Hidradenitis suppurativa is not contagious. But it may have a genetic link and could be affected by other factors.

Hidradenitis suppurative (HS) is a chronic skin condition that creates boil-like bumps in areas where your skin touches together. The armpits, groin, and inner thighs are commonly affected.

Hidradenitis suppurativa is not contagious and cannot pass from person to person. It’s not acne or caused by unclean skin, and it’s not a sexually transmitted disease.

It affects about 1 in 100 people, with women more commonly affected than men. It appears to have a genetic link and runs in families, but it’s also affected by environmental factors.

HS occurs when a hair follicle becomes blocked and inflamed. It then ruptures underneath the skin, spreading bacteria and keratin into the surrounding area. The body’s inflammatory response to the bacteria can lead to the formation of abscesses and the breakdown of the hair follicle.

Because the development of HS begins with a blocked hair follicle and your body’s inflammatory response to it, it cannot be spread to someone else.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes HS, but they know it begins with blocked hair follicles. Keratin, a protein in your hair, skin, and nails, can build up and block a hair follicle, which allows bacteria to grow.

When the hair follicle has more bacteria and keratin than it can hold, it bursts, creating a deep pimple or bump under the skin. What comes out of the hair follicle spreads to nearby structures, causing new blockages and repeating the cycle.

Tunnels between these broken follicles can form under the skin, sometimes causing infection.

Wounds or scarring caused by the wounds can eventually make some movements difficult. HS in the armpits may limit reaching up, and HS in the groin or on the legs may make sitting painful.

HS can be very painful, and many people live with intense pain for years before seeing a doctor.

Several things can increase your chances of developing HS. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association:

  • This condition runs in families. Many people who develop it have a family member with HS.
  • Environmental triggers also seem to play a significant role in the onset of HS. Scientists believe that smoking tobacco is the most common environmental trigger for HS.
  • Women get HS more often than men. It’s not clear why this occurs.
  • In the United States, African Americans, Hispanic people, and people who are biracial have an increased risk of developing HS.
  • People diagnosed with psoriasis have a higher risk of HS.

If you’ve been diagnosed with HS, you may have some questions. Here are answers to a few common ones.

Is hidradenitis suppurativa a sexually transmitted disease?

Because HS can develop in the groin area, some people may think it’s a sexually transmitted disease. It’s not. It’s a blockage of hair follicles and resulting inflammatory response.

Can hidradenitis suppurativa be caused by a lack of proper hygiene?

A lack of proper hygiene does not cause HS. Instead, it results from an overactive immune system causing an inflammatory response and creating painful bumps, lesions, and tunnels.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends you do not scrub the skin in an effort to get it clean, particularly in areas of HS breakouts. Scrubbing can lead to inflammation, which can increase the risk of HS or make a breakout worse.

Can you prevent hidradenitis suppurativa?

You cannot completely prevent HS, but according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, you can do a few things to lessen the chances of a breakout:

  • wash skin with an antimicrobial wash
  • don’t scrub your skin
  • take care when shaving skin
  • don’t wax skin
  • consider laser hair removal
  • avoid sweating or overheating
  • use a mild and effective antiperspirant or deodorant
  • wear looser clothing if tight clothing triggers breakouts

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic skin condition that causes painful, boil-like lumps beneath the skin. It’s not contagious and cannot pass between people.

HS typically occurs in folds of skin like armpits, the groin, or between the legs. Because it can occur in the groin, some people may think it’s a sexually transmitted disease, but it’s not. It’s also not the result of poor hygiene.

The blockage of a hair follicle with sweat and keratin causes HS. Bacteria begin to grow until the hair follicle cannot hold anymore, and it bursts, creating a painful lump under the skin and spreading the contents to the surrounding area. New blockages begin, repeating the cycle.