Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin condition that causes round, flesh-colored, painless bumps that may resemble warts. Scratching or picking at the bumps can cause the infection to spread. Molluscum contagiosum is most common in children, but it may also affect adults.
According to research, molluscum contagiosum will have a significant impact on the quality of life of approximately 1 in 10 children with this condition.
In most cases, molluscum contagiosum will resolve within 12 months. Home remedies can ease symptoms during this time. Read on to discover some of the most effective remedies for molluscum contagiosum.
Home remedies for molluscum contagiosum
At-home treatments for molluscum contagiosum may reduce discomfort, itching, and tingling while the bumps are present. However, they are unlikely to cure the condition.
Popular home remedies include:
Colloidal oatmeal baths
A colloidal oatmeal bath can effectively relieve the symptoms of many skin conditions.
The oatmeal contains fatty acids that reduce skin inflammation.
People can buy colloidal oatmeal in drugstores or make their own by grinding regular, old-fashioned oats in a food processor until they make a fine powder.
To make a colloidal oatmeal bath, add 1 cup of oatmeal to a tub of lukewarm water.
Soak in the tub for 10–15 minutes and then gently pat the skin dry.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a popular home remedy, although there is a lack of research to confirm its effectiveness. Use a clean cotton swab to apply raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) to areas of itching or tingling skin. Keep the swab in place for several hours with a bandage.
People with sensitive skin may wish to dilute the ACV with a little water before applying it. If it causes any irritation, remove the swab immediately, and gently wash the skin.
Tea tree oil and iodine
Tea tree oil has antiseptic properties, and it can soothe itchy and inflamed skin. Iodine helps to kill germs on the skin, and people use it to treat a range of skin conditions.
A 2012 study of children with molluscum contagiosum reported that the majority of those who used a combination of tea tree oil and iodine saw a reduction of more than 90 percent in the number of skin lesions. They achieved these results after 30 days of twice-daily treatment.
As tea tree oil can cause a skin reaction in some people, it is important to do a patch test before applying it to a larger area of skin. If 24 hours pass with no reaction, it should be safe to use. Never consume tea tree oil.
Australian lemon myrtle oil
Australian lemon myrtle oil is another essential oil that may effectively treat molluscum contagiosum.
The results of a small study in children with this condition suggest that applying a 10-percent solution of the oil once a day for 21 days can reduce lesions by over 90 percent.
Other essential oils
Other essential oils that demonstrate antiviral properties may reduce itching, tingling, and the appearance of skin bumps. These include:
- neem oil
- lavender oil
- oil of oregano
Blend a few drops of one or more of these oils with a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba oil. For a 2-percent dilution, blend 12 drops of essential oil with a fluid ounce of carrier oil. Apply to the skin once or twice daily.
It is vital to always carry out a patch test before using any new essential oil on the skin.
Coconut oil is rich in fatty acids that boast anti-inflammatory properties. The oil coats the skin and prevents it from drying out. Some people with molluscum contagiosum find relief after applying pure coconut oil to the bumps.
People can use coconut oil once a day for this skin condition. It can be especially beneficial to apply the oil after a colloidal oatmeal bath or to mix it with an essential oil.
Boost immune function
If molluscum contagiosum is severe or recurs, this suggests that the immune system is struggling to fight off the virus. To boost immune function, people can try:
- eating a balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthful fats
- avoiding sugar, refined grains, and fatty and processed foods
- trying probiotic foods or supplements
- exercising regularly
- reducing stress through meditation, mindfulness, and yoga
- sleeping for 7–9 hours a night
- seeking treatment for nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and other health conditions
Zinc oxide cream
Zinc oxide cream is available at local pharmacies, and people often use it for other skin conditions in infants, such as diaper rash.
A virus is responsible for causing molluscum contagiosum.
The condition is highly contagious and passes easily from one person to another.
Research suggests that over 40 percent of people can identify a close friend or relative with the infection.
Molluscum contagiosum spreads through:
- direct skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the infection
- sexual contact with someone with the virus
- contact with contaminated objects, including towels, handles, and toys
Scratching or picking at the bumps will cause the virus to spread to surrounding areas of skin. Once the bumps disappear, the virus is no longer contagious.
Factors that increase a person’s risk of getting molluscum contagiosum include:
- Age: Most cases of molluscum contagiosum occur in children.
- Having atopic dermatitis: Children with atopic dermatitis have a higher risk of the infection than others.
- Being an adult with a weakened immune system: Adults with weakened immune systems are more likely to get the infection than healthy adults.
- Having sexual contact with an infected person: In adults with normal immune function, molluscum contagiosum may spread to the genitals through sexual contact. In this case, it will be a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
It is possible to prevent the spread of molluscum contagiosum to other people or other parts of the body by:
- Avoiding scratching or rubbing the bumps.
- Washing the hands regularly and showing children how to wash their hands properly.
- Cleaning the bumps regularly with soap and water.
- Covering the bumps with clothing or a bandage in preparation for coming into contact with other people, for example, through sports. Remove the bandage when not around other people and use a new bandage every day.
- Avoiding sharing personal items, such as towels, toys, or clothing, with others.
- Staying away from people who are undergoing chemotherapy or have reduced immune function for another reason, as they are more likely to contract the virus.
- Avoiding sexual contact if the bumps are on or near the genitals.
Most cases of molluscum contagiosum improve in 6–12 months without treatment. Some people, especially those who have compromised immune systems, may have the bumps for several years.
Medical treatments can remove the bumps and prevent the spread of the virus. Treatment options include:
A doctor may prescribe medications to treat the bumps.
Salicylic acid is a common topical medication for skin problems. It is available over the counter (OTC) or by prescription. However, the OTC version is not as strong as the one that doctors prescribe.
Other medications for molluscum contagiosum include:
- benzoyl peroxide
- potassium hydroxide
Some of these medications, such as tretinoin, are not suitable for pregnant women.
If medications are ineffective, a doctor may recommend a medical procedure to remove the molluscum contagiosum bumps. These treatments can be painful, and an anesthetic may be necessary to reduce discomfort.
A doctor may suggest:
- Cryotherapy: This involves applying liquid nitrogen to the bumps to freeze them off.
- Scraping: A doctor will surgically remove the bumps. However, they may eventually return.
People who wish to try either of these treatments should speak with their doctor.
Potential side effects include:
When to see a doctor
Individuals who have any of the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum should see their doctor. It is essential to discuss the use of home remedies with a doctor before beginning treatment to avoid complications.
Potential complications include:
- red and inflamed skin
- infection from scratching the bumps
- conjunctivitis (pink eye) if bumps appear around the eye area
- feeling self-conscious
Molluscum contagiosum will typically resolve without treatment within 12 months. Home remedies can ease discomfort during this time.
If home remedies are ineffective, a doctor can recommend medications or medical procedures to treat the bumps.
Make sure to practice good hygiene and take other preventive measures to avoid allowing the infection to spread or recur.