The Top HS Odor Fighters
Having hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) can be a catch 22—on the one hand when HS lesions burst and leak, they have an unpleasant odor. But, on the flip side, using fragranced products to control the smell is a big no-no for HS (mainly due to the potential for inflammation). So, what do you do when you want to treat your skin and temper odor, without doing unintentional damage? To find out, we tapped the experts—board-certified dermatologists as well as a few HS patients—for their fave (and safest) grooming products.
But First, Why Does HS Smell?
If you have hidradenitis suppurativa, odor may—or may not—be an issue. For some people the unpleasant scent comes from bacteria flourishing in the tunnels that form under the surface of the skin. For other people the odor comes from lesion drainage. “It’s the body’s white blood cells and immune system being triggered by inflammation,” says Christopher Sayed, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ”As that drains out and sits on the skin for a while or sits on a bandage those cells start to break down and lead to some odor.”
Head-to-Toe Cleanser: Hibiclens Skin Cleanser ($20, amazon.com)
This surgical-grade liquid cleanser comes highly recommended by Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Not only will it help lower levels of odor-causing bacteria, but it can also lower the risk of developing skin infections, which can happen when the skin is open or raw, as occurs in hidradenitis,” explains Dr. Zeichner. Another fan: Hidradenitis suppurativa patient and advocate, Selina Ferragamo, 25, Long Island, NY who uses it on her whole body, avoiding eyes and ears, to fight infection and flare-ups. “It’s gentle yet powerful,” she says.
Lotion-Booster: Young Living Tea Tree Oil ($35, youngliving.com)
Tea tree oil has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, says Dr. Zeichner, making it potentially great for treating a variety of skin conditions, including acne, dandruff, and—yep—HS. “It helps reduce odor by lowering levels of odor-causing bacteria in the skin,” he says. Since tea tree oil is potent on its own, however, dilute it by adding just a few drops directly into a quarter size amount of fragrance-free moisturizer and slather it on.
Skin Cooler: Vicks Vapoprub ($10, amazon.com)
Both Ferragamo and Julia Ferreira, 22, another patient in Portugal, living with HS, recommend this skin-soothing camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus-infused ointment for odor control. “I love this for my flares because it’s pretty potent for helping block the smell,” says Ferragamo. “I use a small dab on my unopened flares only, as too much can potentially burn the skin. The menthol in it really helps cool the area,” she explains. Ferreira adds that she applies the product to inflamed areas to help with the pain, but also advises steering clear of any open wounds.
Chemical-Free Deodorant: Lavanila “The Healthy Deodorant" ($12, lavanila.com)
HS patients should steer clear of deodorants and antiperspirants with harsh chemicals and synthetic fragrances. Which is why Hannah Barling, 27, Dallas, TX, gives high marks to this skin-loving formula that doesn’t contain common irritants like aluminum and baking soda. Bonus: The natural vanilla scent doesn’t irritate HS skin. “It goes on smooth, doesn't rub off on my clothes, helps protect against odor, and doesn't irritate my HS,” she says. It also features lemon and tea tree essential oils, both of which have natural disinfectant properties.
Gentle Shaver: Philips Norelco OneBlade Hybrid Electric Trimmer and Shaver ($35, amazon.com)
When it comes to hair removal, electric trimmers are a great option for those with HS, says Zeichner. Why? “They do not shave hair as close to the skin [like blade razors do] so there is less of a risk of ingrown hairs,” he explains. “Hair removal can also help with body odor because less hair means less trapped oil and less breakdown of that sweat from odor-causing bacteria on the skin.”
Skin-Softening Deo: The Mama Au Deodorant ($11, themamaau.com)
Frustrated by the lack of products available for folks with HS (like her partner), Anjel Marii, created her own, including this organic stick made with toxin-absorbing bentonite (a clay made from volcanic ash) and moisturizing manuka honey. Other ingredients in this odor absorber that get the HS seal of approval include grape seed oil and coconut oil that help soothe sensitive spots.
On-the-Go Wipes: Burt's Bees Sensitive Skin Wipes ($5, amazon.com)
Another product that Ferragamo swears by are these ultra-gentle wipes from Burt’s Bees. “I always keep them on me to easily and quickly cleanse [oozy] areas if I’m at work or not home,” she says. “Making sure the area is dry and clean can really help with the smell,” she adds. They also contain soothing aloe vera and cotton extract, and no synthetic fragrances, making them safe to use on irritated skin.
Sweat Stopper: Primally Pure Charcoal Deodorant ($16, primallypure.com)
HS patient Pooja Parikh, 31, Edmond, OK, says this deodorant is the only one she feels comfortable putting on her sensitive underarms—even when she’s experiencing flares. “The charcoal one is my favorite because it provides some mild detox benefits and has a gender-neutral pepperminty smell,” she says. Dr. Zeichner is a fan of charcoal for HS, too: “It helps absorb excess sweat on the skin, preventing it from coming in contact with and being broken down by bacteria on the skin that cause body odor,” he explains.