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Treatment – Home Remedies

Although hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) has many treatments, home remedies still play a role in increasing comfort and preventing the condition from worsening.

HS is a painful, chronic inflammatory skin disease. The disease begins when clogged hair follicles cause bumps. Sporadic flares make symptoms worse. The process leads to:1,2

  • Abscesses
  • Pus
  • Odor
  • Inflammation
  • Sinus tracts (tunnels under the skin)
  • Scars
  • Impaired mobility

Home care is often based on trial and error, instead of on much research. Common home remedies include:

  • Application of heat or cold
  • Antibacterial soaps, antiseptics, and acne washes
  • Vicks® VapoRub™
  • Loose-fitting clothing

Application of heat or cold

Warm compresses or soaks can help gently drain bumps.3

Cold is more useful for reducing inflammation and relieving pain. In a small study, people with HS reduced pain with cold remedies:4

  • 33 percent used cold baths
  • 22 percent used cold wraps
  • 15 percent applied ice cubes

Antibacterial soaps, antiseptics, and acne washes

To avoid friction and irritation, people with HS are advised to wash only with their hands and not to use a washcloth.5

HS guidelines in the United States and Canada recommend people with the condition use antiseptic skin cleansers with chlorhexidine, benzoyl peroxide, or zinc pyrithione. Although no research data exists, this advice is supported by doctors.6

Vicks VapoRub

People with HS often recommend Vicks VapoRub, an over-the-counter topical ointment. VapoRub is manufactured as a cough suppressant and for relief of minor aches and pains in the muscles and joints.7

Applied directly to an HS spot, VapoRub works for temporary pain relief. Two of its active ingredients – menthol and camphor – are mild analgesics (pain relievers) and are used in anti-itch lotions. VapoRub also helps abscesses to rupture and drain, which provides more pain relief.7

Nearly all of the ingredients in VapoRub have a strong odor and help to mask any smell related to HS. Two of the inactive ingredients – nutmeg oil and thymol – may also be helpful for people with HS. Nutmeg oil has antimicrobial action and may reduce swelling and inflammation. Thymol has antifungal properties and may help reduce itching.7

There is no scientific evidence about using Vicks VapoRub for HS. The manufacturer advises using it up to 3 or 4 times a day. It should not be applied directly to broken skin or near mucus membranes like the eyes. A side effect in some people is a burning, red skin reaction, or rash.7

Loose-fitting clothing

Loose, well-ventilated clothing is recommended for people with HS. This helps to prevent clothing from rubbing against and irritating the skin.3

Tight undergarments can increase inflammation and blockage of hair follicles, leading to additional lesions (sores), scarring, and sinus tracts. Retention of sweat worsens skin irritation, lesions, pain, itching, infection, and odor.8

Bras and underwear should be in fabrics and styles to reduce friction and to increase breathability and absorbency. Recommended fabrics include:8

  • Cellulose-derived rayon fibers
  • Bamboo fibers
  • Moisture-wicking fabrics
  • Silver-containing fibers
  • 100 percent cotton

Should I try to drain it myself?

The answer is no. People with HS are warned not to pinch or squeeze the lesions. Rupture of the blocked hair follicle causes inflammation and leads to the development of more lesions.9

Written by: Ina Fried and Heather Morse | Last reviewed: December 2020
  1. Seyed Jafari SM, Hunger RE, Schlapbach C. Hidradenitis suppurativa: current understanding of pathogenic mechanisms and suggestion for treatment algorithm. Front Med (Lausanne). 2020 Mar 4;7:68. doi:10.3389/fmed.2020.00068.
  2. Jemec GBE. Clinical practice: Hidradenitis suppurativa. N Engl J Med. 2012 Jan 12;366(2):158e64. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp1014163.
  3. Patient perspectives: What is hidradenitis suppurativa (HS)? The Society for Pediatric Dermatology. Handout originally published in Pediatric Dermatology. 2019;36(2). Accessed 7/9/2020.
  4. Patel ZS, Hoffman LK, Buse DC, et al. Pain, psychological comorbidities, disability, and impaired quality of life in hidradenitis suppurativa. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2017;21(12):49.
  5. Margesson LJ, Danby FW. Hidradenitis suppurativa. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2014 Oct;28:1013-1027. doi:10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2014.07.012.
  6. Alikhan A, Sayed C, Alavi A, et al. North American clinical management guidelines for hidradenitis suppurativa: A publication from the United States and Canadian Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundations: Part II: Topical, intralesional, and systemic medical management. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019;81(1):91‐101.
  7. Vicks Vapo-Rub for hidradenitis suppurativa. Hope for HS. Available at https://hopeforhs.org/vicks-vapo-rub-for-hidradenitis-suppurativa/. Accessed 8/28/2020.
  8. Loh TY, Hendricks AJ, Hsiao JL, Shi VY. Undergarment and fabric selection in the management of hidradenitis suppurativa. Dermatology. Epub 2019 Aug 29. doi:10.1159/000501611.
  9. Hidradenitis suppurativa. International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease. Available at https://www.issvd.org/patient-education/. Accessed 8/3/2020.