Folliculitis Overview


Folliculitis occurs when hair follicles become clogged by bacteria, fungus, yeast or sebum. See more pictures of skin problems.
© iStockphoto.com/Jodi Jacobson

Celebrities are often known for their great bodies -- especially their legs. In fact some, like star of "Entertainment Tonight" Mary Hart, even have insurance on their legs for $1 million or more [source: Getlen]. Surely these million-dollar limbs don't fall prey to unsightly red bumps otherwise known as folliculitis.

Whether or not you're a celebrity, chances are you or someone you've know has at one time suffered from folliculitis, a common,  irritating skin rash that can turn into fluid-filled bumps. If you're experiencing it, you are probably not doing anything out of the ordinary to cause it. Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicle, which occurs when a damaged hair follicle becomes clogged by bacteria, fungus, yeast or oils. There is no way to avoid damaging hair follicles -- it happens very often and probably without you even noticing. You can damage them while shaving or just by wearing clothes that are a bit snug [source: WebMD].

Although folliculitis is irritating and severe cases can lead to permanent baldness, this common skin irritation often clears up on its own or will respond fairly quickly to treatment [source: Mayo Clinic]. So, how can you clear up those recurring rashes? And is there a way to avoid folliculitis altogether and get those celebrity-caliber legs? There are many tactics to prevent folliculitis and several treatments to get rid of it -- , and many of which you can find over the counter and some that you can whip up at home.

Folliculitis has a wide variety of causes, ranging from clogging substances to hot tubs to dull razors. To learn more about your hair follicles, what damages them and how to prevent infections, keep reading.

Causes of Folliculitis

The bumps that make up a rash caused by folliculitis can be irritating and painful, but they are not an uncommon occurrence. Because folliculitis occurs in a hair follicle, anyone can develop this condition at any time. Even celebrities with amply insured limbs aren't immune.

Every person has small pockets from which hairs grow, known as hair follicles. Though hair follicles are most concentrated on your head, they appear everywhere on your body except the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet and any mucous membranes, like your lips [source: Mayo Clinic].

If something damages the follicle, irritation or infection -- folliculitis -- can arise. Many daily activities can damage hair follicles, such as shaving or wearing tight clothes that rub against a follicle. Sweat, oil and makeup can also clog hair follicles. Once a follicle is damaged, it is far more likely to become infected [source: WebMD].

Several different substances can infect a hair follicle. Most often, folliculitis infections are caused by the common bacteria known as staph (or Staphylococcus). Infections can also occur when yeast or fungus invades a hair follicle [source: WebMD].

Luckily, these types of infections are highly treatable by several different methods. Read on to find out how to put a stop to your folliculitis.

Folliculitis Treatments

With words like "damaged follicles" and "infection," folliculitis can sound like a scary condition. However, in most cases, folliculitis is just irritating, and it causes no other problems. And typically, it's an easy condition to treat. In fact, mild folliculitis will heal on its own in about two weeks. If your irritation and pain is minor, you can simply wait for the rash to go away [source: Mayo Clinic]. To treat folliculitis, you can follow the steps listed below. If your case becomes more severe, you may need to take a more aggressive method of treatment.

To start out, you can use a hot, moist compress to help promote drainage of the follicles, allowing any built-up fluid to be released. The next step in healing folliculitis is to treat the cause of the infection by applying an antibiotic or antifungal cream to the infected area [source: Vorvick]. If your infection is mild and bacterial, an over-the-counter antibiotic cream should do the trick. If your folliculitis is on your scalp or face, medicated shampoos containing selenium sulfide or propylene glycol will be easier to use and just as effective [source: WebMD].

If your infection is more severe, you should see a doctor; he or she will likely prescribe an oral antibiotic [source: Vorvick]. Or if the infection is fungal, your doctor will need to prescribe antifungal pills such as fluconazole to clear up the rash [source: WebMD].

If folliculitis becomes a recurrent problem for you, there are more drastic treatment options. Laser hair removal will destroy the hair follicle and should help diminish the appearance of any scarring that may have occurred due to the folliculitis. Also, as no hair will grow in that follicle again, it reduces your chances of developing another case of folliculitis [source: WebMD]. Laser hair removal, however, is an expensive and sometimes painful option.

If you'd rather try to kick your case of folliculitis on your own, keep reading to learn some effective home remedies.

Home Remedies for Folliculitis

If your case of folliculitis is mild, you could try to cure your rash at home. A combination of over-the-counter products and home remedies might be able to clear up a mild infection and save you a trip to the doctor.

