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Blocked hair follicles are small, painful bumps that form under your skin. They can be a sign of a skin condition called hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). You’re most likely to get them in places where you sweat a lot, such as your:

  • Armpits
  • Breasts
  • Buttocks
  • Groin

Blocked hair follicles start out like pimples. If they get worse, they can grow deep into the skin and look more like cysts or boils. They may also burst and leak pus or blood. They can make tunnels under your skin.

Once they start to heal, you can get thick scars. Those scars can make moving difficult in places like your underarm or groin.


When you’re carrying more pounds than you need, it can make your symptoms worse. It doesn’t take much weight loss to make a difference. Studies show that losing just 10% of your total weight can start to clear up your bumps. 

Your doctor can help you come up with a diet and exercise plan to shed pounds.


Physical activity can help you feel better and lose weight. But heat, humidity, and sweat can all lead to breakouts. Clothes that rub against your skin can bring them, too.

Be workout wise:

  • Exercise indoors in air conditioning.
  • Wear loose, moisture-wicking clothes that won’t chafe your skin.
  • Choose moves that likely won’t be a sweat-fest, like:
    • Pilates 
    • Swimming
    • Tai chi
    • Walking
    • Water fitness
    • Yoga

Keep in mind that how much you sweat can depend on many different things. If you do sweat during a workout, be sure to shower off right afterward and change into clean, dry clothes.


There isn't a special diet you can follow to prevent blocked hair follicles. But a few smart choices may help:

Focus on healthy fats. Healthy omega-3s in fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines can help ease inflammation. So can nuts, seeds, and plant oils.

Cut back on dairy. Milk and cheese raise your insulin levels. That can ramp up hormones that play a part in blocked hair follicles.

Eat less sugar. That can lower your insulin levels. Cut back on red meat. Too much can lead to more inflammation.

Avoid brewer's yeast. Brewer's yeast helps foods like pizza, bread, and cake rise. Skipping these foods could calm your symptoms.

Watch your wheat. Some research suggests that avoiding foods made with wheat can ease your symptoms.

Give up the grease. Unhealthy fats, low-fiber foods, and processed products can all lead to flare-ups.

Some research says vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, copper, and vitamin B3 help blocked hair follicles. Zinc may also work, but research is ongoing.

Talk to your doctor before making changes to what you eat.


When you have blocked hair follicles, smoking can make your symptoms worse.

Stop smoking and you’re less likely to have flare-ups. Plus, flare-ups you do have will be less serious.

Talk to your doctor about ways to kick the habit, including:

  • Medications like nicotine gum, patches, lozenges, or inhalers; antidepressants; or drugs that block how nicotine works in your brain
  • Counseling -- in person or online
  • Apps that can provide reminders and encouragement
  • Support groups
  • Quitting cold turkey


Dragging a razor across skin with clogged hair follicles is a sure way to ramp up redness, pain, and swelling. Waxing may also irritate things. If you still want to remove hair, talk with your doctor about:

  • Depilatories
  • Threading
  • Prescription creams
  • Laser hair removal


When clothes rub against skin, it gets irritated and inflamed. If what you’re wearing feels tight, it adds pressure to skin and cuts off blood flow that can help with healing. Fabrics that trap sweat can lead to clogs and flares. 

Pick pieces that allow your skin to breathe and avoid irritation. Be particularly careful with:

  • Underwear
  • Waistbands
  • Clothes with leg holes or arm holes that might irritate your armpits or groin


Heat causes sweat. Both can cause clogged hair follicles and make them worse. Keep your body temperature down by drinking plenty of water and staying indoors when you can.


If certain bacteria get into your hair follicles, it can clog them. That can cause infection. To prevent it:

  • Wash twice a day with antibacterial soap. Be sure to use a clean washcloth and dry off with a clean, dry towel.
  • Don't share washcloths or towels with others.
  • Try over-the-counter antibiotic creams or gels with benzoyl peroxide.
  • Sit in a bleach bath: to cup of 5% bleach for a full tub of water. Soak your body (not your head!) for 10 minutes.
  • Try an antiseptic wash such as chlorhexidine 4% once a week.
  • Avoid scrubs or loofahs that can irritate your skin when you wash.


You may notice your symptoms get worse when you’re stressed. Stress turns on your body’s inflammation response. That slows healing.

You can dial back your stress when you:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Cut back on caffeine.
  • Meditate.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Connect with others, either friends or a support group.
  • Keep a journal. It can help release feelings you might be holding back.
  • Do things you enjoy.
  • See a counselor.


A sitz bath can soothe clogged hair follicles in the groin and buttocks area. You can make one at home by mixing salt or sodium bicarbonate in the bath. Drugstores also have small plastic sitz baths that sit on your toilet seat.

In a clean bathtub:

  • Fill it with enough warm water to cover your thighs.
  • Add ½ cup baking soda or ¼ cup salt. Swirl to dissolve.
  • Sit in the tub in a leaned back position for 10-15 minutes.
  • Pat dry with a clean towel.

On the toilet:

  • Lift the toilet seat and place the sitz bath on the toilet bowl.
  • Fill the bath with 2/3 cup warm water.
  • Add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon baking soda or 1-2 teaspoons salt. Swirl to dissolve.
  • Sit on the sitz bath and soak for 10-15 minutes.
  • Pat dry with a clean towel.


Over-the-counter medications can help with pain. These include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen
  • 4% lidocaine cream. Rub this on the painful area three times a day.

What Works for Me

“When I get HS boils, I use antibiotic cream from my doctor and try to keep them covered to prevent pain from rubbing against clothes. For prevention, I use a body wash with tea tree oil in it.”

-Angie E., 39, Portland, OR

“Going gluten and dairy free really helped me. I went from 10–12 big sores at a time to 3–4 small ones.”

-Seema D., 45, Centreville, VA

“I swear by activated charcoal shower gel. I’ve been using it for three months since a terrible flare up, and haven’t had one since.”

-Janice S., 57, Washington, DC

“Antibacterial soap from the supermarket twice a day rubbed into my beard helped dry out my bumps until they flaked off.”

-Ken G., 42, Lawrenceville, GA

Questions For Your Doctor

1. Which exercises work best to keep me healthy and prevent blocked hair follicles?

2. How can I remove hair without causing a flare-up?

3. Are there diet changes I should make to help my condition?

4. What can I do to manage my pain?

5. What over-the-counter options are available to help with my symptoms?

6. How do I know if my blocked hair follicles are getting worse?

7. What's the most likely cause of my blocked hair follicles?

8. Which supplements might help my symptoms?

9. How can I stop smoking?

10. How much weight should I lose to help my symptoms?