Learn how I manage hidradenitis suppurativa naturally through diet, exercise, and lifestyle. No medications or prescriptions - just lifestyle changes to treat HS!
At the ripe old age of 14, I was diagnosed with hidradenitis suppurativa, or HS. My doctors told me three things.
- Hidradenitis suppurativa is incurable.
- Hidradenitis suppurativa has no tried-and-true treatment.
- I could expect HS to get worse and worse as I aged.
Great news for a freshman in high school to hear, right? Fortunately, a decade later, I found that I was able to naturally treat my hidradenitis suppurativa flare-ups through my diet and overall lifestyle.
After largely staying mum about my experience with HS since starting Do You Even Paleo, I’m sharing what’s worked for me. If talking about hidradenitis suppurativa helps just one other person, it’s worth it!
This is a doozy of a post — likely one of the longest I’ve written. So pour yourself some coffee and prepare to learn!
Before I get too far into the post, it's important for me to say: I'm not a doctor, nutritionist, or healthcare professional. Anything I write is my own experience of what helped me, but it's in your best interest to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any advice written on the internet.
Also, this post contains affiliate links to products I love, meaning I earn a commission if you click through and purchase something. There's no additional cost to you and it keeps me running this blog!
What Is Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS)?
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that’s a suspected autoimmune disease.
Most often, it's characterized by painful lumps/boils that typically develop where skin rubs together, such as underarms, the groin area, or under the breasts. The lumps form when hair follicles become inflamed and blocked. The lumps tend to flare up, then heal, and eventually scar, all at the same sites.
Apparently, no one knows why the blockage occurs. But speculation includes genetics, hormones, metabolic syndrome, or abnormal immune system response (hellloooo, autoimmune disease).
Sometimes, the boils can breach and leak, discharging a foul-smelling and sometimes bloody pus. It's not fun.
As HS progresses, tunneling between affected areas can occur. As scars continually form, tracts connect together under the skin. When I first had surgery for HS in my left armpit, my doctor told me I had a surprisingly vast network of tunneling under the skin, which is what led to further breakouts and infection.
Breakouts can happen very quickly with hidradenitis suppurativa. One week, a flare up can cause discomfort, pain, and leakage. A week later, everything seems to have healed (although that scarring can lead to additional problems down the road with tunneling).
My Experience with HS
As mentioned above, I was fairly young (14) when I was diagnosed with hidradenitis suppurativa.
I had a minor surgery with localized anesthetic before being sent home with instructions for packing the wound and little to no information about hidradenitis suppurativa.
To be fair, back in 2004 it seemed like HS was rare. Understudied. More or less ignored. My mom’s internet searches primarily turned up advice like “HS is only treatable through surgeries. Wearing loose clothing might help.”
I had two more surgeries that year. Over the next six years, I had three more.
How I Nearly Eliminated My Hidradenitis Suppurativa Flare-Ups
In my later years of college, I revamped my life. And although HS wasn’t the driving force behind the changes I made (that’s a story for another day), I gradually realized that my flare-ups practically disappeared.
I haven’t had another surgery since making these changes. I’ve never used any of the medications or creams now available to those suffering from hidradenitis suppurativa. I haven’t even been to my doctor for an HS check-up, because I don’t need to.
There’s no cure for hidradenitis suppurativa. Every once in a while, I do experience a flare-up. But overall, I’m able to live my life to the fullest without hidradenitis suppurativa from holding me back.
So what lifestyle changes do I attribute to managing hidradenitis suppurativa naturally?
I eat a nourishing, real food diet
I prioritize vegetables, fruits, meat, and healthy fats. For the most part, I’ve cut out gluten, grains, dairy, sugar, vegetable oils, and over-processed junk.
Notice I said for the most part - I’ve never been incredibly strict when I eat out. I sometimes create recipes with dairy products. My spouse and I got married at our favorite pizza place, and we absolutely go back every few months for some gluten-filled pizza.
At home, my pantry is generally “paleo” - you can read more about what that means here.
After eating this way for a few months, I could easily attribute less flare-ups to my diet.
While researching HS a bit more for this post, I happily found that much more information is available about hidradenitis suppurativa… But I was surprised that very few of the resources I found mentioned diet at all.
Mayo Clinic’s article on HS mentions a couple small, informal studies that suggested a marked improvement in symptoms when HS patients cut out either gluten or dairy. Another small study found that yeast and wheat appears to have an impact on hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms.
Actually, since reading up on it, I’m resolved to work harder to cut dairy out of my life. For example, I’d long continued to use whey protein powder after workouts, but I’ve since switched to a dairy-free beef protein powder (which I absolutely ADORE - and if you pick some up, use code DOYOUEVENPALEO for 20% off)!
I also discovered that hidradenitis suppurativa, unsurprisingly, is on the list of “suspected autoimmune diseases”. Makes sense, since it’s an inflammatory condition!
So, it could be helpful to look into the Autoimmune Paleo diet, or AIP. It’s a modified version of paleo with a few more restrictions, but it’s all about healing the gut and reducing inflammation in the body. AIP isn’t meant to be permanent - it’s kind of like a longterm Whole30 to really get into the nitty gritty of healing the gut.
