Folliculitis (FAH-lih-ku-ly-tis) is inflammation or infection of one or more of the hair follicles and the surrounding skin.

What Is Folliculitis?

Folliculitis, also called inflammation of the hair follicles * , is an infection of one or more of the hair follicles and the surrounding skin. The pimples or pustules * can occur on the skin surface and also in the deeper structures of the skin. Tinea barbae (TA-ne-a bar-be) is similar to Barber's itch but is caused by a fungus. Pseudofolliculitis barbae (SOO-doe-FAH-lih-ku-ly-tis bar-be) is a type of folliculitis that mainly occurs in African American men and is caused by curly beard hairs that curl back into the skin (ingrown hair) and cause irritation and inflammation.

Hair on your body grows out of a tiny pouch called a follicle (left). You can have folliculitis on any part of your body that has hair, but it is most common on the beard area, arms, back, buttocks, and legs.

Hair on your body grows out of a tiny pouch called a follicle (left). You can have folliculitis on any part of your body that has hair, but it is most common on the beard area, arms, back, buttocks, and legs. Folliculitis is a skin condition in which hair follicles become inflamed (right).

What Causes Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is caused by clothing rubbing against the skin (especially with clothing worn over moist areas such as sports shorts, swimwear, or tight underwear), shaving, or blockage of the follicle (e.g., by sweat, makeup, or oils), which damages the follicle. When the follicle is damaged, it is at greater risk for the development of an infection. The most common organism that infects the follicle is Staphylococcus (staph) bacteria. Staph live on the skin in normal conditions without causing any problems, but when there is a cut or sore the bacteria can enter the skin causing an infection. Sometimes, a person develops folliculitis after using a hot tub, whirlpool, or swimming pool (called “hot tub folliculitis”) that has not been adequately chlorinated. In this case, the areas of the skin covered by the bathing suit are most likely to develop the problem.

Risk factors for folliculitis include the following:

Is Folliculitis Contagious?

In most cases, folliculitis is not contagious. However, cases caused by a bacterial or fungal infection may be transmitted through person-to-person direct contact, through hot tubs that are inadequately chlorinated, or through sharing razor blades.

What Are the Signs of Folliculitis?

Signs of folliculitis include itching, a rash, and red bumps, pimples, or pustules near a hair follicle, most commonly in the neck, groin, or genital area. The pimples may have a crusty surface.

How Is Folliculitis Treated?


Folliculitis is diagnosed by observing the lesion on the skin. A culture * of the lesion may be done to determine the specific bacteria or fungus that is causing the infection. The person with folliculitis may be referred to a dermatologist (a physician who specializes in disorders of the skin).

Barber's Itch and Hot Tub Rash

One type of folliculitis is Barber's itch. Barber's itch is a bacterial infection of the hair follicles of the face often made worse by shaving. It is also called razor bumps and pseudofolliculitis.

Hot tub rash is a dermatitis, or an infection of the skin, characterized by itchy spots on the skin that become a bumpy red rash and pus-filled blisters around hair follicles. The rash is more problematic in areas of the skin that were covered by a bathing suit.


Folliculitis is treated by applying hot, moist compresses to the affected area of the skin and washing the skin with an antibacterial cleanser. If the laboratory culture identifies the bacteria or fungus, an appropriate medication, either an antibiotic * for a bacterial infection or an antifungal drug * for a fungal infection, is prescribed. Usually, the medication is applied directly to the affected area. If the person has large areas of folliculitis, oral (taken by mouth) medications may be prescribed.

Can Folliculitis Be Prevented?

To prevent folliculitis, do the following:

See also Bacterial Infections • Fungal Infections • Staphylococcal Infections


Books and Articles

Council, Laurin, David Sheinbein, and Lynn Cornelius. The Washington Manual of Dermatology Diagnostics. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2016.

Fitzpatrick, James and Joseph Morelli. Dermatology Secrets Plus, Fifth Edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier, 2016.

Nomura, T., et al. “Eosinophilic Pustula Folliculitis: Trends in Therapeutic Options.” Journal of Dermatology (February 15, 2016).

Saegeman, V., and B. Van Meensel. “Aeromonas Associated with Swimming Pool Folliculitis.” Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 35 no.1 (January 2016): 118–119.


Mayo Clinic. “Folliculitis.” (accessed March 21, 2016).

WebMD. “Folliculitis.” (accessed March 21, 2016).


The American Academy of Dermatology. 930 E. Woodfield Road, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Telephone: 847-240-1280. Toll-free: 800-503-SKIN (7546). Website: (accessed March 21, 2016).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30333. Toll-free: 800-232-4636. Website: (accessed March 21, 2016).

* hair follicle (FAH-lih-kul) is the skin structure from which hair develops and grows.

* pustule is a blister-like bump on the skin containing pus, such as a pimple.

* chronic (KRAH-nik) lasting a long time or recurring frequently.

* human immunodeficiency virus (HYOO-mun ih-myoo-nodih- FIH-shen-see), or HIV, is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), an infection that severely weakens the immune system.

* culture (KUL-chur) is a test in which a sample of fluid or tissue from the body is placed in a dish containing material that supports the growth of certain organisms. Typically, within days the organisms will grow and can be identified.

* antibiotic (an-tie-by-AH-tik) is a drug that kills or slows the growth of bacteria.

* antifungal drugs (an-ty-FUN-gal) are medications that kill fungi.

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)