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Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

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 fungus, most commonly a germ called Staph. Folliculitis can occur anywhere you have hair.

What increases my risk for folliculitis?

  • Skin injury: Injuries to your skin include scratches, cuts, and surgery wounds. Shaving can also cause irritation and injury. Body hair may curve over into a hair follicle and lead to folliculitis. Acne and other conditions that damage your skin may also increase your risk of folliculitis.
  • Skin to skin contact and sharing personal items: Skin contact with people who have a skin infection may increase your risk of folliculitis. Sharing items such as towels and bar soap may also increase your risk.
  • Pools and hot tubs: Pools and hot tubs that are not cleaned regularly or do not have enough chlorine have more germs. If you use a pool or hot tub that is not cleaned well, you may have a higher risk of folliculitis.
  • Weak immune system: Medical problems such as HIV and diabetes weaken your immune system and make it hard to fight infections.
  • Tight clothing: When you wear tight clothing, it rubs against your skin and causes irritation in your hair follicles.

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 how long you have had symptoms and if you have had folliculitis in the past. Also tell your healthcare provider if you have had other bacterial skin infections in the past.

  • Skin sample: One of the bumps on your skin may be removed and sent to a lab for tests. A skin sample may help your healthcare provider learn what is causing your folliculitis.
  • Wound culture: Cultures are done to learn what kind of germ caused your infection. A culture may be done by swabbing a draining area on your skin.

How is folliculitis treated?

Your folliculitis may heal on its own without treatment. If your folliculitis is severe or is not healing, you may need treatment.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. 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: This medicine helps kill fungus that may be causing your folliculitis. It may be given as an cream that you apply to your skin or 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 under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Antihistamines: This medicine may be given to help decrease itching.
  • UV light therapy: During this treatment, ultraviolet light is used to help decrease the inflammation on the skin. UV light treatments are only used to treat certain types of folliculitis.

What are the risks of folliculitis?

If you have a severe infection, you may have scarring on your skin after it heals. Folliculitis may return, even after you are treated. Your hair follicles may be damaged and cause permanent hair loss.

How can I manage folliculitis?

  • Use warm compresses: Wet a 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.
  • Clean the area: Use antibacterial soap to wash the affected area. Change your washcloths and towels every day.
  • Avoid shaving 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: Do not share towels, soap, or any personal items with other people.
  • Do not wear tight clothing: Do not wear tight-fitting clothes that rub against and irritate your skin.
  • Treat skin injuries right away: Treat injuries such as cuts and scrapes right away. Wash them with warm, soapy water, and cover the area to prevent infection.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You develop large areas of red, warm, tender skin around the folliculitis.
  • You develop boils.

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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