Folliculitis is a common skin condition in which hair follicles become inflamed. It’s usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. At first, it may look like small red bumps or white-headed pimples around hair follicles — the tiny pockets from which each hair grows. The infection can spread and turn into non-healing, crusty sores.
The condition isn’t life-threatening, but it can be itchy, sore, and embarrassing. Severe infections can cause permanent hair loss and scarring.
If you have a mild case, it’ll likely clear in a few days with basic self-care measures. For more serious or recurring folliculitis, you may need to see a doctor for prescription medicine.
Certain types of folliculitis are known as hot tub rash, razor bumps, and barber’s itch.
- Image showing hot tub folliculitis
- Hot tub folliculitis
- Image of pseudofolliculitis barbae
- Pseudofolliculitis barbae
- Image showing carbuncle
Folliculitis signs and symptoms include:
- Clusters of small red bumps or white-headed pimples that develop around hair follicles
- Pus-filled blisters that break open and crust over
- Itchy, burning skin
- Painful, tender skin
- A large swollen bump or mass
Folliculitis is most often caused by an infection of hair follicles with Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. Folliculitis may also be caused by viruses, fungi, and even an inflammation from ingrown hairs.
Follicles are densest on your scalp, and they occur everywhere on your body except your palms, soles, lips, and mucous membranes
Types of folliculitis
The two main types of folliculitis are superficial and deep. The superficial type involves part of the follicle, and the deep type involves the entire follicle and is usually more severe.
Forms of superficial folliculitis include:
- Bacterial folliculitis.
- Hot tub folliculitis (pseudomonas folliculitis)
- Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae).
- Pityrosporum folliculitis. .
Forms of deep folliculitis include:
- Sycosis barbae.
- Gram-negative folliculitis.
- Boils and carbuncles.
- Eosinophilic folliculitis.
Treatments for folliculitis depend on the type and severity of your condition, what self-care measures you’ve already tried, and your preferences. Options include medications and interventions such as laser hair removal. Even if the treatment helps, the infection may come back.
- Creams or pills to control infection
- Creams, shampoos, or pills to fight fungal infections
- Creams or pills to reduce inflammation.
- Minor surgery. If you have a large boil or carbuncle, your doctor may make a small incision in it to drain the pus. This may relieve pain, speed recovery, and lessen scarring. Your doctor may then cover the area with sterile gauze in case pus continues to drain.
- Laser hair removal. If other treatments fail, long-term hair removal with laser therapy may clear up the infection. This method is expensive and often requires several treatments. It permanently removes hair follicles, thus reducing the density of the hair in the treated area. Other possible side effects include discolored skin, scarring, and blistering.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Mild cases of folliculitis often improve with home care. The following approaches may help relieve discomfort, speed healing, and prevent an infection from spreading:
- Apply a warm, moist washcloth or compress. Do this several times a day to relieve discomfort and help the area drain, if needed. Moisten the compress with a saltwater solution (1 teaspoon of table salt in 2 cups of water).
- Apply over-the-counter antibiotics. Try various nonprescription infection-fighting gels, creams, and washes.
- Apply soothing lotions. Try relieving itchy skin with a soothing lotion or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.
- Clean the affected skin. Gently wash the infected skin twice a day with antibacterial soap. Use a clean washcloth and towel each time and don’t share your towels or washcloths. Use hot, soapy water to wash these items. And wash clothing that has touched the affected area.
- Protect the skin. If possible, stop shaving, as most cases of barber’s itch clear up a few weeks after you stop shaving.