Folliculitis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Folliculitis is a skin condition you might encounter, marked by the inflammation of hair follicles. When you have this condition, the severity of the inflammation can range from mild, with superficial red bumps, to more serious cases involving deeper infections that affect skin health, appearance, and confidence.

Folliculitis can also lead to hair loss when the condition affects the scalp or beard area, where it can damage hair follicles over time. 

Aside from the risks of a more serious condition, prolonged bouts of folliculitis may cause hyperpigmentation, leading to darkened patches of skin during the healing process. 

This is more evident if you have a darker skin tone, which might be temporary but can also remain for an extended period.

Understanding the causes and symptoms of folliculitis is crucial, as it helps in better management and treatment of the condition. 

Causes of Folliculitis

Folliculitis can occur from a variety of causes. Understanding these can help you avoid or manage this condition effectively.

Bacterial Infection

Often, folliculitis is caused by a bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria usually live harmlessly on your skin but can cause problems when they enter your body through a cut or other wound. 

If you’ve been in a hot tub or used a public pool recently, you may have been exposed to Pseudomonas aeruginosa and developed a condition more commonly known as ‘hot tub folliculitis.’ 

They potentially infect the hair follicles characterized by itchy, red blisters and bumps that appear one to four days after exposure.

Infection by Fungi 

Another common cause of folliculitis is a yeast or fungus, such as dermatophytes or Pityrosporum ovale (Malassezia). These organisms can cause an inflamed, scaly rash on hair-covered parts of your body.

Prolonged oral or topical antibiotic usage can upset the balance of the skin flora and favor fungal overgrowth.

Indirect Virus Infections

Viruses, such as herpes simplex or HIV, can also cause folliculitis. The herpes simplex virus, which also causes cold sores, can lead to ‘herpetic folliculitis.’ This type of folliculitis often affects the beard area after shaving.

If you’re living with HIV or another condition that weakens your immune system, you may be more susceptible to folliculitis. Your body’s reduced ability to fight infection allows the viruses to invade your hair follicles easily, causing inflammation and rash.

Blocked Pores and Ingrown Hairs

If you have follicles that are blocked with oil or debris, such as dead skin cells and comedogenic makeup, this can lead to folliculitis. You’ll likely notice small red or white-headed pimples appear around your hair follicles.

In some cases, folliculitis is caused by ingrown hairs. These hairs curl back on themselves and re-enter the skin, causing an immune response. If your hair is naturally curly or coarse, or if you frequently shave, wax, or tweeze, you are at a higher risk for ingrown hairs.

Poor personal hygiene can contribute to follicle blockage. Be sure to wash your skin regularly with a gentle cleanser to minimize your risk.

Irritation and Friction

Frequent irritation of your skin can lead to folliculitis. This can happen when the friction from your clothing rubs against your skin, irritating the follicles and causing inflammation or infection.

Exposure to certain chemicals can also cause folliculitis. This includes substances like coal tar, pitch, and creosote. They can irritate the skin and damage the hair follicles, leading to inflammation.

Activities that raise your body temperature and induce sweating can also irritate your skin. Examples include hot yoga, wearing heavy or tight clothing, or using abrasive skin products.

Weak Immune System

If your immune system is compromised, either due to a condition or because of medication, you might be more susceptible to folliculitis. 

This is because your body has less ability to fight off the bacteria, viruses, or fungi that can cause the condition.

Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, often impact the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections, including folliculitis.

Skin Problems

Certain chronic skin conditions, such as acne or dermatitis, can increase your chance of experiencing folliculitis. These conditions result in inflammation of the skin, which can compromise the walls of the hair follicles.

Similarly, if you have a history of skin conditions, you may be more likely to develop folliculitis due to damaged hair follicles.

Signs and Symptoms of Folliculitis

When suspecting folliculitis, recognizing symptoms and obtaining a proper diagnosis are critical. It’s important you take note of any skin changes and seek medical attention appropriately.

Red and Inflamed Skin

One common symptom of folliculitis is red, inflamed skin. This often starts as small red bumps or pimples around your hair follicles.

The inflamed areas can be tender or itchy and might have a burning sensation. Over time, the bumps can enlarge and become more uncomfortable, especially if the infection spreads.

Pain or Itching

Folliculitis is often accompanied by symptoms such as pain and itching. This is particularly common in areas where friction is frequent, such as the thighs, armpits, pubic area, or neck.

The discomfort can worsen if the area is further irritated by clothing or physical activities. Scratching the affected area can worsen the infection and spread it to the surrounding skin.


