Up to 4% of people in the United States are living with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), an autoimmune condition that causes chronic skin inflammation around sweat glands and hair follicles. HS tends to mainly affect women aged 18 to 29 years old, and is more likely to develop in people of color, particularly African Americans. There’s not yet a cure for hidradenitis suppurativa, but the right skincare routine can soothe your skin and slow the spread of painful lumps, bumps, and boils.
Hidradenitis suppurativa appears in places on the body where skin meets skin. You may have blackheads or lumps in your armpit, breast, groin, or inner thigh. Lumps can connect to other lumps under your skin, creating tunnels that can leak pus and smell. These lumps can make it uncomfortable to move or cause you to feel self-conscious.
The right skincare routine for you will depend on where your hidradenitis suppurativa is and how severe it is. For mild hidradenitis suppurativa, your dermatologist may prescribe an antibiotic cream to prevent infection. Antiseptics and acne washes available without a prescription also help many people. Ask your doctor for a recommendation before you try one. If your doctor detects a certain type of bacteria on your skin, a home bleach bath may be suggested. Don’t try this on your own; your doctor should give you specific instructions.
You can start incorporating these healthy-skin habits into your daily routine:
- Don’t shave areas where you have lumps, and consider long-term hair removal instead
- Avoid tight-fitting clothes and underwear
- Don’t get overheated or allow sweat to accumulate
In general, keep skin clean and hydrated, moisturizing with light lotions–stay away from thick creams and ointments that can clog pores and follicles. Avoid scrubbing your skin so you don’t irritate it and inflame sensitive areas. Quitting smoking and losing extra weight can also reduce the severity of hidradenitis suppurativa. Research has shown that losing even just 10% of body weight improves symptoms. For many people, losing weight is all that’s needed to clear their skin completely.
Often, just caring for the skin directly doesn’t bring enough relief from symptoms or slow the spread of lumps and scarring. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to cure infection, reduce inflammation, and prevent new lumps from forming.
If topical solutions combined with antibiotics don’t bring relief, your dermatologist may recommend corticosteroids for short periods to reduce swelling or a newer biologic medication longer-term. The biologic medication adalimumab (Humira) is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat hidradenitis suppurativa. Given by injection, it works at the cellular level to correct the body’s faulty autoimmune response that causes hidradenitis suppurativa. Laser surgery and surgical procedures have also proven effective but are usually only performed in severe cases.
Hidradenitis suppurativa can feel like a tough problem, but you don’t need to solve it alone, and many proven solutions are available. Start by talking with your doctor about what a new skincare routine can do for you.