As I’m writing this, I am nursing a two-month-old scar from a cyst that used to be under my arm. This includes replacing bandages with clean ones on a daily basis, checking for any future cysts in the same area, spot treating my beauty marks, and managing scars that will most likely remain on my skin for months. This routine isn’t new to me, as I have been battling Hidradenitis Suppurativa for over 10 years. Hidradenitis Suppurativa, or HS, is a skin condition that creates painful and inflamed boils under the hair follicles of your skin. Sweat glands are a major trigger area for HS, as bumps form near those areas of the skin and can create an infection, making these bumps painful, bigger in size under the surface of your skin, and full of pus. In many cases, these bumps need to be drained by a medical professional to avoid the spread of the infection, but unfortunately, sometimes scarring is inevitable after the boil is treated. HS is a skin condition that unfortunately has no cure, according to WebMD, as lifestyle changes and treatments can help alleviate regular flare-ups, but they don’t fully cure the condition.
When I was first diagnosed with HS in my late teens, I had no idea that I was one of the riskier groups to develop this type of skin condition. According to Mayo Clinic, Hidradenitis Suppurativa is most common in African-American middle-aged women who may have a family history of HS. Weight also plays a role, and once I educated myself on HS, I tried monitoring my weight, changing my diet, and adapting a cleaner beauty routine, but I continued to be left with the marks from past and current flare-ups.
Finding the beauty in my scars from HS was—and still is—a difficult journey. Although the flare-ups are now few and far between and I am more knowledgeable about how to treat my skin, I am now on a personal journey to accept myself and everything that comes along with HS–both on my skin and within. I remind myself regularly of a few affirmations that help me to embrace the beauty scars caused by HS.
I am not the only one battling HS
Although it felt like I was fighting a solitary battle with my skin, after doing my research and being more open about my condition, I found out that I wasn’t alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 4 percent of the world’s population suffers with this chronic skin disease, and this percentage is growing, as this skin disease commonly goes untreated or undiagnosed.
Finding a community online and through other friends who suffer with the same condition (or something similar) was a comfort, connecting with those on how they embrace the long-lasting effects of HS, including the unsightly scars all over the body from where the boils formed. After finding others who struggle with the same insecurities from HS or other relatable conditions, it helped me come to terms with my own visible skin marks and learn to accept them.
I found tips on how to treat discoloration and scarring, including different products specifically designed for harsher blemish marks. I also found the encouragement I needed to live with my beauty marks on a daily basis, becoming more comfortable with my skin and its imperfections. Opening up about my struggles with this skin disease helped me find a whole community dealing with the same issue of embracing their skin and gave me the camaraderie I needed to find confidence in my condition.
HS does not define me or my beauty
When struggling with a medical condition that affects your skin, it’s easy to feel embarrassed or ashamed of it, especially when it leaves behind spots, marks, discoloration, and other evidence of what your body is going through internally. Growing up with less than problematic skin, dealing with HS changed my definition of beauty. Where I once took pride in my skin, now with HS, I had to change what pride looks like when my skin was less than flawless.
According to a 2019 National Institutes of Health study, the psychological effects of those dealing with HS greatly impacts their quality of life the most, including how they see themselves physically and sexually.
An affirmation I have to continuously remind myself of is that HS does not define how beautiful I am: no matter how many scars I incur, how much pain I may be in during flare-ups, or how visible it may be. These marks are just a small part of who I am, but isn’t what makes or breaks my beauty.
When actively dealing with HS during a flare-up, I try to practice self-affirmations on a daily basis, treat myself to self-caring spa days, and give myself more grace and patience when showing parts of my body that have scarring or discoloration. When getting dressed for the day, I actively highlight the parts of my body that I love, but make sure not to feel ashamed of those parts that may be affected by HS. Since HS primarily flares up in less noticeable areas of the body like the groin and under the arms, it can sometimes be harder to hide without discomfort, especially during the summer months, so defining my own beauty and embracing how my body looks all over was key to helping me gain more self-assurance.
My scars are unique—and unique is beautiful
Since being diagnosed with HS over 10 years ago, I’ve had my fair share of scars, from a treated lesion right in the middle of my chest that never closed after being lanced (which is always mistaken for a dermal piercing!) to a discolored quarter-sized scar on the underside of my right breast. Although these scars do not define me, they make for interesting and unique marks all over my body, marks that I had to embrace and allow others to embrace too.
Now when I see my scars, especially the ones that are highly visible, it reminds me of how unique my condition and my body is–and how beautiful and resilient I am. My scars and beauty marks reflect my struggles with HS, but also reflect my strength and uniqueness. The shame of a skin condition like HS can sometimes take that confidence away from you, but recognizing and giving praise to the story each beauty mark on your body tells can help you embrace your beauty from the outside in.
Helpful Products for those suffering with HS:
Here are a few products I found helpful when dealing with or preventing an HS flare-up on my body, helping you to feel more comfortable in your own skin:
Dr. Bronner Hemp Peppermint Pure Castile Oil
This soap is my go-to in the shower, especially after a workout, to wash and cleanse my body thoroughly. It’s easy for sweat glands to become inflamed and bring on another HS breakout, so it’s great to have this antibacterial soap to get a nice, squeaky clean to your skin. Make sure to follow it up with a more moisturizing soap afterwards!
Bali Women’s Shapewear
Shapewear isn’t just for sculpting your body; it could be a great addition to your daily wardrobe to help with rubbing and chafing in areas like the inner thighs, which could cause a boil to form from the skin-to-skin contact. I wear mine with pants, jeans, leggings, and sometimes as workout gear (so glad biker shorts made a comeback!).
On The Go First Aid Kit
With HS, it’s always great to have a travel-sized pack of bandages, just in case a boil decides to drain on its own or you need to change an already healing bump. I always keep a cute pack of Band-Aids in my bag wherever I go in multiple sizes. This also prevents a breakout from becoming even more infected. More