Definition

Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicle. It can occur anywhere on your skin or scalp. There are many types of folliculitis.

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Causes

Folliculitis has many causes. It may be infectious or noninfectious.

Infectious folliculitis is caused by:

  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Viruses
  • Parasites

Non-infectious folliculitis may be caused by:

  • Shaving
  • Irritation from clothing
  • Certain medications
  • Chemical exposure
  • Sun exposure
  • Missing nutrients in your diet

Contact dermatitis (poison ivy), acne, or rosacea may also cause folliculitis.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chances of folliculitis include:

  • A suppressed immune system
  • Exposure to bacterial infection
  • Having other skin conditions, especially those that cause a lot of itching
  • Shaving against the direction of hair growth
  • Use of contaminated hot tubs, poorly maintained swimming pools, or contaminated lakes
  • Exposure to oils and chemicals
  • Overuse of topical medications

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Itchy, red rash
  • Appearance of crusty sores that don’t heal
  • Pus-filled blisters around the hair follicle

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis may be made by looking at your skin. Testing will help your doctor determine the type and cause of the folliculitis. Other tests may be done to rule out specific skin or health conditions.

Tests may include:

  • Culture—a swab of an open area to look for infections
  • Smear—a sample an open area is smeared onto a glass slide to be looked at under a microscope
  • Analysis of affected hair
  • Biopsy of affected skin
  • Blood tests

Treatment

In most cases, folliculitis is treated with medication. The type of medication depends on the cause of the folliculitis. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment option for you.

Infectious folliculitis may be treated with:

  • Bacterial infections are treated with topical or oral antibiotics
  • Fungal infections are treated with topical or oral antifungal medications
  • Viral infections are treated with oral antiviral medications
  • Parasitic infections are treated with topical or oral antiparasitic medications

Non-infectious folliculitis may be treated with:

  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting folliculitis, take these steps:

  • Be aware of, and avoid exposure to chemicals, especially at work
  • Avoid shaving against direction of hair growth
  • Use proper hygiene and handwashing techniques
  • Clean and maintain pools and hot tubs on a regular basis