Folliculitis is inflammation of one or more hair follicles. It can occur anywhere on the skin.
Folliculitis starts when hair follicles are damaged or when the follicle is blocked. For example, this may occur from rubbing against clothing or shaving. Most of the time, the damaged follicles become infected with staphylococci (staph) bacteria.
Barber's itch is a staph infection of the hair follicles in the beard area, usually the upper lip. Shaving makes it worse. Tinea barbae is similar to barber's itch, but the infection is caused by a fungus.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae is a disorder that occurs mainly in African American men. If curly beard hairs are cut too short, they may curve back into the skin and cause inflammation.
Folliculitis can affect people of all ages.
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider can diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Lab tests may show which bacteria or fungus is causing the infection.
Hot, moist compresses may help drain the affected follicles.
Treatment may include antibiotics applied to the skin or taken by mouth, or an antifungal medicine.
Folliculitis often responds well to treatment, but it may come back.
Folliculitis may return or spread to other body areas.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Apply home treatment and call your provider if your symptoms:
- Come back often
- Get worse
- Last longer than 2 or 3 days
To prevent further damage to the hair follicles and infection:
- Reduce friction from clothing.
- Avoid shaving the area, if possible. If shaving is necessary, use a clean, new razor blade or an electric razor each time.
- Keep the area clean.
- Avoid contaminated clothing and washcloths.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae; Tinea barbae; Barber's itch
Dinulos JGH. Bacterial infections. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide in Diagnosis and Therapy. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 9.
James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM. Bacterial infections. In: James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach, MA, Neuhaus IM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 14.
James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM. Diseases of the skin appendages. In: James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach, MA, Neuhaus IM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 33.
Review Date 10/10/2020
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.