What is folliculitis?

Folliculitis is inflammation of the hair follicles. The best treatment for folliculitis includes washing the area and applying aloe vera gel, diluted hydrogen peroxide or anti-itch agents.
Folliculitis is inflammation of the hair follicles. The best treatment for folliculitis includes washing the area and applying aloe vera gel, diluted hydrogen peroxide or anti-itch agents.

Folliculitis is an inflammation of hair follicles: the tiny pouches in your skin from which hairs grow. It is a very common skin condition, and generally harmless. When hair follicles become irritated or infected, you can experience folliculitis. The most common areas for folliculitis to develop are the back, buttocks, legs, arms, chest, and face. 

Main symptoms

Symptoms of folliculitis are usually mild and typically include:

  • Red acne-like spots on your skin
  • Small tender red bumps
  • Itching or burning sensation

These small red bumps are centered around a hair and may have a tiny amount of pus. When scratched, the spots may ooze pus, blood, or both.

Main causes

When the hair follicles on your skin get damaged, it’s easy for bacteria or viruses to enter and cause an infection. This often happens when shaving, when you touch or rub your skin frequently, or if you wear tight clothing in warm weather.

Other possible causes of folliculitis include:

Who can get it

Anyone can get folliculitis, but people who shave or wax regularly seem to develop it more often than others.

Diagnosis for folliculitis

In order to diagnose folliculitis, your doctor will examine your skin and may test a small amount of the fluid in the red bumps. Additionally, your doctor will ask:

  • How long you have had your symptoms
  • If you have had folliculitis previously
  • If you are experiencing any other symptoms
  • General questions about your health and activities

Most folliculitis is caused by bacteria or fungus. If your doctor determines that the bacteria causing your follicle irritation is a kind called staphylococci, you may require more advanced care, as this kind of bacteria can be resistant to certain kinds of antibiotics. 

Treatments for folliculitis

Most mild cases of folliculitis resolve themselves within two weeks. Putting a warm compress on the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes three to four times a day can help manage symptoms and speed up your recovery. Simply soak a washcloth in warm water, wring out the excess, and place the warm, damp towel over the affected area. 

Other home remedies for folliculitis include:

  • Washing with a mild soap twice a day
  • Applying aloe vera gel
  • Swabbing with diluted hydrogen peroxide
  • Applying anti-itch lotion or gel

If shaving, waxing, or plucking the area is part of the cause of irritation, stop doing so for at least 30 days.

Folliculitis caused by using an improperly maintained hot tub, also called “hot tub folliculitis,” appears a few hours or days after soaking. The bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa infects follicles and causes the reaction. Itching or discomfort caused by “hot tub folliculitis” can be relieved with over-the-counter anti-itch ointment like hydrocortisone.

Certain kinds of medicated shampoo can help relieve itching associated with folliculitis on the scalp or beard area. Additionally, taking over-the-counter pain medication can relieve discomfort or itching from folliculitis.

If your folliculitis does not go away, gets increasingly red and painful, or happens with a fever, you should talk to your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medicine to manage the skin condition.

Preventing folliculitis

There are some simple ways to avoid folliculitis:

  • Only use well-maintained hot tubs
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing in warm weather
  • Thoroughly wash and dry your bathing suit after each use
  • Shave carefully in the same direction as hair growth
  • Bathe or shower daily with mild soap
  • Moisturize your skin with a non-oily lotion
  • Do not share towels or washcloths with others
  • Wash your towels and washcloths frequently

Maintaining your overall health and good hygiene are the best ways to prevent folliculitis. 

Possible complications and side effects of folliculitis

Complications of folliculitis are rare. In a small number of cases, untreated folliculitis can cause boils, permanent scarring, dark skin patches, or follicle damage resulting in hair loss.

You should contact your doctor if you experience:

  • Folliculitis that lasts longer than two weeks
  • A rash that gets increasingly painful or spreads
  • Large bumps or boils
  • Soreness or tenderness in your breasts or nipples
  • Increasing illness or fever

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Medically Reviewed on 3/2/2021
References
SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "ACNE-LIKE BREAKOUTS COULD BE FOLLICULITIS."

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "HOT TUB FOLLICULITIS."

DermNet NZ: "Staphylococcal skin infection."

Merck Manuals: "Folliculitis."

Nationwide Children’s Hospital: "Folliculitis."