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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is folliculitis?

Folliculitis is inflammation of your hair follicles. A hair follicle is a sac under your skin. Your hair grows out of the follicle. Folliculitis is caused by bacteria or funguses, most commonly a germ called Staph. Folliculitis can occur anywhere you have hair.

What increases my risk for folliculitis?

  • A skin injury, such as a cut or scratch
  • Skin irritation from shaving or from wearing tight clothing
  • Body hair that curves over into a hair follicle
  • Acne or other conditions that damage your skin
  • Skin contact with someone who has a skin infection, or sharing items such as towels or bar soap with the person
  • Swimming or soaking in a pool or hot tub that is not cleaned regularly or does not have enough chlorine
  • A weakened immune system that makes it hard to fight infections

What are the signs and symptoms of folliculitis?

  • One or more small red, white, or yellow rash-like bumps around your hair follicles
  • Pus-filled bumps that may break open and form a crust on your skin
  • Itching, pain, or redness on or around your hair follicles

How is folliculitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your skin. Tell him or her how long you have had symptoms. Tell him or her if you ever had folliculitis or any other bacterial skin infection.

  • A skin biopsy is used to remove one of the bumps on your skin. The bump will be sent to a lab to find what is causing your folliculitis.
  • A wound culture is done to find which germ caused your infection. A culture may be done by swabbing a draining area on your skin.

How is folliculitis treated?

Folliculitis may heal on its own without treatment. If your folliculitis is severe or is not healing, you may need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics help fight or prevent a bacterial infection. It may be given as an ointment that you apply to your skin or as a pill. Always take your antibiotics exactly as ordered by your healthcare provider. Never save antibiotics or take leftover antibiotics that were given to you for another illness.
  • Antifungal medicine may be given as an cream that you apply to your skin or take as a pill.
  • Steroids may be given to decrease inflammation.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • Antihistamines may be given to help decrease itching.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light therapy is used to help decrease inflammation on the skin. UV light treatments are only used to treat certain types of folliculitis.

How can I manage folliculitis?

  • Clean the area. Use antibacterial soap to wash the affected area. Change your washcloths and towels every day.
  • Apply a warm compress. Wet a clean washcloth with warm water and apply it to the infected skin area to help decrease pain and swelling. Warm compresses may also help drain pus and improve healing.
  • Do not shave the area. If possible, do not shave areas that have folliculitis. If you must shave, use an electric razor or new blade every time you shave.

How can I prevent folliculitis?

  • Do not share personal items. Personal items include towels, soap, nail cutters, dishes, and silverware.
  • Do not wear tight clothing. Tight-fitting clothes may rub against and irritate your skin.
  • Treat skin injuries right away. Wash an injury such as a cut or scrape right away. Use warm, soapy water. Cover the area with a bandage to prevent infection.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You develop large areas of red, warm, tender skin around the folliculitis.
  • You develop boils (red, painful bumps that develop under your skin).

When should I call my doctor or dermatologist?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have foul-smelling pus coming from the bumps on your skin.
  • Your rash is spreading.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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