There’s some evidence that topical resorcinol, a common ingredient used in chemical peels, can help treat hidradenitis suppurativa.

Hidradenitis suppurative (HS) is a skin condition characterized by inflamed lesions in areas with sweat glands where skin rubs together, like the armpits, groin, or thighs. Though there’s no cure for HS, several strategies can help manage symptoms. Antibiotics are typically the first-line treatment for mild-to-moderate HS.

Some topical treatments, including certain chemical peels, may also help to reduce the size, severity, and pain associated with HS lesions. Resorcinol, in particular, may have some benefits when applied as a chemical peel or cream.

Though research’s lacking on other chemical peeling agents, ingredients like glycolic acid and salicylic acid may also help ease symptoms. Here’s what to know.

Of all the chemical peeling agents, resorcinol seems to be the most promising to treat HS. Limited research suggests that it can reduce lesion size and severity as well as curb pain associated with the condition.

According to dermatologist Ahmad Chaudhry, resorcinol “helps by breaking down hard skin and reducing inflammation.

“It’s usually used as a second-line treatment after standard treatments, like antibiotics, haven’t worked,” he adds.

In a 2022 study, researchers compared the efficacy and safety of topical resorcinol with the antibiotic clindamycin for mild-to-moderate HS. They found that after 12 weeks among the 134 patients studied, resorcinol 15% led to:

  • significant improvements in the HS clinical response
  • significant reduction in HS severity
  • reduction in pain

The authors concluded that topical resorcinol 15% may be a potential alternative to clindamycin in managing acute or chronic HS.

According to a small 2019 study, 32 participants who received topical resorcinol 15% twice daily for 30 days had their lesions decrease significantly by day 7. However, this was a small, uncontrolled study.

Potential peeling agents for treating HS include:

  • Resorcinol: So far, resorcinol seems to be the most effective peeling agent to treat HS. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also considers resorcinol a suitable treatment for HS, noting that it opens clogged hair follicles and reduces inflammation.
  • Salicylic acid: Chaudhry notes that salicylic acid may also be beneficial for treating HS. The oil-soluble acid may penetrate deep into the skin, remove excess sebum, and prevent clogged pores that lead to HS outbreaks. However, there’s not much research into using salicylic acid for HS.
  • Glycolic acid: Chaudhry suggests that glycolic acid may also benefit HS due to its exfoliating properties. “While there isn’t specific research on HS and glycolic acid, some patients may find it helps in reducing pore clogging.”
  • Azelaic acid: Some specialists claim that acne-fighting acids like azelaic acid may be beneficial for treating HS, but research is lacking.

It’s always a good idea to check with a dermatologist before undergoing a chemical peel to treat HS.

According to Chaudhry, chemical peeling agents like resorcinol “can cause skin irritation and should be used with caution in darker skin, as it may cause hyperpigmentation.”

Mild and typically temporary side effects of getting a chemical peel include:

  • redness
  • irritation
  • burning
  • inflammation
  • itching

If these symptoms persist after a few days or get worse, seek medical support. More severe side effects of peels (especially deeper ones) include:

  • hyperpigmentation
  • scarring
  • infections
  • kidney, liver, or heart damage

Any acids in formulas of over 30-40% are considered medical-grade peels and should be applied only by a licensed and qualified professional.

Resorcinol toxicity is possible when used at concentrations over 20%. If you experience any of the following signs of resorcinol toxicity, seek emergency care right away:

  • dizziness
  • cold sweats
  • pale or bluish-looking skin
  • purple, reddish, or black urine
  • tremors
  • rashes

“HS is indeed a challenging condition to treat and manage because it’s so individualized,” Chaudhry says, but he advises people with the condition not to be discouraged. “What works for one person may not work for another, and it often requires a multi-modal approach.”

Although there’s no cure for HS, there are ways to manage symptoms. A chemical peel, especially with resorcinol, can help minimize lesion size, severity, and pain in some patients.

Chemical peels may also be combined with traditional treatments.

“As far as combining these treatments, it often depends on the individual patient’s needs and how they respond to different therapies.” Chemical peels may be applied “in conjunction with antibiotics or biologics, or as part of a more comprehensive skin care routine,” he notes.