Staphylococci ("staph") are common bacteria found on the skin. Staphylococcus aureus is the variety that can cause severe skin infections. According to DermNet NZ, up to 40 percent of people are carriers of staph, often in the nose or in the skin under the arms or breasts, resulting in recurrent staph infections. Killing staph on the skin requires ongoing efforts because the bacteria tend to recur despite treatment.


A severe staph skin infection usually requires an initial course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria and clear the infection. Commonly used drugs include doxycycline or a combination of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim) and rifampin. Be sure to take all of the medications because if you stop the medications early, you may develop a more aggressive staph infection. According to Dr. Melissa C. Stoppler at MedicineNet, abscesses (large boils) may require incision and drainage.

Additionally, you may apply a topical antibiotic cream (mupirocin) to lesions and inside the nostrils. After the infection clears, your physician may advise you to apply mupirocin inside the nose for one week out of each month as a preventive. Avoid continuous use of topical antibiotic cream as this may cause antibiotic resistance and reduce effectiveness.

Wash hands thoroughly and often as staph can contaminate the hands and easily transmit to other parts of the body and inanimate objects (such as doorknobs). Avoid touching any areas of broken skin or the face because staph can invade the hair follicles and cause an infection that looks like severe acne. Dr. Stoppler recommends avoiding close contact with others during active infection as the staph bacteria can transmit easily from an infected individual to another person.

Use antiseptic skin cleansers, such as chlorhexidine gluconate (Hibiclens) or hexachlorophene (pHisoHex), daily to targeted areas of skin, such as the underarms and beneath the breasts. Be careful to avoid the face, genital area, and open wounds as the antiseptic can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

A bleach bath may help control staph. Bleach is similar to the chlorine found in swimming pools and is not harmful if used properly, but a strong bleach solution can burn the skin. Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson of recommends one-half cup of bleach to a tub (typical 40-gallon size) of water for five to ten minutes up to twice weekly. Apply a moisturizer to the skin after bathing as bleach is drying.


Don't share personal items, such as razors, clothes and towels, as they can become contaminated with staph.