dab the affected areas with a cotton ball. Use a bandage to cover the area, since turmeric can stain your clothes. Rinse the area daily and reapply the solution once or twice a day. This will help alleviate the itching and discomfort while reducing any inflammation and preventing it from spreading to other parts of your body.
- Manuka Honey
Likewise, Manuka honey has been proven to contain antibacterial components that interrupt the cell division processes of the methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) (9). It is so good that it is routinely used in by medical practitioners for a wide variety of skin abrasions (such as minor burns, turf and carpet burns). As with turmeric, you can apply drops of Manuka honey to the affected area with a cotton ball to inhibit the bacterial growth responsible for your impetigo infection.
- Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil, an essential oil steam distilled from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia (which has long been used as an antimicrobial agent by Australian aborigines. A 2000 study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that a combination of a 4% tea tree oil nasal ointment and 5% tea tree oil body wash was more effective in eradicating MRSA than the standard prescription antibiotic treatments of mupirocin and triclosan (10).
To help alleviate impetigo caused by MRSA, apply a mixture of tea tree and olive oil (add a few drops of the former to one tablespoon of the latter) to the affected area with a cotton ball. After allowing it to sit for half an hour, rinse off the solution with lukewarm water. Repeat the process two to three times each day throughout the week.
- Garlic and Tazma Honey
A 2003 study demonstrated the synergic antibacterial effect of Apis mellipodae honey (honey from the Ethiopian stingless bee) and garlic mixture against the standard and clinical pathogenic bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus (11).
To benefit from this traditional Ethiopian remedy (which is also used for colds, coughs, asthma, diarrhea and respiratory infections), use a sterile mortar and pestle to obtain garlic juice from fresh garlic bulbs. Mix the juice with sterile distilled water and tazma honey, and then apply the solution to the affected area with a cotton ball. After allowing it to sit for half an hour, rinse off the solution with lukewarm water. Repeat the process two to three times each day throughout the week.
A 2012 study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Department of Chemistry/Biochemistry demonstrated the antimicrobial and antiseptic activities of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis leaf extract, which is used traditionally to treat skin infections) against MRSA (12). To benefit from its ability to target pathogens via multiple pathways, first make a strong tea solution with hot water. After it cools, use a cotton ball or pad to gently dab over the affected area. Do this twice each day throughout the week.
Do’s and Don’ts of Impetigo
- Wash your hands often and maintain good personal hygiene practices, such as having a daily bath or shower
- Maintain a healthy diet that includes ample amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins to ensure a strong, healthy and optimized immune system
- Avoid infections by washing all cuts, scratches and insect bites with warm water and soap
- Recuperate at home: avoid going to school, the gym, the nursery, or workplace if you have impetigo
- Keep any sores, blisters and crusty patches dry and clean by covering them with gauze bandages or loose clothing
- Wash (do not scrub) yourself with antibacterial soap multiple times throughout the day, and gently remove the scabs as they peel off
- Wash all clothing, sheets, and towels at a high temperature
- If your child has impetigo, be sure to wash all his or her toys with detergent and warm water
- Despite the itchiness, try not to touch or scratch any affected areas (sores, blisters, or crusty patches)
- Avoid proximity with children, adults with diabetes, and anyone with a compromised immune system
- Do not prepare food for others
- Do not share your clothing, towels, sheets, or flannels with others
- Do not engage in any contact sports