To start, cleanse the affected area at least twice daily with a mild antibacterial soap to avoid other contaminants compounding your infection. Then you can use a warm compress to reduce swelling, promote drainage and help ease itching. To make a warm compress, simply run a washcloth under warm water and squeeze out the excess water and apply it directly to your rash. You can also try to relieve any itching and inflammation by applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

You may choose to modify your warm compresses if your folliculitis is a bit more severe. Burow's solution (a combination of water and aluminum acetate), which is available over the counter and functions as a type of astringent, can be added to the compress to help clear up the skin [source: WebMD]. For folliculitis of the scalp, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends shampooing with a product made with tea tree oil, which is a natural germicide and antibacterial agent [source: Weil].

While these home treatments are useful, call a doctor if your rash spreads or if fever, warmth at the rash site or increased swelling occurs. This may mean you have a more serious infection and will need to use antibiotics or antifungals instead.

Let's say you've had folliculitis in the past but it's gone now. If you're hoping to avoid another outbreak, there are several things you can do at home to prevent folliculitis. Bathe daily with mild antibacterial soap to avoid any buildup of follicle-clogging substances. It also helps to wear loose-fitting clothing if you are prone to folliculitis, to avoid any irritation. Naturally, shaving is also an irritant as it pulls at hairs and can disrupt the follicles. If you already have folliculitis, try to avoid shaving until it clears up. If that isn't an option for you, at least change blades every time you shave for a cleaner, more exact shave [source: WebMD].

While you can treat this pesky infection at home, your humble abode could be the site of one common cause of folliculitis: the hot tub. Read on to learn how your hot tub could be a hotbed of infection.

Folliculitis and Hot Tubs

After a relaxing dip in the hot tub, the last thing you want to see is a rash of red bumps, but they are an all-too-common occurrence. If the water in the hot tub is not properly treated, hot tub folliculitis is a very real possibility.

Hot tub folliculitis is caused by the bacteria "Pseudomonas aeruginosa," which is a type of bacteria that can thrive in a hot tub if the water's pH and chlorine aren't at appropriate levels. This type of folliculitis, like all others, happens when the bacteria comes into contact with a damaged hair follicle. It tends to be most concentrated under the swimsuit areas, as those can trap the water and the bacteria close to your skin [source: New York Times].

Symptoms of hot tub folliculitis are similar to those of regular folliculitis. It normally appears in a progression, beginning with a bumpy red rash that may itch, which may turn into dark red nodules or bumps filled with pus [source: New York Times]. These can be uncomfortable, but they can also clear up in a few days without treatment. If the itch is unbearable, doctors can prescribe antibiotics or anti-itch creams [source: Centers for Disease Control].

This is no reason to hang up your bikini -- as long as the water levels are as they should be. To avoid hot tub folliculitis in your own home, conduct frequent testing of the water and be sure you know how to control the pH and the amount of chemicals. This is essential for ensuring safe hot tub water. For public hot tubs, you have less control [source: Centers for Disease Control]. Professional maintenance crews should see to your safety by following protocol. However, just to be on the safe side, immediately after using a public hot tub, you should shower with antibacterial soap and dry off with a clean towel.

While folliculitis is a common irritation, it's also treatable and preventable. For more information, investigate the links on the following page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

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  • Mayo Clinic. "Folliculitis." October 5, 2007 (Accessed 9/30/09)http://mayoclinic.com/health/folliculitis/
  • Mayo Clinic. "Staph Infections." June 9, 2009 (Accessed 9/30/09)http://mayoclinic.com/health/staph-infections/DS00973
  • New York Times Health Guide. "Hot Tub Folliculitis." October 28, 2008 (Accessed 10/1/09)http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/hot-tub-folliculitis/overview.html
  • Roth, Erica. "How to Cure Folliculitis Over the Counter." LiveStrong. 2008 (Accessed 9/30/09)http://www.livestrong.com/article/15741-cure-folliculitis-over-counter/
  • Vorvick, Linda, MD. "Folliculitis." National Institutes of Health. November 16, 2008 (Accessed 9/30/09)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000823.htm
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  • WebMD. "Folliculitis: Topic Overview." June 26, 2007 (Accessed 9/30/09)http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/folliculitis-topic-overview
  • WebMD. "Folliculitis: Treatment Overview." June 26, 2007 (Accessed 9/30/09)http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/folliculitis-treatment-overview
  • Weil, Andrew M.D., "Frustrated by Folliculitis?" Feb. 2, 2004 (Accessed 10/29/09)http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA326165