What is it?
Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles, which are the pockets from which each hair grows. The infection occurs when bacteria or fungi enter the skin along a hair and infect its follicle. There are many causes for folliculitis, the most common being poorly treated hot tubs, friction from shaving, and injuries of the skin that become infected.
The symptoms of folliculitis differ depending on the type of infection. Symptoms of superficial folliculitis (an infection of the upper part of the follicle) include red bumps, pus-filled blisters, itchiness and sensitivity. Symptoms of deeper folliculitis include large, swollen masses, pus-filled blisters, and pain. Folliculitis symptoms can easily be confused with those of certain STI's, like herpes, or those of acne.
Is it contagious?
The bacteria that cause folliculitis are somewhat contagious and can be spread from one person to another. For this reason, you should avoid sharing razors, towels, or washcloths until the infection has been successfully treated.
How is it treated?
Many cases of folliculitis are mild and will clear up on their own; however, if the infection does not improve within 2-3 days, a doctor should be consulted. Normally, bacterial folliculitis is treated with over-the-counter topical creams as directed by your doctor. If the infection is widespread, or occurs in multiple locations on the body, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.
Fungal folliculitis is usually treated with oral medications or topical ointments as well. The different types of folliculitis require specific treatments, which is why it is important to see a doctor.
To prevent folliculitis, avoid poorly maintained hot tubs and tight clothing that chafes the skin. It is also important to shave carefully and hygienically. Thoroughly clean the skin before shaving, and replace razors (or razor blades) frequently.
Last updated 6 February 2012.