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What is folliculitis?

Folliculitis is a skin condition that develops when a hair follicle (small pouches in your skin where your hair grows from) becomes infected.

A mild case will normally clear up on its own without medical treatment within 10 days. However, if you have severe folliculitis or if it is recurring, it is a good idea to see a GP, as it can turn into a long-term condition.

Folliculitis symptoms

The symptoms of folliculitis include:

  • Small red bumps around hair follicles.
  • These bumps can then develop into pus-filled white-headed pimples - much like the ones you get on your face.
  • The pimples may pop and a crust may form.
  • Burning, itchy, painful or swollen skin.

Types of folliculitis

There are a number of different types of folliculitis, some of which are mentioned below:

Sycosis barbae

This is a long-term case of folliculitis that appears on the upper lip and beard area in men (and in rarer cases, in women). It is difficult to treat, causing painful crusts on the skin, which are aggravated with shaving or when scratched.

Hot tub folliculitis

The hot water in a hot tub can be a breeding ground for bacteria, which can increase your risk of developing folliculitis. If you do use hot tubs a lot, make sure it is properly maintained and the water contains chlorine to help keep it clean.

Gram-negative folliculitis

If severe acne is treated with antibiotics, a certain bacteria can cause the condition to develop.

Fungal folliculitis

This is a fungal/yeast infection found on hair follicles.

Folliculitis decalvens

This is a rare type of folliculitis of the scalp and can be long-term and lead to scarring.

Pseudo-folliculitis (ingrowing hairs)

This is caused by ingrowing hairs and although it is not actually folliculitis, the symptoms are very similar. The hair can curl around and grow back into your skin, rather than growing out of it. This causes red spots, which can become infected with bacteria or a fungus, sometimes leading to pus-filled sacs developing on your skin. It is not life threatening but can be itchy and embarrassing.

The condition can affect any area of your body, but commonly happens on women’s legs, bikini line and armpits, or in the beard area in men – which are all places that are commonly shaved. It is also more common in people who have curly hair.

Folliculitis causes

Folliculitis is usually caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). Sometimes it can be caused by a fungus or other foreign body found on the skin.

In a lot of cases, the hair follicles are damaged by some shaving, such as on the face or legs, or it can affect areas where the follicles become blocked because of things like sweating, such as armpits.

Folliculitis treatment

The symptoms that you have will usually go away on their own within 10 days. During this time, try to avoid itching the area, and try not to shave it either. There are some folliculitis home treatment methods you can also try:

  • Warm water compress - use warm water on a small towel and wring out the excess water. Apply this to the affected area to help relieve itching.
  • Use moisturiser with an anti-bacterial agent in it to help soothe your skin.
  • Medicated shampoo - if your scalp or beard is affected, you can try a medicated shampoo to relieve symptoms.
  • Avoid using hair removal creams or other harsh products on your skin when you have folliculitis.

If you have tried home remedies and they have not worked, or if the affected area becomes swollen or red, you should consult with a doctor.

If necessary, they can prescribe a folliculitis cream. This will be either an antibacterial or antifungal treatment, based upon what is causing the problem and how severe it is.

You may need a stronger prescription to deal with the problem, particularly if it is widespread or severe. While a long term antibiotic treatment is not usually recommended, the doctor may give you a prescription for a short dose of antibiotics to help get the problem under control.

If the folliculitis is recurring, despite treatment, you may be referred for a test, where a skin swab is taken to find out what is causing it.

How to prevent folliculitis

There are things that you can do to help stop folliculitis. This includes:

  • Shaving less frequently and making sure you follow proper shaving techniques.
  • Avoid tight clothing on areas prone to folliculitis, such as the legs, to help reduce friction on your skin.
  • Don’t use hot tubs if you’re prone to the condition, and if you do, make sure they’re well maintained and clean.

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