This is an inflammation of the hair follicles which results in an itchy, painful skin rash on several parts of the body. These include the scalp, face and legs. Folliculitis affects both men and women of any age.

What is a hair follicle? A hair follicle is a bulb shaped sac within the skin which causes hair to grow. This hair is nourished by the sebaceous glands – small glands which along with the hair follicles and hair comprise small units within the skin. The sebaceous glands release an oily fluid called sebum which lubricates the skin, nails and hair.

But the sebaceous gland can become inflamed, leading to a condition called folliculitis.

Causes of folliculitis

There are several causes of folliculitis which include:

  • Fungal infections
  • Bacterial infections such as streptococcus A
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaving
  • Restrictive or tight clothing
  • Certain medications, e.g. corticosteroids
  • Certain medical conditions, e.g. diabetes

Folliculitis develops in the top part of the hair follicle, near the surface of the skin. But this infection can spread beneath the skin, resulting in cysts or boils and in more severe cases, cellulitis.

Cellulitis is a skin infection which presents as a swollen, red skin rash and flu-like symptoms. Find out more in our cellulitis section.

Symptoms of folliculitis

These are:

  • Inflamed hair follicles
  • Red, skin rash which is itchy and inflamed
  • Small, raised red bumps on the skin or pus filled swellings

This condition often affects groups of hair follicles and on any part of the body where hair grows. In some cases, a hair will break through the skin rash causing a crust to form over the infection.

Diagnosing folliculitis

Folliculitis often clears up on its own but if it becomes painful or doesn’t clear up after a week to 10 days then visit your GP. Your GP will examine the inflamed areas and in some cases, will take a small swab to determine the cause of the outbreak. A swab is only taken if you have repeated episodes of this condition.

The aim is to find the root of the infection.

Your GP will also ask you about your medical history.

Treatment for folliculitis

This often clears up without the need for treatment but there are situations where medical intervention is required. This takes the form of prescription medicines such as antibiotics to treat the cause of the infection. These antibiotics are available as a cream or taken orally.

A mild antiseptic can also help. This is available in various forms, e.g. creams, lotions and soaps which are applied to the infected area of the skin. This forms part of a self-help routine which includes using separate towels and bedding, washing your hands after touching an infected area and avoiding shaving.

Do not scratch or rub the infected area as this will only spread the bacteria to other areas of your body.

A severe case of folliculitis can result in scarring in the infected areas and permanent damage to the hair follicles. And damaged hair follicles prevent new hair growth.

Severe folliculitis or repeated outbreaks require medical treatment to prevent this from happening.