5 Hidradenitis Suppurativa Natural Treatments
Hidradenitis suppurativa, also known as acne inversa, is a chronic skin condition that causes bumps to form on and under the skin. This condition can be painful and interfere with a person’s quality of life. There is no cure for hidradenitis suppurativa, but treatments are available.
Some people may choose to complement traditional treatments with natural (homeopathic) treatments such as tea tree oil, honey, or turmeric. These home remedies won’t provide the proven results of traditional treatments, but some research and anecdotal evidence suggest they may provide some relief.
In this article, we’ll discuss which homeopathic remedies can help manage hidradenitis suppurativa, and how to get the benefits.
What Is Hidradenitis Suppurativa?
Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a skin disease that causes lumps on and under the skin. These lumps are sometimes mistaken for other skin conditions such as pimples or cystic acne.
These bumps often occur in areas where skin touches or rubs other skin, such as:
- Genital areas
- Under or on breasts
- Inner thigh
- Lower abs or waist
HS tends to progress in the following stages:
- Discomfort, swelling, itching, a burning sensation, or excessive sweating in the area the lump will appear
- Appearance of one or more tender, deep nodules (growths just below the skin) that look like a deep pimple, acne cyst, or boil
- Nodules grow and start to join together, creating tunnels, filling up with fluid, and becoming painful abscesses (a collection of pus)
- Abscess breaks open, spilling out a foul-smelling mixture of blood and pus
- Small black bumps that look like blackheads can appear in advanced stages (often in pairs)
- Abscesses may heal slowly, or not heal at all
Treatment can help prevent HS from progressing, worsening, or reoccurring. Left untreated, HS can cause permanent scarring.
Traditional treatment for HS includes:
- Skin care regimens
- Medications such as antibiotics, corticosteroids, and biologics, among others
- Medical procedures such as incision and drainage or laser surgery
- Treatment for infection
- Wound care
- Pain control
Complementary and Alternative Therapies for HS Symptoms
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies are not meant as primary treatment for HS, but may be used alongside traditional treatments to complement the treatment plan outlined by a healthcare provider.
Using essential oils, such as tea tree oil, is one CAM therapy option for HS. Other natural remedies such as honey or turmeric have also been tried.
These remedies are usually administered topically (on the skin) to help soothe the area and potentially aid in wound care.
A Warning About Supplements and Essential Oils
Supplements and essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Their quality cannot be assured, and active ingredients can vary between brands and even between doses.
Their efficacy also has not been widely studied. There is little evidence to suggest supplements and essential oils as reliable treatments for HS.
While most CAM therapies for HS are considered safe, some essential oils and supplements can be toxic if misused (intentionally or accidentally).
Before trying any treatments for HS, conventional or CAM, consult with your healthcare provider.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil, also called melaleuca alternifolia, has been shown in some studies to have antimicrobial properties when used topically, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
There have been limited studies on using tea tree oil for hidradenitis suppurativa specifically. Some healthcare providers advise patients with HS who are using tea tree oil and other antimicrobial disinfectants to keep the affected area clean and reduce inflammation, while they wait for surgery or other traditional medical interventions.
Additional studies have shown the topical application of tea tree oil to be effective at reducing acne breakouts and treating rosacea, an inflammatory skin condition that caused blushing and redness. As these conditions have similar triggers as HS, tea tree oil shows promise as a treatment for HS in the future.
However, more research is needed before tea tree oil can be recommended as a treatment for HS. Tea tree oil contains over 100 different bioactive compounds. Research is needed to isolate which of these compounds are effective and in what amounts. Some studies indicate tea tree oil may be most effective as a complementary treatment to other medications.
The effectiveness of commercially available tea tree oil varies, as shown in a 2018 study.
Possible Side Effects
Tea tree oil can be toxic if ingested. It should always be used topically and diluted in a neutral oil called a carrier oil, such as olive, hemp seed, or avocado oils, before applying it to the skin.
Topical use may cause an allergic reaction or irritation, so use caution if applying, and discontinue use immediately if inflammation or burning occurs.
Studies on curcumin, found in the spice turmeric, show its potential for use as an antimicrobial agent.
It is safe to consume in recommended amounts, making it appealing from a safety perspective.
Because turmeric is unstable and has low bioavailability (low amounts reach the bloodstream) when taken orally, it is difficult to study for efficacy. Ways to increase bioavailability are being explored. Increased bioavailability may mean increased effectiveness but may also increase side effects and safety concerns.
Turmeric can also be made into a paste and applied to the skin. Topically, it may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects that can be helpful at mediating hidradenitis suppurative symptoms, but more research is needed to confirm the benefits.
It’s worth noting that turmeric is also used as a dye and may stain the skin yellow temporarily.
Possible Side Effects
During pregnancy, turmeric should not be taken in amounts greater than those commonly found in food, as this may be unsafe.
The safety of breast milk in mothers taking turmeric supplements is not known.
