Genital acne is also called acne inversa or hidradenitis suppurativa. This condition occurs when the apocrine glands get clogged in the groin area. Excessive heat, sweating and poor hygiene can result in dead skin, oil and dirt accumulating in the groin. The hair follicles and sebaceous gland openings get clogged. When bacteria infect these clogged pores, genital acne outbreak occurs. Genital acne is different from other forms of acne since it is caused due to an inflammation of apocrine glands and not the sebaceous glands. Sometimes, genital acne is a symptom of sexually transmitted diseases.
Causes of genital acne
Genital acne is caused mainly due to excessive sweating. When you wear very tight clothing that rubs on the skin especially during hot weather or when you exercise, dirt, oil and bacterial accumulate in the genitals. Other causes include using bath soaps with strong chemicals or harsh laundry detergents. Sometimes, when the apocrine glands do not develop properly, a person is susceptible to genital acne.
Sometimes genital acne can be caused due to hormones, smoking, obesity, genetics, Graves’ disease or Crohn’s disease. When a person is obese, excess folds of skin on the inner thighs can rub against each other, cause friction, increase perspiration and cause bacteria to grow.
Another cause of acne is an endocrine-related problem called androgen excess. Women suffer from this hormonal problem when at certain times – e.g. pregnancy, menopause – androgen is produced in excess. One cause of this is hirutism when women suffer from excessive hair growth on the face, chest, pubic area, genitals, and inner thighs, upper and lower back, buttocks etc. When this excessive hair growth gets clogged by over-production of sebum, acne can affect all these areas too.
Folliculitis is another cause of genital acne. Folliculitis begins when hair follicles get damaged due to tight clothing. This causes blockage of the follicles, which could then get infected by the staphylococcus bacteria. A common symptom of folliculitis is formation of pimples or pustules in the affected area – e.g. genitals or groin. Sometimes the pimples can crust over.
Those who are at risk of genital acne include women, people between the ages of puberty and 40 and genetics.
Treatment of genital acne
If genital acne is not treated in time, certain complications can occur like permanent thick pitted scars, restricted movement, cellulitis that is a serious bacterial infection and sinus tracts that form under the skin which prevent the acne from healing and worsens the conditions.
Most people fail to report an outbreak of genital acne since they feel embarrassed. Do not do so, for it could be due to some other serious cause like a sexually transmitted disease. Also, if you have inflamed acne in the genitals, it can be very painful and require antibiotics to treat it – which only a doctor can prescribe.
Allopathy: Antibiotics can fight the infection and prevent genital acne from worsening. Oral retinoid medications prevent hair follicles from getting plugged. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) assuage pain and swelling. Immunosuppressants or corticosteroids reduce early inflammatory conditions. TNF-alpha inhibitors used for short periods can control genital acne. Zinc gluconate supplements can reduce irritation and avert new acne outbreak.
Severe cases of genital acne may require surgery. If the lesions are deep and filled with pus, an incision will be made and the area drained. If tracts have been formed, then the overlying skin and flesh will be cut away to expose the tunnels and quicken healing. This can reduce scarring too. Recurring genital acne lesions can be completely removed by cutting away the entire area and using skin grafts to close the area. None of these surgical remedies is permanent and acne can recur.
The usual treatment for folliculitis is a course of antibiotics and antifungal medications to stop the infection. A hot, moist compress placed on the affected area can drain the inflamed follicles.
Herbal Remedies: One herbal remedy for genital acne that herbalists suggest is a marshmallow poultice. This is supposed to be a good remedy for abscesses and skin inflammatory conditions. Marshmallow contains volatile oils, tannins, phenolic acids and beneficial flavonoids. It also contains mucilaginous polysaccharides that give a soothing effect. Since it has anti-ulcer, anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties, it can be a effective treatment for genital acne.
Boil 2-4 teaspoons of dried flowers or leaves of the marshmallow plant, in 8oz of water. When the mixture cools, take a clean washcloth, dampen it with the mixture and use the compress on the affected areas.
Make a poultice using 2 teaspoons mallow root (chopped) and enough honey to form a paste. Apply in the affected areas and place a bandage over it. Remove after 2-3 hours. Always check with your doctor before using these remedies.
Home remedies: Keep the groin area clean to prevent accumulation of bacteria by washing thoroughly with mild soap. Topical medications like benzoyl peroxide or hydrogen peroxide work very well. An antibacterial cleanser can gently exfoliate the area and prevent accumulation of dirt.
A warm compress using a soft cloth dipped in warm water can soften the skin and ease pain and swelling. A bath using Epsom salts can cleanse and soothe the genitals and even dry pimples. For this, you can sprinkle ½ to 1 cup Epsom salts into a tub of water and soak for at least 15-20 minutes. Rinse your body thoroughly and pat dry with a soft towel.
Natural remedies: Genital acne can also be treated with lavender essential oil or azadirachta indica both of which have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Make sure you consult an expert on how to use these products correctly.
Precautions if you have genital acne
Wear lightweight, loose clothing especially in summer to avoid creating heat in the groin. Wearing 100% cotton innerwear can prevent irritation and absorb excess sweat. Use chemical free detergents to wash clothes and a mild soap for the body. Stop smoking and lose weight. Following these precautionary measures can prevent an outbreak of genital acne.