The itchiness that comes with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), or acne inversa, can be one of the condition’s most irritating and debilitating symptoms. Not only can it be an aggravating nuisance throughout the day, it can also deprive you of much-needed sleep at night. Members of myHSteam often discuss how HS-induced itchiness interferes with their quality of life and solicit tips on how to find itch relief.
“I’m currently having a flare-up as we speak — I’ll be up all night itching and irritated. I’m so sick of going through this 😞,” shared one member.
“Tired of itching all the time because my skin is so dry ... can’t sleep ... again,” lamented another.
Fortunately, there are several techniques you can try to calm down HS itchiness. Everyone is different, so a remedy that works for someone else may not work for you.
Check with your doctor or dermatologist before trying new treatments or skin care remedies. Remember that even over-the-counter products can have side effects, so it’s important to use them as directed.
Health experts aren’t entirely sure what causes itchiness associated with HS — though they’ve found the symptom affects between 62 percent and 75 percent of people with the condition. HS on the armpits, groin, and thighs tends to be the itchiest, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
One theory suggests that the itchiness associated with HS may be caused by the release of histamine from mast cells in the nodules, abscesses, and surrounding skin. This histamine release can cause itching and other allergic symptoms. Additionally, the formation of scars from HS can lead to nerve irritation, and scar tissue itself can be itchy. Although pain is a more common HS symptom, the itch can also be quite bothersome, especially at night, making it difficult to sleep.
“Scratching somewhere, only to realize that that particular bit is itching because it’s a lesion and you’ve just scratched the top off. Oh, the pain is real 😂,” shared a myHSteam member.
There’s little to no research on how to relieve itchiness specifically for HS. However, there has been a lot of research into what causes the skin to itch from many other health conditions. Thus, there are many dermatologist-recommended techniques to both prevent and soothe itchiness. Many myHSteam members have also shared the products, techniques, and home remedies that work for them.
Washing regularly can help reduce bacteria on your skin and may prevent or reduce flare-ups of hidradenitis suppurativa. That, in turn, can help reduce itchiness. Be mindful of what soap or cleansers you use on your skin and how you treat your skin when you wash.
When choosing a soap or bodywash, look for an antimicrobial option. By reducing the amount of bacteria on your skin, you can reduce flare-ups.
Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding soaps and cleansers that contain:
Antiseptic cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide, zinc pyrithione, or chlorhexidine may also help. Start by using these just once per week to make sure your skin can tolerate these ingredients because they can dry out the skin. You can then move to daily use if your skin tolerates them well and if they reduce symptoms.
One myHSteam member recommended Dr. Organic Bioactive Aloe Vera Body Wash: “I have been testing this stuff out and it’s got very good results so far. It’s stopped the itching that drives you crazy and nuts.”
Another member reported positive experiences with Dial Gold, a type of antibacterial soap. “Yesterday, I bought some Dial Gold. Showered with it and I haven’t itched since,” they wrote.
Remember, too, that when you’re washing your skin, you’re not sanding a deck. Be gentle when handling the affected areas in order to avoid triggering inflammation or causing a lesion to burst. Washcloths, loofahs, and the like can irritate your skin, so don’t use them — let the soap or cleanser do the work.
After washing, gently pat the affected areas with a clean towel to remove excess moisture. Keep the area dry because excessive moisture can make HS symptoms worse.
Topical cooling is a time-tested remedy for relieving itchiness. “Doing cold compresses,” one myHSteam member told another.
The AAD suggests applying a cool, damp cloth or an ice pack to itchy spots for about five to 10 minutes.
Products containing cooling agents like menthol — which comes from peppermint — or calamine can also help. Consider, too, cooling your moisturizer of choice in the refrigerator.
Sweating and overheating can also make HS symptoms worse. Limit your activity when it’s hot or stay indoors — ideally where there’s air-conditioning. Enjoy outdoor time in the morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t as intense.
