Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a difficult disease to treat. Although the pathogenesis of this inflammatory skin disease is largely unknown, the important role of the immune system has been demonstrated in both experimental and clinical studies. Clinicians are therefore increasingly prescribing systemic treatments with immunosuppressive agents, but the more traditionally used systemic retinoids, especially isotretinoin, also remain relatively common therapies. In order to provide an overview of all currently available systemic immunosuppressive agents and retinoids for the treatment of HS, a systematic search was performed using the Medline and Embase databases. All published papers concerning systemic retinoids or immunosuppressive treatments for HS in adults were included. The primary endpoints were the percentages of significant responders, moderate responders and nonresponders. Other endpoints were the relapse rate and adverse events. In total 87 papers were included, comprising 518 patients with HS who were treated with systemic retinoids, biological agents or another immunosuppressive agents, including colchicine, ciclosporin, dapsone or methotrexate. The highest response rates were observed with infliximab, adalimumab and acitretin. Overall, the quality of evidence was low and differed between the agents, making direct comparisons difficult. However, based on the amount of evidence, infliximab and adalimumab were the most effective agents. Acitretin was also effective in HS, although the quality of the evidence was low. The therapeutic effect of isotretinoin is questionable. Randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm the effectiveness of acitretin, and to identify the most effective immunosuppressive agents in HS.