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What is folliculitis?

Folliculitis is a skin condition caused by inflamed or infected hair follicles. It can occur at any age but is more common in adults. Folliculitis can cause small, painful spots or pustules to form where the hair grows out of the skin. It can affect anywhere that hair grows, but is most common on the face, scalp, thighs, underarms and groin. Many hair follicles in one area may be affected. Most cases of folliculitis are not serious and may go away on their own. Deeper forms may result in scarring or permanent hair loss if the follicle is damaged, but that is rare.

Picture of Folliculitis

Image: Folliculitis. Scattered follicular-based erythematous papules and pustules.
Color Atlas & Synopsis of Pediatric Dermatology
Kay Shou-Mei Kane, Jen Bissonette Ryder, Richard Allen Johnson, Howard P. Baden, Alexander Stratigos
Copyright 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved.

Symptoms of folliculitis

Symptoms of folliculitis may include:

  • Red, itchy and/or painful skin
  • Pus filled spots or swellings

Causes of folliculitis

Folliculitis is often caused by some kind of friction damage to the skin that triggers infection or inflammation. Causes may include:

Less common causes include:

  • Viral or fungal infection - such as yeasts or herpes viruses
  • Mite infection - caused by parasites that live in hair follicles
  • A weak immune system - for example, people with HIV are more susceptible
  • Steroid creams - may sometimes trigger a bout of folliculitis
  • Hirsutism - folliculitis may be a complication of excess hair growth in women

Other types of folliculitis include:

  • Sycosis barbae - long-term folliculitis usually seen in the beard area and upper lip in men. Skin can become crusty and painful to shave
  • Gram-negative folliculitis - causes many, small spots and pustules on the cheeks, chin and around the nose. It is often seen in people with acne who have been treated with long-term oral antibiotics
  • Fungal folliculitis - sometimes called “barber’s itch”. It is caused by a dermatophytic infection in the beard area of men. It is common among farmers and other agricultural workers
  • Pseudo-folliculitis - this may look similar to folliculitis, but isn’t true folliculitis. It is caused by ingrowing hairs and can sometimes cause scarring. The condition is more common in the African-Caribbean community
  • Folliculitis decalvens - a rare chronic condition of the scalp. Inflammation may be long-term and lead to scarring.

Folliculitis self-help treatment

Mild cases of folliculitis may go away on their own or you can try a number of self-help options such as:

  • Clean the area gently with antiseptic products
  • Don’t shave, wax or pluck the area until symptoms have cleared
  • Take a daily bath or shower and change towels, bedding and clothes often
  • Don’t scratch the affected area, and wash hands thoroughly after contact
  • Avoid friction from tight clothing and stay cool to avoid sweating

Medication for folliculitis

Your GP will recommend medication depending on the type of follulitis. This may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungal medication
  • Antiviral medication
  • Topical steroids may be used when chronic inflammation has developed.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 28, 2017

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