How to Treat Folliculitis

January 26, 2022

Man with folliculitis on neck

Apart from the palms of hands, soles of feet, and lips, the whole body is covered with hair follicles, the small openings where hairs grow, so it’s no surprise that folliculitis is one of the most common skin conditions in the world. It occurs when hair follicles become infected or inflamed. According to Dr. Arathi Rana of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Sherman and Paris, Texas, “The good news about folliculitis is that it’s not life-threatening or highly dangerous. The bad news is that folliculitis can be very painful, and some people struggle with this common skin condition throughout their lives. However, there is one more piece of good news. Folliculitis does typically respond well to treatment, so your dermatologist can help you manage the side effects and get the condition under control quickly.” In this blog, you can learn more about how to treat folliculitis, prevention steps, and more basics about this common skin condition from Dr. Rana.

What Is Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is a common skin condition that can impact men and women. It can develop anywhere that hair grows, but it most commonly develops on the neck, thighs, buttocks, and underarms. Folliculitis develops when the hair follicle is clogged, an ingrown hair causes blockage and irritation, or the hair follicle is infected by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Dr. Rana says, “Folliculitis can be thought of as more of an umbrella term rather than a specific skin condition. It refers to a range of skin concerns that all impact the hair follicles. In most cases, you’ll hear dermatologists talk about folliculitis as being either superficial or deep.”

Superficial folliculitis may refer to any of the following types of folliculitis:

  • Pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps) – This type of folliculitis is caused by ingrown hairs that are closely linked to shaving.
  • Pseudomonas folliculitis (hot tub folliculitis) – This type of folliculitis is caused by an infection of the pseudomonas bacteria, which is commonly found in hot tubs and heated pools.
  • Bacterial folliculitis – This most common form of folliculitis is also caused by a bacterial infection of the hair follicle. The source is typically the staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria that naturally live on the skin.
  • Pityrosporum folliculitis – This type of folliculitis is caused by a yeast infection, and it most often develops on the back and chest.

Deep folliculitis may refer to any of the following types of folliculitis:

  • Sycosis barbae – This type of deep folliculitis is most common in young men who have just started shaving.
  • Boils, furuncles, and carbuncles – If staph bacteria penetrates deep into the hair follicle, it can create boils or furuncles, which are individual infected bumps, and carbuncles are a cluster of boils.
  • Eosinophilic folliculitis – This type of deep folliculitis is most common among individuals with compromised immune systems, including those who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
  • Gram-negative folliculitis – This type of folliculitis is caused by long-term antibiotic therapy for acne.

What Are the Symptoms of Folliculitis?

According to Dr. Rana, “Each type of folliculitis has slightly different symptoms, but by knowing the general warning signs and taking steps to care for your skin at the first signs of folliculitis, you can avoid more severe side effects.” Some of the most common symptoms of folliculitis include:

  • Red or white bumps on or around the hair follicles
  • Blisters, sores, or pimples on or around the hair follicle
  • Itching, stinging, burning skin in the affected area
  • Sensitive, painful, or tender skin in the affected area

Deep folliculitis has many of the same symptoms, but they are more severe. Rather than small bumps or pimples, there are large, swollen lumps. Pain, itching, and discomfort are also increased in deep folliculitis.

How Is Folliculitis Diagnosed?

Dr. Rana says, “A visual examination and careful review of health history is typically all that’s necessary to diagnose folliculitis. If the condition proves resistant to treatment, I may perform more advanced diagnostic tests like dermoscopy, skin swabs, or biopsies that look at the infected skin on the microscopic level to more clearly determine the underlying cause and point to a more specified treatment plan.”

How Is Folliculitis Treated?

When it comes to folliculitis treatment, Dr. Rana says, “Most treatments for folliculitis are topical creams, but less is often more. When hair follicles are irritated, inflamed, and infected, piling on topical treatments can cause more discomfort, so it’s important to follow your dermatologist’s folliculitis treatment instructions closely. To minimize folliculitis symptoms, keep the area clean, apply warm compresses, and use salt water or white vinegar compresses.”

In addition to these at-home care steps to address the common symptoms of folliculitis, your dermatologist may also recommend the following treatments:

  • Antibiotic or antifungal gels, creams, or shampoos
  • Oral antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral medications
  • Oral or topical steroids to address swelling, inflammation, and irritation
  • Surgically draining or removing large boils or carbuncles
  • Laser hair removal may be recommended for individuals struggling with chronic folliculitis

Can I Prevent Folliculitis?

According to Dr. Rana, “For most people, the easiest way to prevent folliculitis is to stop shaving. If you do want to continue removing hair, you can switch to depilatories or electric razors that are less likely to cause folliculitis. If you do want to shave, make sure you always start with clean skin. You can also soak your skin in warm water before shaving and allow shaving cream or gel to sit on the skin for several minutes. This softens the hair and skin, further reducing the risk of irritation. Use a new, single-blade razor. Finally, apply a moisturizing lotion after shaving to soothe and rehydrate skin.”

In addition to changing up your hair removal plan, you can take the following preventive steps:

  • Keep skin clean, dry, and well-hydrated.
  • Treat any small sores, cuts, or skin irritation right away.
  • Avoid friction and irritation in areas commonly affected. Wear loose-fitting clothes, adjust straps on clothing or bags to minimize friction, and pinpoint and remove other sources of irritation.
  • Do not reuse towels or washcloths, and clean sheets and bedding frequently.
  • Don’t use hot tubs, Jacuzzis, or heated pools unless you’re certain the water is regularly cleaned.

Ready to Get Started Treating Folliculitis at U.S. Dermatology Partners?

If you need help treating folliculitis, take a few minutes to fill out the simple online scheduling request form to get in touch with the U.S. Dermatology Partners location nearest to your home. Once we receive your request, a member of our local U.S. Dermatology Partners team will be in touch to finalize the details of your visit.

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