I’ve never attempted to follow AIP. Sure, there’s a chance I could eliminate flare-ups completely, but I personally haven’t felt the need to. Maybe down the road, but for now I’m happy where I’m at! However, it it interests you, please check out The Paleo Mom for more info on AIP. She’s a treasure trove.
I’m wildly picky about skincare
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a skin condition. It makes logical sense to take crazy good care of your skin!
You might assume I have a long, intensive skincare routine.
I don’t. Quite the opposite, actually! I keep things simple and nontoxic.
I stopped using deodorant the minute I was diagnosed with HS. To this day, I hardly use it. But when I do, I reach for something that isn't full of chemicals.
Seriously, read the ingredients lists on your skincare products. All those things you can’t pronounce have no business going on your skin, especially when it’s susceptible to inflammation and flare-ups!
Beyond deodorant, I use oils instead of lotion. Currently, I use a blend of sesame oil, grapeseed oil, and rosehip seed oil — down the road, I may write a whole post about that. Less than a tablespoon of oil covers my whole body, including my face. Of course, if you don't want to blend your own, there are lots of lotion alternatives out there that are skin-safe.
I used to do oil cleansing for my face, but quit for some reason. Soon, I’m going to start up with that again. Fatco is my go-to for cleansing oils!
And that’s the gist of it. Simple, nourishing, and nontoxic.
I’m careful with clothing
My first trip to the ER when I was diagnosed with HS? That boil happened because I was on the swim team. My swimsuit constantly rubbed and irritated the skin under my arms, which eventually caused a flare-up.
Obviously, clothes are kind of a big deal for those with hidradenitis suppurativa.
I’m kind of thrilled that looser-fitting tops and bralettes have been trendy the past few years. I’ve stopped wearing underwire bras altogether.
The biggest struggle for me, though, is underwear. For the first few years after my diagnosis, I only got flare-ups in my armpits. Unfortunately, I eventually started getting flare-ups on my upper thighs and groin area.
I can honestly attribute the majority of my flare-ups in the past 3 years to poor underwear choices.
Frankly, I’m still on the hunt for an underwear brand that fits right and isn’t irritating to my skin. For now, I look for cotton undies without lace or embellishments on the seams.
I exercise regularly
At the same time I refocused my diet on nourishing foods, I joined a CrossFit gym. Immediately, I knew it was my happy place. I’ve been working out regularly at the same gym ever since.
Exercise doesn’t directly affect my flare-ups, but I can say that I’m happier, have more energy, and sleep better. All those things promote overall wellness, and without that I’m sure I’d be worse off.
CrossFit isn’t the answer for everyone. I tried a few different things before falling head over heels for my gym. Some exercises can cause flare-ups… For example, my old workplace had a “Bike to Work” challenge one month, but I quickly discovered that biking just the two miles to and from work caused flare-ups for me.
I practice regular self care, sleep enough, and minimize stress
Sleep and stress are vastly underrated as parts of your overall health. More and more studies show that sleep is important for your overall mental and physical health, and that we kid ourselves when we say six hours is adequate.
Stress is related to that. I sleep enough to minimize stress, and I stress less so it’s easier to sleep. I take long Epsom salt baths and read books. Now, I prioritize quality time with my spouse and friends so I don’t feel lonely. I cuddle hard with my cats because when they’re happy, I feel lighter, too.
Why does it matter? Prolonged, chronic stress causes inflammation in the body, leading to more symptoms. Yeah, I can do without that.
Now, just because my flare-ups had severely reduced with natural treatments doesn’t mean another person would get the same results. If you find a medication or cream drastically helps, why quit it? But if you’re looking for ways to help eliminate flare-ups or help reduce the length of a flare-up, these changes might help!
Summary: How To Manage Hidradenitis Suppurativa Naturally
- Nourishing foods to reduce inflammation - base meals around vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and meats. Limit intake of dairy products, gluten and grains, vegetable oils, sugar, and overly-processed foods.
Consider doing a Whole30 or following AIP to heal the gut and reduce inflammation in the body.
- Throw out toxic skincare and makeup - hidradenitis suppurativa is a skin condition, so it makes sense to take extra care with your skin (the largest organ you have)! Switch to natural, chemical-free deodorant like Stank Stop and use non-toxic moisturizers like Fatco’s line.
- Clothe yourself thoughtfully - loose clothing tends to minimize flare-ups, but also be cautious of underwire bras and lacy underwear.
- Exercise regularly - find something active you love to do and do it. Maybe it’s a 30 minute walk every day. Maybe it’s yoga. Perhaps, like me, you’ll fall in love with CrossFit!
- Sleep more and stress less - self care is incredibly important when you have an autoimmune disease or if you’re an average human being looking to live optimally. Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep, and work in self care practices to minimize stress!
And, of course, know that none of this is a substitute for speaking with your doctor and working on a treatment plan. It helps to find a doctor who supports the idea that dietary changes can improve symptoms!
Fortunately, many more resources are available for hidradenitis suppurativa now than when I was first diagnosed.
Below find just a few sites to check out for more information!
- Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation, Inc. (a non-profit for HS, but it is partnered with a pharmaceutical company, so keep that in mind!)
- Mayo Clinic’s article on HS
- American Acadamy of Dermatology’s article on HS
- No BS About HS (also sponsored by the same pharmaceutical company as HSF)
If you have HS, too, I'd love to hear from you! Please reach out to me or leave a comment below to tell me what's worked for you.