In some situations, the inflammation caused by folliculitis can expand to form a large swollen bump or mass. This happens when the infection goes deeper into the skin, affecting not only the hair follicle but surrounding tissue as well.

This type of folliculitis is usually much more painful and can cause long-term damage to your skin, including scarring.

Fluid-Filled Blisters

In more severe cases of folliculitis, the bumps may fill with pus, forming what are known as pustules. These blisters may burst, leading to the spread of the infection to surrounding areas of your skin. 

Pus-filled blisters are usually painful and itchy. They can also bleed or leave a scar when they eventually heal.

Home Remedies for Folliculitis

As you navigate the discomfort of folliculitis, you might be seeking relief without a trip to the doctor’s office. Fortunately, several home remedies can alleviate your symptoms and speed up your recovery. 

Warm Compress

Applying a warm compress to the affected areas can help soothe the skin and reduce inflammation. The warmth also promotes circulation, helping your body expedite the healing process.

For this remedy, soak a clean cloth in warm water, wring out the excess liquid, and place it on the inflamed area for a few minutes. Repeat this multiple times throughout the day.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a popular home remedy thanks to its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. This plant can help relieve itching and inflammation, promoting faster healing of folliculitis.

To use aloe vera, apply a thin layer of fresh aloe vera gel directly on the infected area. Leave it on for about 20 minutes before rinsing it off.


Turmeric contains an active ingredient called curcumin, known for its powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Making a paste of turmeric and applying it to the affected area may help alleviate the symptoms.

Mix turmeric powder with water or coconut oil to form a paste, apply it on the area, and after about 20 minutes gently rinse it off. But be aware, as turmeric can stain your skin and clothes.

White Vinegar Rinse

Rinsing your skin with diluted white vinegar can serve as an effective home remedy for folliculitis. The acetic acid in the vinegar has antibacterial properties that can help kill the infection-causing bacteria.

Mix white vinegar with warm water in a 1:2 ratio and apply this mixture gently on the affected areas using a clean cloth. Rinse it off after 20 minutes. Always remember, however, that long-term use of vinegar can disrupt the skin’s pH balance.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is known for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, making it a versatile home remedy for conditions including folliculitis. It can help reduce inflammation and eliminate bacteria.

To use tea tree oil for folliculitis, mix a few drops with a carrier oil (like coconut oil) and apply this blend to the affected areas. Be careful not to use tea tree oil undiluted, as it can be too strong and potentially irritating for some skin types.

Over-The-Counter Creams

You can find plenty of over-the-counter (OTC) creams that contain ingredients effective for alleviating the symptoms of folliculitis. Creams with benzoyl peroxide, for example, have antibacterial properties that can help eliminate the bacteria causing the infection.

OTC anti-itch creams or those containing hydrocortisone will relieve itching and reduce inflammation. Always follow the instructions carefully.

Medical Treatment for Folliculitis

Whether your infection is mild or severe, a professional healthcare provider can guide you to the most appropriate treatment. Here’s a guide to the medical treatments available for this condition:

Skin Applied Antimicrobials

Topical antibiotics are often the first line of defense against folliculitis. They kill or inhibit bacteria’s growth, reducing inflammation and allowing the skin to heal.

Your healthcare provider might prescribe a topical antifungal or antiviral cream or lotion. These kill the pathogens causing the infection and reduce inflammation.

You’ll need to apply these topically to the affected areas as directed by your doctor or the instructions on the packet, usually once or twice a day on the affected area until the infection clears.

Oral Medications

If your folliculitis is severe or doesn’t respond to topical treatments, your doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics, antifungal, or antiviral medications. 

These can tackle the infection more effectively, helping your body fight off the bacteria depending on what caused the folliculitis or the underlying condition of the infection.

Vitamin A-Based Medication

For stubborn cases of folliculitis that don’t respond to other treatments, your healthcare provider might recommend retinoids. Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that can unclog pores, allowing other medicines to work better.

The use of retinoids should be under the supervision of a dermatologist as they can cause side effects such as dry skin and increased sensitivity to the sun.

Pain and Swelling Pills and Cream

If the inflammation is particularly severe, your doctor might prescribe a steroid cream or, in some cases, oral corticosteroids. These medications reduce inflammation and can alleviate the symptoms of folliculitis.

These treatments can have side effects, so they’re typically used for shorter periods or as a last resort.

Procedures to Address Folliculitis

For cases when the infection is recurrent or does not respond to oral and topical treatments, your healthcare provider may offer further options to address the condition, as there are clinical procedures to help manage or prevent folliculitis.

