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 nonhealing, 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.
Certain types of folliculitis are known as hot tub rash, razor bumps and barber’s itch.
It may be caused by bacteria. It also can be caused by yeast or another type of fungus.
You may get folliculitis if you have damaged hair follicles. Shaving or wearing clothes that rub the skin can irritate the follicles, which can lead to folliculitis. They also can become blocked or irritated by sweat, machine oils, or makeup. When the follicles are injured, they are more likely to become infected.
You are more likely to get folliculitis if you:
- Use a hot tub, whirlpool, or swimming pool that is not properly treated with chlorine.
- Wear tight clothes.
- Use or work with substances that can irritate or block the follicles. Examples include makeup, cocoa butter, motor oil, tar, and creosote.
- Have an infected cut, scrape, or surgical wound. The bacteria or fungi can spread to nearby hair follicles.
- Have a disease such as diabetes or HIV that lowers your ability to fight infection.
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
- Red and inflamed skin
- Itchy or burning skin
- Tenderness or pain
- A large swollen bump or mass
Your doctor will check your skin and ask about your health and activities. He or she may do tests to find out what is causing your folliculitis and to make sure you don’t have a different problem, such as impetigo or heat rash. Testing a sample of the fluid in the pimples or a sample of tissue can help your doctor learn what is causing the infection.
Mild folliculitis usually heals on its own in about 2 weeks. You can take care of yourself at home with:
- Warm compresses made with saltwater or Burow’s solution. These may ease itching and help healing. To make a warm compress, soak a hand towel in warm water that you have added salt or Burow’s solution to. Wring out the excess water, and place the towel on the affected skin.
- Medicated shampoo. It can be used to treat folliculitis on the scalp or beard.
If the inflammation gets worse or doesn’t go away, you may need to see your doctor. He or she may prescribe medicine, such as an antibiotic.
- It spreads or keeps coming back.
- You have a fever over 101 °F (38 °C).
- The affected area becomes red, swollen, warm, or more painful.
- When you have folliculitis, avoid friction caused by shaving or rubbing the infected area.
- Shave only in the direction that hair is growing, or use an electric razor.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing, especially rough fabrics like denim.
- Use lotions to keep skin moisturized (but look for lotions that do not clog pores).
- Apply cortisone cream to the infected areas to reduce itching.
- Use a warm compress to calm irritation and reduce pain
- Wash your towels and washcloths every day until all symptoms have subsided.