What is folliculitis?
Folliculitis is an inflammation affecting the hair follicles, which are the hair-producing pores on the skin. It is quite common and is usually harmless in itself, but can be irritating
Folliculitis causes a rash with clusters of red bumps or whiteheads, each with a hair in the middle. These can become itchy or sore, and there may be pus. It can occur anywhere on the body where there is hair. If an infection is more severe or deeper under the skin, you may feel feverish or unwell.
What causes folliculitis?
Folliculitis is caused by an infection from bacteria, a virus or fungus. It can also be caused by irritation from chemicals or some skin conditions.
The most common bacteria that cause the condition are Staphylococcus aureus, which is commonly found on the skin, and Pseudomonas, which can be found in swimming pools or spas if they are not well chlorinated (called hot tub folliculitis).
Other causes include parasites, yeasts infections such as tinea and some viruses like herpes. Skin irritation and ingrown hairs can also cause folliculitis.
It sometimes happens after shaving. It is also more common in people who have diabetes, are very overweight, take antibiotics long-term, have low immunity or use oily skincare products.
How is folliculitis treated?
If you think you might have folliculitis, consult a doctor for advice on what treatments to try.
Treatment depends on the cause, whether bacterial, fungal or irritation.
Mild folliculitis often settles down with an antiseptic wash. More severe folliculitis might need antibiotic ointment or tablets. If the infection has progressed into a large boil, this may need draining by a doctor.
If you have folliculitis from shaving, taking a break from shaving can help it settle down. Use plenty of gel (not soap) when shaving and avoid shaving against the grain.
Try to keep your skin cool and free of sweat, friction and constriction. Wear loose cotton clothing and choose oil-free skin products. When you use your ointment, rub it into the skin in the direction of the hair follicles
Can folliculitis be prevented?
Keeping your skin clean and dry can help prevent folliculitis. Avoid irritating the skin. Choose skin products that do not clog the pores. Wear breathable clothing and change wet or sweaty clothes promptly.
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Last reviewed: March 2021