Honey applied topically can be beneficial in wound healing by:
- Providing antibacterial properties
- Maintaining a moist wound condition
- Helping to provide a protective barrier to prevent infection
There are promising studies showing the antibacterial effects of honey, but more research is needed to determine factors such as the specific effect of honey on hidradenitis suppurative wounds, and the optimum concentration and dosage to achieve the desired result.
Possible Side Effects
Honey should not be given to babies under a year old, even in small amounts, as the sweetener can cause a rare but severe illness called botulism.
Honey should also be avoided if a person is allergic to any of its components, such as bee pollen.
Aloe vera (a succulent plant) is thought to help soothe the skin and promote wound healing.
Research suggests that aloe applied topically may:
- Improve acne when an aloe-based gel is applied topically twice daily, along with medical soap and tretinoin gel
- Speed burn healing
- Reduce pain from burns
- Help people with skin conditions such as herpes simplex (a virus that causes cold sores), lichen planus (a disease that causes inflammation on the skin or inside the mouth), or psoriasis (a condition that causes dry, itchy, scaly patches)
While aloe vera has not been studied as a remedy for hidradenitis suppurativa, the soothing effects of the gel may help speed healing of HS wounds. More research is needed.
Possible Side Effects
- Aloe gel is generally well tolerated when applied topically, but it may cause burning, itching, or flare-ups of red, flaky skin patches (eczema) in some people. Discontinue use immediately if you have a reaction and consult your healthcare provider.
Aloe can be taken orally in different forms, but there are safety concerns such as:
- It may cause abdominal pain and cramps
- Oral consumption of aloe leaf extracts (for as little as three weeks and as long as five years) has been associated with cases of acute hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- Overuse of aloe latex may increase the risk of adverse effects from the drug digoxin (used for some heart problems)
- Aloe (in gel and latex form) taken orally may be unsafe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding
In 2002, the FDA required manufacturers to remove aloe from over-the-counter laxative products due to a lack of safety data.
A 2018 study showed that people who have HS were more likely to have low blood levels of zinc than healthy people, and that lower zinc levels were also associated with a higher severity of HS symptoms. This suggests a correlation between low zinc levels and HS.
However, this does not mean that people with HS should take zinc supplements. More research is needed to explore whether or not zinc supplements are beneficial for treating HS.
“Recommended dietary allowance (RDA)” means the average level of daily intake that is needed to meet the nutrient requirements of 97%–98% of healthy individuals.
The RDA of zinc for adults aged 19 and older in the following groups is:
- Male: 11 milligrams
- Female: 8 milligrams
- Pregnant: 11 milligrams
- Lactating: 12 milligrams
Food sources of zinc include:
- Red meat
- Whole grains
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Dairy products
Supplements containing several forms of zinc are available but should not be taken without consulting with a healthcare provider.
Possible Side Effects
Zinc toxicity (too much zinc) can cause side effects such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal cramps
Zinc supplements can also interfere with some medications.
Other Home Remedies
Other treatments to try include the following.
- Wet a clean washcloth with hot water
- Wring out any excess water
- Apply to the affected area for 10 minutes
- Thoroughly dry the skin
Diluted bleach baths can help prevent infection by killing bacteria on the surface of the skin.
Bleach baths should only be tried under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Bleach baths may cause skin to sting or burn. Asthma attacks can be triggered from inhaling the bleach fumes during the bath,
If your healthcare provider advises a bleach bath:
- Follow their instructions closely (write them down).
- Never submerge your head under bleach water.
- Apply moisturizer after your bath.
A Word From Verywell
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a disruptive and often painful skin condition that can interfere with your quality of life. Though there is no known cure, effective treatments are available to manage the condition. In addition to these treatments, several home remedies show promise as complementary ways to help manage HS.
Treatments such as tea tree oil, turmeric, honey, zinc, and aloe have not been conclusively shown to be effective as stand-alone treatments for HS. Studies are being conducted to see if they can be better utilized in this way.
In the meantime, if you would like to try some of these complementary treatments, check with your healthcare provider to see if they are right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you use aromatherapy for hidradenitis suppurativa?
Aromatherapy is not a supported therapy for hidradenitis suppurativa.
Some essential oils, such as tea tree oil, or botanicals, such as aloe, can be applied to the skin to help soothe irritation, promote healing, and prevent infection.
These are used as a complement to traditional treatment, not a replacement.
What does tea tree oil do for HS symptoms?
Tea tree oil can be used to keep the skin clean and help prevent infection.
It is used with traditional treatments for HS.
What skin care ingredients aggravate HS?
HS can be irritated by soaps and harsh skin care products.
Using an antiseptic wash such as benzoyl peroxide can help. Tea tree oil can be used to keep the area clean.
Sweating can irritate HS, but so can some antiperspirants. Using a gentle antiperspirant that doesn’t irritate your skin can help keep the area sweat free.