Folliculitis describes a rash of small red bumps and pustules that may itch or be mildly painful. These result from inflamed hair follicles in the skin.

Hair follicles grow on all parts of the body except the palms and soles, so folliculitis can appear nearly anywhere.

Mild cases are common and clear up without any treatment after several days. Some cases may, however, require medical treatment.

There are several reasons that hair follicles might become inflamed, including:

  • Bacterial infection. An infection by staphylococcus (“staph”) is the most common cause of folliculitis. Folliculitis can also result from an infection by bacteria that grow in inadequately chlorinated hot tubs.
  • The regrowth of hair. This may occur on a man’s face or woman’s legs after shaving.
  • Fungal infections, such as those that cause ringworm
  • Friction from tight clothing
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Occlusion of the hair follicles by plastic, tight bandages or chemicals, such as coal tar or creosote (roofers)

Speak to your doctor if the rash does not improve after two or three days, appears to spread, recurs often, or is accompanied by a fever or a more general feeling of being ill. These may be signs that antibiotics or other medications could be helpful.

Mild folliculitis can be managed at home:

  • Wash the skin twice a day with antibacterial soap.
  • Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment.
  • Avoid shaving irritated skin. If you must shave, use an electric razor rather than a blade.
  • Apply a warm, moist washcloth or compress to the affected area several times a day.
  • Don't share towels and washcloths with others. Launder them with soap and hot water after every use.
  • Wash clothes that touch the infected after each use.

If treatment is recommended, the treatment plan will depend on the suspected cause and severity of symptoms.

Folliculitis may be avoided by following these steps:

  • Shave with care. Use an electric razor or a new blade every time you shave. Keep the shaved area clean and to avoid cuts and nicks.
  • Avoid constrictive clothing. Tight clothes, especially jeans and athletic wear, can be chafing,
  • Avoid hot tubs that are not well maintained (and if you own a hot tub, maintain the chlorine levels and pH as recommended).

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Last updated: 5/13/2022