What is folliculitis?
Each hair on your body grows out of a pocket in your skin called a follicle. Folliculitis is inflammation of these hair follicles, and it can appear anywhere on your skin where hair grows.
Folliculitis is generally a minor skin condition that may resolve on its own, but it can be a greater health risk for people with compromised immune systems or if it’s left untreated.
Signs of folliculitis
Folliculitis is often confused with acne because the two conditions have similar appearances. However, there are some differences.
Signs of folliculitis include:
Causes of folliculitis
There are two types of folliculitis: superficial folliculitis, which affects the upper part of the follicle and the skin around it; and deep folliculitis, which affects the entire hair follicle deep into the skin.
As bacteria spreads, superficial folliculitis can develop into deep folliculitis and then into abscesses (a collection of pus in tissues).
Types and causes of folliculitis include:
This is an infection in the follicle caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. It is the most common form of folliculitis.
Hot tub folliculitis
This is an infection caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. Hot tub folliculitis usually occurs after exposure to poorly treated pool or hot tub water. This type of folliculitis will usually clear up without treatment in a few days.
Known as pseudofolliculitis barbae, this form is caused by shaving too close to the skin. Hairs can turn back toward the skin and become ingrown. This condition mostly occurs in beard areas of men with curly hair, but it can also appear anywhere that is shaved.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae can develop into deep folliculitis called sycosis barbae. This is a severe form of shaving-related inflammation where the follicle becomes deeply infected. It may cause scarring.
This form is caused by the Malassezia fungi. This is a kind of yeast normally found on the skin that can enter the hair follicle and cause an itchy infection. Sweat often worsens this condition.
This form of folliculitis is caused by prolonged antibiotic use. Over time, bacteria become resistant to treatment, which results in a worsening infection.
This type of folliculitis is found in people with compromised immune systems. If your immune system isn’t fully functioning because of HIV, chemotherapy, or other medical treatments, eosinophilic folliculitis may develop. It is an itchy rash that often appears on the shoulders, upper arms, neck, and forehead.
Boils and carbuncles
A large cluster of boils may also appear as many follicles become infected. This cluster is called a carbuncle.
When to see the doctor for folliculitis
Some forms of folliculitis, like hot tub folliculitis, usually clear up within a few days on their own without treatment. However, you should seek medical advice if the folliculitis:
- Becomes hard and painful lumps
- Is widespread
- Doesn’t go away after a few days
- Starts to drain
If you develop symptoms including fever or hot, swollen skin that’s changing quickly, seek medical attention.
Diagnosis of folliculitis
Your doctor will record your symptoms and your personal and medical history, including recent pool or hot tub exposure, long-term antibiotic use, and more. They may also examine your skin and test a sample of fluid or tissue to determine the type of folliculitis.
Treatments for folliculitis
Most types of folliculitis are not serious and can be treated at home. Home treatment can include:
- Using antibacterial wash to clean the skin and help clear bacteria
- Washing the scalp and beard with medicated shampoo
- Applying anti-itch cream to relieve discomfort
- Using warm compresses to relieve inflammation and pain
- Wearing loose clothing and changing immediately out of sweaty clothes
Hot tub folliculitis will usually disappear on its own without treatment.
For shaving-related folliculitis, treatment can also include:
- Shaving every other day or twice a week instead of daily
- Shaving with the grain of hair instead of against it
- Using an electric razor instead of a disposable blade
- Using shaving gel or cream instead of dry shaving
If your skin doesn’t respond to treatment or your condition is moderate to severe, your doctor may prescribe:
- Topical antibiotic cream
- Topical steroid cream
- Antibiotic medication
- Antifungal medication
Your doctor may also want to drain any boils and carbuncles. If you have recurring folliculitis, they may recommend laser hair removal to destroy the hair follicle.
Infections left untreated may result in serious or deep infections that may spread or cause permanent scarring.
IMAGESBrowse our medical image collection of allergic skin disorders such as psoriasis and dermatitis and more caused by allergies See Images
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Interventions for bacterial folliculitis and boils (furuncles and carbuncles)."
Dermato-Endocrinology: "Special types of folliculitis which should be differentiated from acne."
Michigan Medicine: "Folliculitis."
Winters, R. and Mitchell, M. StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2020.