Laser Hair Removal

In some cases, when folliculitis is chronic or recurrent, your doctor might recommend laser hair removal.

This treatment removes the hair and destroys the hair follicle, preventing future infections.

Minor Surgery and Drainage

For folliculitis that forms large, painful nodules (boils or carbuncles), your healthcare provider might recommend an incision and drainage procedure.

This involves making a small cut into the boil and draining the pus.

Light Therapy

In extreme cases, photodynamic therapy might be an option. This treatment involves applying a photosensitizing agent to the skin, which is then activated with a light source.

The activated agent destroys the problematic bacteria, helping to clear the folliculitis. This treatment might not be widely available and is usually considered only for severe, unresponsive cases of folliculitis.

Preventing Folliculitis

Preventing folliculitis involves a combination of good hygiene practices, skincare, and lifestyle adjustments. Here are some effective ways to reduce the risk of developing folliculitis:

Proper Hygiene

Maintaining proper hygiene is a key factor in preventing folliculitis. Shower regularly, especially after sweating, to remove oils and bacteria that may block follicles.

Also, make sure to wash your hands often, particularly before touching your face or other areas with hair follicles. This can help keep harmful bacteria at bay.

Avoid Sharing Personal Items

Avoid sharing personal items such as razors, towels, or clothes. These items can harbor bacteria and might transfer from one person to another.

Always use your own clean personal items. If you have a cut or a wound, ensure it’s properly covered to prevent bacteria from entering the follicles.

Proper Shaving Techniques

Incorrect shaving techniques can lead to folliculitis. If using a razor, always shave in the direction of your hair growth. Use a sharp blade and avoid close shaves.

For better results, apply shaving cream or gel before shaving to soften the hair. After shaving, rinse your skin thoroughly to remove any trapped hairs or residues.

Clean Clothing and Beddings

Dirty clothes and bedding can harbor bacteria. Change and wash your clothes and bedding regularly, and use hot water if possible.

With clothing, opt for breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics that minimize friction and sweating.

Minimize Skin Injury Risk

Avoid activities that can damage your hair follicles and cause inflammation. This includes avoiding tight clothing that causes friction and refraining from unnecessary skin picking or scratching.

Even when suffering from an itch or rash, try not to scratch it. Instead, soothe the area with a cool compress or an over-the-counter itch relief cream.

Safe Hot Tubs and Pools Usage

Ensure that the hot tubs and swimming pools you use are well-maintained and disinfected. Neglected water bodies can harbor bacteria, leading to ‘hot tub folliculitis.’

After you’ve finished swimming, always thoroughly wash off with soap and water. This can help remove any bacteria that might have clung to your skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is folliculitis, and what are its causes?

Folliculitis is a common skin condition characterized by inflammation of the hair follicles.

It can be caused by bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus or Pseudomonas aeruginosa, fungal infections, such as dermatophytes or Pityrosporum ovale (Malassezia), viral infections like herpes simplex or HIV, and irritation and friction from clothing, certain chemicals, blocked follicles, or immune system disorders.

What are the common symptoms of folliculitis?

Folliculitis symptoms often include red and inflamed skin around hair follicles, pus-filled blisters, pain or itching, and swelling.

In prolonged cases, it could also lead to hair loss and skin darkening once the inflammation subsides and the skin starts to heal.

What home remedies can help manage folliculitis?

Certain home remedies are effective for relieving symptoms of folliculitis. These include applying a warm compress, using aloe vera, making a turmeric paste, and using tea tree oil.

Other helpful measures are rinsing the skin with diluted white vinegar and using over-the-counter creams that contain antibacterial or anti-itch properties.

What medical treatments are available for folliculitis?

There are various effective medical treatments available to manage folliculitis. For bacterial infections, doctors often recommend using antibacterial creams or lotions, and in more severe cases, oral antibiotics or topical antibiotics may be prescribed.

Fungal-related folliculitis can be treated with antifungal medications, while antiviral medications are useful for viral causes. Retinoids and steroid creams, or oral corticosteroids, are options for reducing inflammation and treating severe symptoms.

Laser hair removal can be an effective solution for chronic or recurrent folliculitis, especially due to ingrown hairs. In extreme cases, medical procedures like incision and drainage or photodynamic therapy may be necessary for relief and healing.

How can one prevent folliculitis?

Preventing folliculitis requires good hygiene practices, proper skin care, and lifestyle adjustments.

It involves maintaining personal hygiene, avoiding sharing personal items, adopting proper shaving techniques, keeping clothes and bedding clean, avoiding unnecessary skin trauma, practicing safe usage of hot tubs and pools, and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.