Hidradenitis suppurativa or acne inversa is a chronic and painful skin condition that causes abscesses and scarring of skin. It starts as blackheads, cysts, and lumps that look like boils. In fact, it is sometimes mistaken for acne in the beginning. But as the condition worsens, the boils can become deeper, even creating grooves in the skin and leaking pus. Hidradenitis suppurativa typically occurs in places that you don’t usually see acne – for instance, around the buttocks, groin, anal area, and armpit.
While there’s no potential cure yet for hidradenitis suppurativa, you can take some measures to encourage wound healing, relieve pain, and prevent the formation of new lumps. But do remember that you may need to see a doctor if you have a severe case or if the lesions in your skin seem infected. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics in this case and also advise you to use antiseptic washes and retinoids. In all mild to moderate cases, some simple natural and lifestyle measure can help you keep this condition under control.1 2:
1. Apply A Warm Compress To Drain Pus And Reduce Pain
If you are seeing painful boils, applying heat can help soothe symptoms. Soak a clean washcloth in hot water to make a compress. Apply this gently to the lumps twice a day. Aside from easing the pain, this will also encourage the draining of pus.3
2. Use A Warm Teabag To Ease Pain
Tea has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Steep a tea bag in hot water for about a minute and then apply it on a painful nodule or cyst. Leave it on for around 10 minutes to allow the tannins in the tea to work.4 5
3. Dab On Diluted Tea Tree Oil To Disinfect The Boils
Antiseptic soaps and skin washes are commonly recommended for people with hidradenitis suppurativa to control the growth of harmful bacteria. A good natural alternative is tea tree oil, which is known for its antimicrobial properties. In fact, studies have found 5% tea tree oil to have a significant effect on the boils, much like the antiseptic benzoyl peroxide which is also used to deal with hidradenitis suppurativa.6 7 Dilute tea tree oil in a carrier oil like grapeseed oil (1:3) and apply to affected parts. Do remember to do a patch test to make sure you’re not allergic to this potent oil.
4. Use Turmeric To Fight Inflammation
Turmeric has traditionally been used to tackle skin disorders. A potent antioxidant in it called curcumin is known for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. Taking curcumin orally may help you fight hidradenitis suppurativa from within. Start by having turmeric tea every day and add turmeric to your daily cooking as well.8 You can also apply an antibacterial paste of turmeric powder and water, a remedy that’s often used for acne, to heal the boils. Rinse off once dry.9
5. Try An Elimination Diet
Research has found that your diet may have a role to play in hidradenitis suppurativa. A preliminary study found that avoiding dairy products and having a diet with low-glycemic foods was able to reduce symptoms.10 Both male and female sex hormones seem to play a role in the growth of the hidradenitis suppurativa lumps. High-glycemic foods raise insulin levels, and dairy products stimulate the production of a protein called IGF-1. Both of these make circulating androgens more available to the skin, which results in lumps and lesions.11
Cakes, bagels, sweetened sodas, instant oatmeal, and white rice have a high glycemic index, while couscous, baked beans, peanuts, and fruits like apple and grapefruit have a low glycemic index.12
Another small study observed that avoiding foods containing brewer’s yeast (think beer!) or wheat resulted in symptoms clearing up within 12 months. However, it’s worth noting that the people who participated in this study had an allergy to brewer’s yeast and wheat. So further research may be required to validate these benefits.13
However, it might still make sense to go on an elimination diet and remove high-GI foods, dairy, and gluten from your diet. See if the symptoms improve. Then reintroduce them one food group at a time to identify the trigger.
6. Have Zinc-Rich Foods
Zinc is an important nutrient that assists your immune system and is also used by your body in wound healing and DNA synthesis. This mineral can also help you manage hidradenitis suppurativa. One study found that when people suffering from this condition were given zinc gluconate, they showed an improvement, with some patients even going into complete remission. The beneficial effects are attributed to zinc’s ability to curb inflammatory skin reactions.14 Oysters, poultry, crab, lobsters, and red meat are good sources of zinc.15 You can also take supplements after checking with your doctor.
