Folliculitis is an infection of a hair follicle. A hair follicle is the little pocket where a hair grows out of the skin. Bacteria normally live on the skin. But sometimes bacteria can get trapped in a follicle and cause infection. This causes a bumpy rash. The area over the follicles is red and raised. It may itch or be painful. The bumps may have fluid (pus) inside. The pus may leak and then form crusts. Sores can spread to other areas of the body. Once it goes away, folliculitis can come back at any time. Severe cases may cause lasting (permanent) hair loss and scarring.

Folliculitis can happen anywhere on the body where hair grows. It can be caused by rubbing from tight clothing. Ingrown hairs can cause it. Soaking in a hot tub or swimming pool that has bacteria in the water can cause it. It may also occur if a hair follicle is blocked by a bandage.

Sores often go away in a few days with no treatment. In some cases, medicine may be given. A small piece of skin or pus may be taken to find the type of bacteria causing the infection.

Home care

The healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic cream or ointment. Antibiotics taken by mouth (oral) may also be prescribed. Or you may be told to use an over-the-counter antibiotic cream. Follow all instructions when using any of these medicines.

General care

  • Apply warm, moist compresses to the sores for 20 minutes up to 3 times a day. You can make a compress by soaking a cloth in warm water. Squeeze out excess water.

  • Don’t cut, poke, or squeeze the sores. This can be painful and spread infection.

  • Don’t scratch the affected area. Scratching can delay healing.

  • Don’t shave the areas affected by folliculitis.

  • If the sores leak fluid, cover the area with a nonstick gauze bandage. Use as little tape as possible. Carefully get rid of all soiled bandages.

  • Dress in loose cotton clothing.

  • Change sheets and blankets if they are soiled by pus. Wash all clothes, towels, sheets, and cloth diapers in soap and hot water. Don't share clothes, towels, or sheets with other family members.

  • Don't soak the sores in bath water. This can spread infection. Instead keep the area clean by gently washing sores with soap and warm water.

  • Wash your hands or use antibacterial gels often to prevent spreading the bacteria.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Rash spreads

  • Rash does not get better with treatment

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Rash becomes more painful

  • Foul-smelling fluid leaking from the skin

  • Rash improves, but then comes back 

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