Impetigo is a bacterial infection of the skin.  Impetigo is a fairly common skin problem, particularly in children and in warm weather.  If hygiene is an issue, the chances for this infection increase.

Impetigo sores can occur on anyone.  Adults also get impetigo, but mostly in the beard area for men, or as a complication from an already-existing skin problem.  When babies have impetigo, the infection usually occurs in an already-present diaper rash area.

Symptoms of Impetigo

Impetigo may begin as blisters, especially on a baby's skin.  These blisters are so thin they quickly break down and become the characteristic reddish, oozing sores that impetigo is known for.  The sores are typically oval or round.  They also start small and become larger, until they are an inch or so across.

Sores from impetigo can be anywhere on the body.  In children, the sores are usually found on the face near the nose and mouth.  Crusting and redness in and around a child's nose is an almost sure sign of impetigo. 

This condition spreads.  More sores develop, day after day, particularly in the general area where the problem started. 

In severe cases, feelings of being ill are experienced, as well as a raised temperature and swollen lymph glands. 

The good news - impetigo does not hurt and the itching is usually moderate.


The bacteria streptococci and staphylococci cause impetigo.  However, there is frequently a pre-existing skin problem that allows the germs to enter and cause an infection.  Undamaged, normal adult skin is quite resistant to infection, but the skin of small children and babies is not as resistant. 

If the skin is broken due to cuts, scratches, insect bite, shaving, or any kind of dermatitis, bacteria can easily enter the skin and begin an infection.  Once the impetigo is established, it can spread to other areas of the skin.

Impetigo is contagious and can spread to other people, especially in warm weather.  It can most easily spread when personal articles are shared such as beds, towels and clothes.  When personal cleanliness is not up to par impetigo is especially contagious.

Treatments for Impetigo

A physician should be consulted for proper treatment of impetigo.  He or she will probably recommend antibiotics, which when taken during early stages of the disease, will help the body heal faster and keep the impetigo from spreading further, prevent scarring and help avoid other, more serious complications.

Antibiotic ointments are helpful.  These can include neomycin, polymyxin, bacitracin ointments, and povidone iodine ointment.  For those people who have a small case of impetigo or want some relief while they are waiting to see their physician, any of these medications can be applied at least four times daily. 

Washing with antibacterial soaps and soaking the affected area with wet compresses to help remove the crusts can be used along with the antibiotics.  Practicing good hygiene is important in preventing a recurrence of impetigo.

Natural Treatments

A healthy diet that includes mung beans, red adzuki beans, bean sprouts, wax gourd, pears, watermelon, purslane and duck meat are helpful in treating impetigo.  These foods are known to have cooling properties and dispel heat.

Some herbs to utilize include:

  • Xia gu cao - research has shown that this herb has broad antibiotic effects and is anti-staphylococci, which is the pathogen that causes impetigo.

  • Shan huang shan - This powder can be applied to the surface of the impetigo.  Cover with a sterilized cloth pad and tape it down to keep the pad in place.  The pad should be changed twice a day.  If the condition does not improve in two days, see a physician.

  • Brudock root - a good skin detoxifier.  Take 500 mg three times a day.

Supplements that can be helpful are:

  • Vitamin E - to relieve itchiness and dryness

  • Vitamin A - is essential for smooth skin and aids in relieving dryness

  • Zinc - take this supplement three times a day to raise immunity

  • Evening primrose oil - contains gamma linoleic acid, an essential anti-inflammatory

Poultices or compresses have been traditionally used to help draw out infections and soothe inflammation. 

Chop up a whole marshmallow plant and let 25 to 30 g stand in 4 cups of cold water for a few hours.  Apply this mixture directly to the skin or soak a clean cloth in this potion and apply to the affected area.

Flowering dogwood can also be used topically to alleviate infections on the skin.  Boil 5 tsp of plant material in about 1 cup of water.  Let steep for a few minutes, then strain the liquid.  Soak a clean cloth in the liquid and apply to the area stricken with impetigo.

Butternut can heal the skin from infections such as impetigo.  Boil 2 tbsp of butternut root in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes.  Strain the liquid and drink the tea.  The mixture can also be applied to the infected area as a poultice. 

Some Do's and Dont's

Below are a few other things to do aside from seeking proper treatment:

  • Avoid close contact until the condition has been cleared up

  • Don't exchange personal articles

  • Bathe often - take a whole bath or shower twice daily

  • Change clothing, sheets, pillow cases, towels and washcloths daily

  • Apply antibiotic creams or ointments three times daily, including in the nose.  The bacteria which caused the impetigo may be in the nose even if no sores are present there.  Anyone near a case of impetigo can be a nasal carrier.


  1. Balch, J.F. & Stengler, M. (2004). Prescription for Natural Cures: a self-care guide for treating diseases and health problems with natural remedies including diet and nutrition, herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, bodywork, and more. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Ltd
  2. De Vries, J. (1992). Skin diseases. Edinburgh : Mainstream
  3. Goodman, T. (1984).The skin doctor's skin doctoring book.New York : Sterling
  4. Papadopoulos, L. (2003). Understanding skin problems : acne, eczema, psoriasis and related conditions. Chichester, West Sussex : John Wiley and Sons Ltd
  5. Turkington, C., (1998). Skin deep : an A-Z of skin disorders, treatments and health. New York : Facts On File

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