7. Lose Weight If You’re Overweight
If you’re overweight, shedding those excess pounds is one of the most effective ways of controlling hidradenitis suppurativa and reducing the frequency of your flare-ups – even a 10% reduction in body weight is enough to make a difference. Losing weight has other benefits too for people with hidradenitis suppurativa. Some research indicates that people suffering from this condition have a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Losing excess weight can lower these risks too.
To lose weight, get on a program that integrates a balanced diet with fewer calories and regular physical exercise. And aim for slow and steady weight loss (say 1–2 pounds a week). Any drastic dieting or exercising will not only have long-term implications but may also lower your immunity and increase chances of flare-ups.16
8. Quit Smoking
Smoking isn’t just terrible for your overall respiratory health but can also worsen symptoms of hidradenitis suppurativa.17 Quitting can reduce the severity of symptoms as well as the frequency of flare-ups. If you’re struggling to let go of your cigarette, take these 7 steps to quit smoking.18 19
9. Avoid Shaving Irritated Skin, Tight Clothes, And Perfumes
Irritating your skin when you have a breakout can make things worse. Avoid shaving affected areas. Also, stop using perfumed deodorants and perfume on the affected skin as they can aggravate the condition. Tight clothes can also cause friction and cause a flare-up. Wear loose clothes and ditch tight underwear.
10. Avoid Overheating
Heat and sweat can also lead to a flare-up. So avoid hot places and chances of sweating too much. Some dermatologists even suggest antiperspirants but this too might be too harsh during a breakout and might well worth be avoiding. Even if you decide to use one, speak to your dermatologist about products that might be suitable for you.20
|↑1, ↑3, ↑4, ↑19, ↑20||Hidradenitis suppurativa. American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑2||Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). National Health Service.|
|↑5||Green, Joey. Joey Green’s Magic Health Remedies: 1,363 Quick-and-easy Cures Using Brand-name Products. Rodale, 2013.|
|↑6||Bassett, I. B., D. L. Pannowitz, and R. S. Barnetson. “A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne.” The Medical Journal of Australia 153, no. 8 (1990): 455-458.|
|↑7||Domino, Frank J., Robert A. Baldor. The 5-minute clinical consult 2012. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011.|
|↑8||Aggarwal, Bharat B., Subash C. Gupta, and Bokyung Sung. “Curcumin: an orally bioavailable blocker of TNF and other pro‐inflammatory biomarkers.” British journal of pharmacology 169, no. 8 (2013): 1672-1692.|
|↑9||Vaughn, Alexandra R., Amy Branum, and Raja K. Sivamani. “Effects of turmeric (Curcuma longa) on skin health: A systematic review of the clinical evidence.” Phytotherapy Research 30, no. 8 (2016): 1243-1264.|
|↑10||Danby, F. William. “Diet in the prevention of hidradenitis suppurativa (acne inversa).” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 73, no. 5 (2015): S52-S54.|
|↑11||Danby, F. William. “Turning acne on/off via mTORC1.” Experimental dermatology 22, no. 7 (2013): 505-506.|
|↑12||Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑13||Cannistrà, Claudio, Valerio Finocchi, Angelo Trivisonno, and Damiano Tambasco. “New perspectives in the treatment of hidradenitis suppurativa: Surgery and brewer’s yeast–exclusion diet.” Surgery 154, no. 5 (2013): 1126-1130.|
|↑14||Brocard, Anabelle, Anne-Chantal Knol, Amir Khammari, and Brigitte Dréno. “Hidradenitis suppurativa and zinc: a new therapeutic approach.” Dermatology 214, no. 4 (2007): 325-327.|
|↑15||Zinc. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑16||Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-loss Program. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑17||Smoking and Your Health. National Kidney Foundation.|
|↑18||Using Nicotine Replacement Therapy. National Cancer Institute.|