Top What Happens if Folliculitis Goes Untreated Related Articles
How to Get Clear Skin: 15 Proven Tips for Fighting AcneAcne is the most common skin problem that affects more than 80% of people at some point in their life. If not treated properly, it can lead to scars and dark marks on the skin which might take longer to go away.
Are Skin Rashes Contagious?Direct and indirect contact can spread some types of rashes from person to person. Rash treatment depends upon a rash's underlying cause. A rash that sheds large amounts of skin warrants urgent medical attention. Rashes can be either contagious or noncontagious. Noncontagious rashes include seborrheic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, stasis dermatitis, psoriasis, nummular eczema, drug eruptions, hives, heat rash (miliaria), and diaper rash. Rashes usually considered contagious include molluscum contagiosum (viral), impetigo (bacterial), herpes (herpes simplex, types 1 and 2 viruses), rash caused by Neisseria meningitides (N. meningitides) (bacterial), rash and blisters that accompany shingles (herpes zoster virus), ringworm (fungal) infections (tinea), scabies (itch mite), chickenpox (viral), measles and rubella (viral), erythema infectiosum (viral), pityriasis rosea (viral), cellulitis and erysipelas (bacterial), lymphangitis (bacterial, and folliculitis (bacterial).
FolliculitisFolliculitis is a skin condition that causes small red bumps to form around the hair follicles. Skin bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas may infect the follicles. Treatment involves over-the-counter bacterial washes, topical antibiotics, and/or topical steroids.
Fungal Skin Infections: Types, Symptoms, and TreatmentFungal skin infections and fungal nail infections produce symptoms like red, itchy, circular rashes and thick, discolored, flaky nails. Fungal infection treatment may involve topical medication or oral antifungals.
How Do You Treat An Infected Ingrown Hair?Learn how to identify and treat an infected ingrown hair, and how to avoid them in the future.
Ingrown HairIngrown hairs may be caused by improper shaving, waxing, or blockage of the hair follicle. Symptoms and signs of ingrown hairs include itching, tenderness, and small red pus bumps. Ingrown hairs usually heal on their own, but topical antibiotics, chemical depilatories, and hair-removal lasers may be used in the treatment of ingrown hairs.
Non-Itchy Red Spots: 20 Skin DisordersA variety of conditions can cause red spots, both itchy and non-itchy. Learn about common skin disorders, causes, and treatment.
Skin RashThe word "rash" means an outbreak of red bumps on the body. The way people use this term, "a rash" can refer to many different skin conditions. The most common of these are scaly patches of skin and red, itchy bumps or patches all over the place.
The Skin (Human Anatomy): Picture, Definition, Function and Skin ConditionsThe skin is the largest organ in the body that covers the entire external surface. It protects the internal organs from germs and thus helps prevent infections. The skin is made up of three main layers.
Skin Picture QuizCould you identify a scabies infestation? Take the Skin Diseases Pictures Quiz and learn to identify common conditions that plague human skin.
Skin InfectionsViruses, bacteria, and fungi can all cause skin infections. What is scabies? Learn about golden staph infections, cellulitis, impetigo, fifth disease, leprosy, and more. See photos of infections like chickenpox, athlete’s foot, and candida, a fungal yeast skin infection.
Skin Problems: Contagious Rashes, Bumps, and BlistersWhy do rashes, bumps, and blisters appear on your skin? There are several medical causes. Find out what causes bumps, rashes, and other skin conditions in adults and children. Whether on the arm, leg, trunk, or head, itchy or painful rashes and bumps can often be treated using home remedies or medicine.
Skin QuizWhat's that all over you? Skin, of course! Test your knowledge of your most amazing organ with the Skin Quiz!
The Skin: 7 Most Important Layers and FunctionsThe skin is the largest organ in the body and it covers the body's entire external surface. It is made up of seven layers. The first five layers form the epidermis, which is the outermost, thick layer of the skin. The hypodermis is the deepest layer of skin situated below the dermis.
What Is the Best Treatment for Folliculitis?Learn about the symptoms of folliculitis, and how to treat it.
Skin & Your HealthSkin problems are often the first signs of serious underlying health problems. Diabetes, lupus, hepatitis C and lung cancer are all illnesses that can relate to various skin disorders.