What Is Folliculitis?

Of the same family as boils and carbuncles, folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicle - the opening in the skin that contains a hair root, and, like boils, it can affect any person at any age and stage of life.

Normally, hair follicles carry out their function of lubricating the skin and coating each hair shaft through the tiny ducts in the skin.  If these follicles become damaged they can be subject to infection by viruses, bacteria or fungi.  Some common causes of damage to hair follicles include "razor burn", which is caused by friction from shaving, using a hot tub which hasn't been well maintained and chlorinated, ingrown hairs, excessive perspiration, injuries, abrasions or inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema.  Staphylococcus bacteria, which can spread from one part of the body can easily trigger folliculitis in another part.

What Does It Look Like?

Indications of folliculitis vary depending upon the infection and whether it is affecting the upper part of the hair follicle, or is deeper in the skin, infecting the entire area around and including the hair follicle.  In some cases, folliculitis can result in boils - a painful pocket below the surface of the skin which fills with pus.  Superficial folliculitis can take the form of clusters of small red bumps, which look like pus-filled pimples, around the base of a hair.  Pus from these blisters often has traces of blood in them.  They can break open and crust over, be very itchy and tender.  The deeper varieties can result from long-term antibiotic treatment for acne or can present themselves as boils or carbuncles.  People with HIV can suffer from sores which are inflamed and pus-filled, itchy and uncomfortable.

Most Common Areas of Inflammation

Folliculitis is most prevalent on the arms, armpits, legs or on the scalp.  It may appear on the faces of men who shave, on the legs of women who shave their legs, and on the buttocks - from unbalanced ph in hot tubs.  Mild cases of folliculitis usually clear by themselves in a few days without any special treatment; however, if it spreads or doesn't go away in a few days, it is prudent to contact a medical professional.


Treatment for folliculitis is best given by a medical professional.  However since most often it is usually mild, over-the-counter topical antibiotic creams or ointments work well.  If the infection is more serious, the doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic.  If the infection is caused by a fungus, antifungal drugs and topical treatments are most frequently prescribed.