Bathing (or showering) in lukewarm water can help prevent itching. Don’t turn up the heat too much — even if it feels good, it can dry out your skin, which can worsen inflammation. Limit your shower or bath to 10 minutes.
In a pinch, a warm compress may relieve swelling and inflammation. To make one, run warm water over a clean washcloth, then wring out excess water and place it where you’re experiencing an itch, for about 10 minutes.
Although a lukewarm bath can provide relief from itchiness, you might find additional relief by adding certain ingredients.
One option is colloidal oatmeal — that is, finely ground oatmeal. Researchers have found that an oatmeal bath can help with chronic itchy skin from skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. It also has moisturizing and cleansing properties.
To prepare an oatmeal bath, finely grind up about a cup of oatmeal and add it to a tub of lukewarm water. Soak for about 15 minutes. You can also buy over-the-counter oatmeal bath treatments.
Some myHSteam members have found that Epsom salts baths help bring relief. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate — magnesium is considered the active ingredient.
“Epsom salts baths help with inflammation and are especially relaxing before bed,” one member shared.
Another member recommended the following bath concoction: “Warm baths with about 20 drops of tea tree oil, 2 cups of Epsom salts with Dr. Teal’s Eucalyptus Bubble Bath will do your boils some soothing.”
Some over-the-counter anti-itch creams, ointments, wipes, and pads may help bring relief. In addition to menthol and calamine mentioned above, some of the following ingredients may help:
Natural ingredients and over-the-counter medications may cause side effects or interfere with your current treatments. Check with your doctor before adding a new treatment to your regimen, and make sure to read the directions carefully.
Tight clothing — especially made from rough fabrics like wool or denim — can be irritating and cause itchiness as it rubs against your skin. Look for loose clothing made from breathable moisture-wicking fabrics — they draw wetness away from your body.
Cotton can be a good choice, though according to one study, clothing made from bamboo fibers is a better choice because the material is absorbent, hypoallergenic (unlikely to cause an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis), and less irritating to the skin.
One member said they further reduce irritation using liners. “I use panty liners. I stick about three to four of them on my panties. They help with friction, absorb the drainage, and don’t irritate my skin like the bandages do,” they wrote.
Learn more about the best clothing to wear for comfort and confidence with HS.
The pain and itchiness from HS can be stressful — and unfortunately, stress can worsen your itchiness, according to the AAD. Consider embracing some stress-relieving activities to put your mind at ease, which may provide some physical relief.
Techniques for reducing stress include:
One member shared how reducing stress has helped them feel better physically and mentally. “I have made changes to my diet and also more lifestyle changes, which include very low stress. I have even had to cut out some people in my life who are stress triggers, and it was hard at first, but it was worth it for MY health and well-being,“ they wrote.
Consider, too, speaking with your doctor about medication for anxiety or depression.
Itchiness is a symptom of HS, so finding an effective medical treatment to control your overall condition will go a long way in helping free you of that itch. Discuss with your health care provider various HS treatment options, such as antibiotics, biologics, corticosteroid injections, and retinoids. They may also recommend lifestyle changes that can help, such as adopting an anti-inflammatory diet or quitting smoking. Follow the prescribed regimen — and if something’s not working, let them know.
Also important: If you feel like your physician isn’t a good fit for you, you can always look for another doctor who specializes in HS and meets your needs. A specialist who is knowledgeable about HS can provide you with valuable insights, guidance, and appropriate treatment options. They may have a deeper understanding of the condition and be up to date on the latest advancements in HS research and treatment. This can greatly benefit your overall management of the condition and potentially lead to better outcomes.
There are also promising new treatments on the horizon that are expected to receive approval soon from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), offering hope for significant improvement in managing HS.
On myHSteam, the social network for people with hidradenitis suppurativa and their loved ones, more than 34,000 myHSteam members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand.
Have you discovered any effective strategies for reducing itchiness associated with HS? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on your Activities page.