Folliculitis, which presents as pimple-like red or white bumps, is an infection of a hair follicle. Every hair that appears on the body grows out of a tiny pouch called a follicle. Folliculitis can develop on any area of the body that grows hair, but areas typically prone to this infection include the face, scalp, thighs, groin or any other area that may be rubbed by clothing. Although this infection is non-life-threatening, more serious cases can leave scarring and hair loss if left untreated.

Symptoms of Folliculitis

Folliculitis can be categorized as either superficial or deep, depending on the severity and the area of the follicle that is infected.

Superficial Folliculitis

The less invasive infection, superficial folliculitis is a milder, partial infection of the follicle.It can be contracted through exposure to several forms of bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus (staph) or pseudomonas. Folliculitis caused by staph is the most common variation of the infection and presents as white, itchy bumps filled with pus.

Pseudomonas folliculitis, informally known as hot tub folliculitis, causes an outbreak of red, itchy bumps 1-2 days after contact with the bacteria. Heated bodies of water with improperly controlled pH and chlorine levels are hosts to these bacteria. Ingrown hairs resulting from shaving can also cause superficial folliculitis. Men with curly hair are particularly prone to this infection, as well as individuals who wax their body hair. Yeast infections produce recurring itchy, red bumps typically concentrated on the back and chest.

* Other skin conditions that cause similar symptoms to folliculitis are heat rash, poison ivy, and acne.

Deep Folliculitis

A more advanced form of infection that involves the entire hair follicle, deep folliculitis can lead to more serious skin infections. Below are the variations and their main causes:

  • Sycosis barbae: Males who shave can contract this form of the infection
  • Gram-negative folliculitis: a potential side effect of long-term acne treatment with antibiotics
  • Boils and carbuncles: Boils can result when a hair follicle is severely infected with staph
  • Eosinophilic folliculitis: Mainly prevalent in people who suffer from HIV or AIDS, this form usually presents as itchy pustules surrounding hair follicles. These bumps are usually found on the face and upper body.

Prevention of Folliculitis

Folliculitis can be uncomfortable and distressing, but there are preventative measures which will help avoid contracting the infection. Below are the steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of developing folliculitis:

  • Wear breathable clothing that won’t cause unnecessary rubbing, which could irritate hair follicles
  • Be mindful of your shaving practices. Frequent shaving, using a dull blade, sharing razors, or shaving too close to the skin can all lead to irritation or infection. Apply soap with warm water in circular motions before shaving to lift problem hairs and avoid infection
  • Avoid pools and hot tubs that are not regularly maintained

Treatment of Folliculitis

Mild cases normally heal on their own after a few days of standard self-care. If the folliculitis reoccurs or worsens, see a doctor.

If your infection does not appear to be healing on its own, there are many treatment options available. For bacterial Folliculitis, medical professionals generally prescribe antibiotic ointment or pills. Folliculitis caused by yeast infections or other fungi are treated with antifungal creams or pills. Medicinal shampoos are available to treat Folliculitis afflicting scalp or beard areas. Doctors also sometimes suggest steroid creams to reduce itchiness.

Other Treatment Options

More invasive options include minor surgical procedures and laser hair removal. These treatments are typically only prescribed in chronic cases, as they are costlier and carry their own potential risks.


  1. “Folliculitis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

Last Updated: November 1 2018.