What is Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is a curable infection of the hair follicles caused by bacteria or a fungus. Each hair on your body grows from an opening in your skin called a follicle. Sometimes, bacteria can get into these follicles and cause infection. Folliculitis can also be called “hot tub rash” or “barber’s itch.”

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How Dangerous is Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is usually not dangerous. Most cases of folliculitis go away on their own in about a week. However, more severe infections may cause permanent hair loss or scarring, and medication may be needed to kill the bacteria.

How do I get Folliculitis?

Anyone can get folliculitis, but certain things may make you more susceptible to infection. For example:

  • Preexisting skin damage, such as from acne or dermatitis
  • Use of topical (applied) corticosteroid creams
  • Obesity
  • Trauma from injury or surgery
  • Patients with suppressed or weak immune systems, like people with diabetes, HIV/ AIDS, chronic leukemia, or patients who have had an organ transplant
  • Wearing tight clothes that trap heat for extended periods of time
  • Exposure to hot water for long periods of time, like a hot tub or Jacuzzi. Folliculitis usually appears within 72 hours after the hot tub, and usually appear on the stomach, arms, and legs

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Signs of Folliculitis

The most common areas of folliculitis are places on the body that get rubbed by clothing, like the legs or groin. The face and scalp are also common areas, because of irritation caused by shaving, sweating, oils, or makeup.

Folliculitis looks like small red or white pimples. However, the difference between folliculitis and regular pimples is that there is a hair in the middle of each “pimple.” The small bumps may itch, burn, or ooze pus. When they burst, pus or blood can come out.

Severe folliculitis can cause deep, painful boils or scarring. Permanent hair loss can result if the infection destroys the hair follicle.

How is Folliculitis diagnosed?

Folliculitis is diagnosed by looking at the skin. Usually, no tests are needed. If treatment does not work, then your doctor may take a sample of fluid from some of the bumps and send it to a laboratory to find out exactly what kind of bacteria or fungus is causing the infection, to give more specific treatments.

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How is Folliculitis Treated?

Most mild cases of folliculitis usually go away on their own within 2 weeks. There are some things you can do at home to help the healing process and to prevent the infection from spreading, such as:

Keep the infected areas clean by gently washing twice a day with antibacterial soap or with over the counter antibiotic ointment. Make sure to dry thoroughly

  • Avoid irritating the skin further – avoid shaving, picking, or scratching the skin
  • To relieve any pain, apply a warm, moist compress to the area. Warm compresses with white vinegar can also help
  • To prevent the infection from spreading to other areas of your body, and to prevent infecting others, don’t share anything that has touched the infected area, such as clothes, towels, or washcloths. Wash the clothes that cover the infected area after each wearing. Use hot, soapy water

More severe or lasting cases may need to be treated with antibiotic or anti-fungal creams prescribed by your doctor. Call your doctor if the infection doesn’t go away on its own after 2 weeks, comes back, becomes worse, or if you have a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit / 38.3 degrees Celsius. It may be a more severe case of folliculitis, or it may be something else altogether, such as a heat rash.

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How can you prevent folliculitis?

There is no vaccine for folliculitis. The best way to prevent folliculitis is to avoid irritating the skin and to keep your skin clean:

  • Bathe or shower daily and after sweating
  • Don’t wear clothes that are too tight
  • Avoid sharing personal items like towels, and make sure to wash your clothes and towels thoroughly
  • Don’t scratch or shave the bumps
  • If you must shave, try using a hair removal cream instead, or be sure to change the razor each time
  • After using hot tubs or spas, make sure to shower right away. If you own a hot tub, make sure to properly maintain it and keep it clean

Women can sometimes get a so-called bartholinitis on their inner labia. In this case there is no hair follicle inflammation, but a blocked pubic gland which leads to the development of a cyst.

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