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. This may occur from rubbing against clothing or shaving, for example. Most of the time, the damaged follicles become infected with Staphylococcus (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 black men. If curly beard hairs are cut too short, they may curve back into the skin and cause inflammation.
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 usually 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 health care 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
Habif TM. Bacterial infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 9.
Habif TM. Principles of diagnosis and anatomy. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 1.
McMichael A, Curtis AR, Guzman-Sanchez D, Kelly AP. Folliculitis and other follicular disorders. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 38.
Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Cellulitis, necrotizing faciitis, and subcutaneous tissue infections. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 95.
Review Date 11/2/2014
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.