If you have hidradenitis suppurativa, you’re probably well acquainted with hidradenitis suppurativa armpit flare-ups. This chronic skin disease results in painful bumps that typically occur in areas where the skin rubs together, including the groin, buttocks, breasts—and underarms. These bumps can burst open at any time, which unsurprisingly feels terrible, and can also produce pus that may have an odor.
While hidradenitis suppurativa is painful and challenging no matter where the flare-ups occur, it can be particularly difficult to manage when it occurs in your underarms. The pus can stain clothes, and hair removal methods like shaving can make hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms worse. So, since this can be so tough to handle, we asked people with hidradenitis suppurativa how they manage underarm flare-ups and what advice they have for others.
1. First try to identify what triggers your flare-ups.
Something people with hidradenitis suppurativa quickly learn is that flare-up triggers vary from person to person. Common triggers include stress, heat, and hormonal changes due to things like menstruation, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Some individuals say that certain food groups or ingredients make symptoms worse, while others notice that they have more flare-ups when they are stressed.
When it comes to underarm flare-ups specifically, there’s one particularly inconvenient trigger: sweat. Stephanie H., 34, has had hidradenitis suppurativa for 18 years, and she’s experienced symptoms in her armpits specifically for 10 years. She says that sweating tends to cause a flare-up in her underarms, so she wears tank tops year-round to stay cool. Her favorite brands are Hanes and Danskin. She also uses ice packs or cold towels on hot summer days to reduce the amount of sweating and minimize the risk of a flare-up.
2. Avoid using harsh deodorant or antiperspirant.
Your first instinct to reduce sweat in general but especially when hidradenitis suppurativa armpit flare-ups might be to reach for antiperspirant and deodorant. Unfortunately, that can just make matters worse. Harsh forms of these products may irritate your skin even more, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). So you might have to experiment to find a product that works for you in this realm if you have hidradenitis suppurativa. Stephanie C., 30, director and co-founder of HS Heroes, finds that unscented sprays cause fewer flare-ups for her than using a product that’s a bar or gel deodorant. “And I only use it when I don’t have open lesions,” she tells SELF.
Others with hidradenitis suppurativa forgo products like deodorant unless they feel it’s absolutely necessary. “I no longer use deodorants [on a regular basis],” Donna A., 70, tells SELF.
3. Stay away from harsh soaps, too.
Here’s another area where it’s really important to find a routine that works for you. Some people with hidradenitis suppurativa use an antibacterial soap like Hibiclens on a daily basis while others only use it during flare-ups or don’t use it at all because they find it’s too harsh for their skin. Overall, many people with the condition use a range of cleansing products or treatments to help manage or prevent symptoms. Kelly M., 44, uses a benzoyl peroxide acne wash, antibacterial topical solution, and benzoyl peroxide cream on her skin, she explains.
“If you’re going to try a product topically, try a test spot first to see how your HS reacts,” Denise P., 50, who co-founded HS Connect and is a long-time advocate for others with the condition, tells SELF. (This can be good advice for trying new skin products no matter which, if any, conditions a person may have!) And no matter what kind of soap you use on your underarms, be sure to avoid using items like washcloths and loofahs, which can be too rough for your skin (especially if you’re dealing with open wounds).
4. Avoid shaving your underarms during a flare-up (or even at all).
The Mayo Clinic definitively advises people with hidradenitis suppurativa to stop shaving the affected skin, and every individual we spoke with mentioned that shaving only worsened their flare-ups.