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Singer Jackson Gillies on His 7-Year Fight for a Skin Diagnosis

Photos: Courtesy of Hayden Park and Paul Citone

After developing an abscess the size of a ping pong ball on his forehead, country-pop musician and former “American Idol” contestant Jackson Gillies saw numerous doctors in search of a diagnosis.

Meanwhile, additional lumps began popping up across his body, including several on each of his inner legs near his groin.

Eventually, a naturopathic doctor revealed the cause of the growths that he’d been hunting for: hidradenitis suppurativa, or HS, a chronic skin condition that sometimes resembles acne or boils. 

“I got lucky finding it as early as I did because it takes an average of seven years for a person with HS to be diagnosed,” said Gillies, who is 19 and has been living with HS since he became a teenager.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, HS that goes undiagnosed for several years can lead to the development of painful, non-healing wounds. It’s not uncommon for someone to be admitted to the ER 10 times before receiving the correct diagnosis.

Although HS isn’t curable, medications, skincare, dermatological procedures (e.g., lump draining), and diet and lifestyle changes can aid management of the condition. HS is not contagious, and it affects an estimated 11 in 100,000 people in the United States, according to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

Under control

For Gillies, diet has significantly helped him control HS symptoms. He avoids certain types of foods like wheat and gluten, nightshade vegetables, and processed fare. Meanwhile, he opts for specific whole foods like organic chicken, broccoli, carrots, butternut squash, zucchini, and olive oil. 

“It’s as simple as that,” Gillies said. “I don’t give my body anything that it disagrees with, and therefore I cannot flare.”

Gillies is vocal about his diagnosis in hopes of raising awareness of the skin condition.

In 2017 he gave a TED Talk called “Bringing HS (Hidradenitis Suppurativa) Out Of The Dark,” which has racked up nearly 200,000 views. Gillies called the experience “pretty unbelievable.” “But secondarily,” he added, “I’d have to say I’m just most proud of myself for talking about it to people that I see in my everyday life.”

He encouraged other people living with HS to figure out a treatment plan that works for them, and to give diet changes a try, but above all to ask for help if they need it

Gillies suggested turning to the web, which is replete with supportive people who are living with HS. 

“There are online forums on Facebook and blogs with people who’ve had HS for 10, 20, 30 years who have a lot of tricks up their sleeve,” Gillies said. “And people will be there to just listen and help you understand that what you’re going through, you’re not going through it alone.”

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