If you have hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), an inflammatory skin condition characterized by painful cysts and bumps, making adjustments to your lifestyle is critical for keeping flares in check.
Taking medication is usually critical for keeping the disease at bay, but dermatologists have found that certain specific lifestyle changes can also help HS patients have better control of their condition, fewer and less severe flare-ups, and clearer skin. Here are five tips that derms wish their hidradenitis suppurativa patients would put into practice.
1. Lose weight if you need to. “No one really knows exactly what triggers this condition, but it certainly has been found that obese patients have a high incidence of hidradenitis suppurativa,” says Hirshel Kahn, MD, a dermatologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Shedding 15% of your body weight can reduce the severity of HS symptoms significantly. What’s more, dropping pounds also reduces your risk of serious chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
2. Quit smoking. Smokers are nearly 10 times more likely to have HS than non-smokers, and smoking is a major trigger for HS symptoms. Kicking your smoking habit is a win-win for people with HS: It helps prevent HS flare-ups and also improves your overall health and quality of life. Here are proven strategies to help smokers quit for good.
3. Skip the skinny jeans. Tight-fitting clothing and waist bands can exacerbate HS symptoms and put pressure on cysts makes them more painful, says Dr. Kahn. Wear breathable, loose-fitting clothing that minimizes contact with the skin to help HS symptoms, as well as prevent new outbreaks.
4. Use gentle personal care products. “I recommend patients to use mild washes [for their skin], and mild detergents for washing underwear and clothing,” says Dr. Kahn. During menstrual periods, women should use tampons instead of pads to minimize excess moisture in the area which can trigger HS symptoms. Some antiperspirants may do more harm than good, so if you need a product to help minimize sweating, talk to your dermatologist.
5. Don’t shave affected areas. Shaving the areas where you have hidradenitis suppurativa breakouts can be painful and irritating. “Better options for hair removal are laser hair removal, or even using a fine scissors to trim areas,” says Dr. Kahn.
Every person is unique—and each case of HS is different. “No matter how hard you try to prevent HS flare-ups, they can often still happen. But we have many different choices of medication to use to treat them when they happen,” says Dr. Kahn. These tips can help reduce the severity of hidradenitis suppurativa flare-ups, but it’s always a good idea to check with your dermatologist to find the HS treatment path that’s right for you.
Hidradenitis suppurativa. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (Accessed on January 20, 2021 at https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/painful-skin-joints/hidradenitis-suppurativa#tips)
Kromann CB, Ibler KS, Kristiansen VB, Jemec GB. The influence of body weight on the prevalence and severity of hidradenitis suppurativa. Acta Derm Venereol. 2014 Sep;94(5):553-7
Cigarette smoking as a triggering factor of hidradenitis suppurativa. Marburg, Germany: Department of Dermatology, Philipp University, 1999. (Accessed on January 17, 2018 at http://pmj.bmj.com/content/90/1062/216)
Dufour DN, Emtestam L, Jemec GB. Hidradenitis suppurativa: a common and burdensome, yet under-recognised, inflammatory skin disease. Postgrad Med J. 2014 Apr;90(1062):216-21