What Is Folliculitis?

Have you ever noticed tiny bumps on your skin? It might be a condition called folliculitis. This is a common condition that affects more than 3 million people each year in the US, and is usually characterized by inflammation of the hair follicle. Because the human body contains hair follicles in most areas (with the exceptions being the palms, soles of the feet, and mucosal surfaces such as the lips), it can affect almost any area of the body.

This condition, which resembles acne or “shaving bumps,” is commonly caused by bacteria. It may occasionally be caused by fungus or yeast, or even viruses. Frequently affected areas include the scalp, trunk, extremities, and occluded areas (like the armpit, groin, or buttocks). Unfortunately, shaving, or chronic rubbing may worsen folliculitis or spread it across a broader area.

What Causes Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is often caused by infection and inflammation of the hair follicles, usually with bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. Trauma to hair follicles may predispose our skin to this condition. A few common causes include shaving, plucking, or waxing, certain medications that are applied to the skin, oral medications, weight gain (which can lead to internal changes in the body and external chafing), and environmental contaminants (such as swimming in untreated water).

How Can I Prevent Folliculitis?

You can take steps to address a few common causes of folliculitis. These include wearing loose clothing, which is especially important when it is hot and humid, our normal weather in Florida. Constant rubbing can injure hair follicles and set our skin up for folliculitis; adding sweat and bacteria to that injury can be a catalyst to infection.

Another common contaminant is hot tubs and swimming pools which may be improperly maintained. Bacteria such as Pseudomonas may flourish in the warm, moist environment of a hot tub or spa, and cause a specific type of folliculitis. It is helpful to wash your swimsuit after each use, and let it dry completely.

Some people develop folliculitis when they apply medication to their skin. An easy step to help aid your skin in this is to apply the medication in the same direction that your hair grows and not cover the treated area with a bandage if possible.

Shaving is probably the most common culprit for causing folliculitis; using warm water, a clean razor, and a quality shaving lotion can help. Practicing good hygiene and being gentle with your skin are especially important if you have sensitive skin. Shaving in only one direction is recommended, and rinsing with cool water after shaving may be helpful.

How Can I Treat Folliculitis?

This condition is relatively common, and it is always good to ask your dermatologist if you are uncertain about any skin condition. However, some forms of mild folliculitis can spontaneously resolve. There are a few things you can do to help lessen the severity of folliculitis:

  • Use an over the counter 10% benzoyl peroxide body wash daily, and rinse after 5-10 minutes; use caution as this can cause bleaching of fabrics such as towels, bathmats, and pajamas. The skin may cause some dryness and irritation.
  • Use only clean razor blades and replace them frequently.
  • Shave in only one direction.
  • Only exfoliate with clean cloths, sponges, and buff-puffs.
  • Wear breathable or moisture-wicking fabrics, especially with exercise
  • Change out of sweaty clothes promptly.
  • Shower immediately after sweating

Many people find success in treating this condition at home. But if your symptoms persist, it’s best to see a dermatologist. Our board-certified dermatologists and certified dermatology physician assistants can examine the affected areas, correctly diagnose your condition, and develop a treatment plan to restore your healthy skin. We proudly serve dermatology patients in Pinellas County at our two convenient locations, and we offer a variety of services. Contact us today to book your appointment.