Last modified: May 20, 2019
Richard Honaker M.D.View Full Profile
There is lots of information available about achieving a clear complexion on your face, but what can you use to heal skin problems occurring elsewhere?
Do you spend hours sweating it out at the gym to get the perfect beach body and then end up covering up because of itchy, red bumps on your chest, back or bikini area? Do you wash regularly with acne products but nothing seems to help get rid of those pesky bumps?
The answer is easy-you probably don’t have acne. You are likely suffering from a skin condition called folliculitis. Luckily, once you start treating your skin for the actual condition you have, you are much more likely to get results. We asked our resident GP Dr. Honikar to teach us more about this pesky skin problem, the best ways to treat it and how to prevent it in the future.
What is folliculitis?
Folliculitis is characterized by the inflammation of the hair follicle. When a hair follicle becomes damaged, either by shaving, friction or tight clothing it becomes susceptible to infection. This infection can cause small red or flesh colored bumps, which may or may not fill with pus. These bumps can occur anywhere that you have hair follicles, which is unfortunately almost your entire body (with the exception of the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet and your lips).
Chances are if your bumps are occurring in areas other than your face you have folliculitis instead of acne.
(the two can coexist on your body unfortunately). Traditional acne treatments may not work on folliculitis.
How do you get Folliculitis?
Folliculitis is caused when damage to the hair follicle results in irritation. This irritation is often caused by bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic microorganisms.
In some cases, folliculitis is not caused by external factors, but rather internal ones. This rare type of folliculitis is called eosinophilic folliculitis and can be a sign of a compromised immune system.
Check out more information on this rare type of folliculitis here.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone can be at risk for folliculitis. While most types of folliculitis come from damage to a hair follicle, eosinophilic folliculitis is caused internally and can even affect babies. Hot tub folliculitis is transmitted through heated water that is not properly maintained.
Treatment of Folliculitis
Now that you know what folliculitis is, it is important to learn the best methods of treatment. If you are already suffering with folliculitis, it is important not to further damage your skin and hair follicles. Here are some best practices to minimize damage to the area:
- Avoid shaving the affected area if possible
- Shave less often
- Apply less pressure when shaving and do not shave close to the skin
Many types of mild folliculitis can heal on their own in about two weeks. You can encourage this healing by:
- Applying a warm compress to the affected area
- Wash daily with a mild antibacterial soap
- Apply an antibacterial cream such as Bacitracin or Neosporin to help clear the infection
- Shower immediately after sweating or working out
Treating the Inflammation
Topical antibiotic creams, such as Bacitracin or Neosporin can be effective in clearing up minor infections. While oral antibiotics are not generally prescribed, they can be effective in more serious or recurring cases.
A yeast infection can also cause folliculitis. An anti fungal cream or shampoo is used to treat the infection in those cases. Antibiotics are not effective for this type of folliculitis.
Eosinophilic folliculitis often produces symptoms of intense itching. Doctors will often prescribe a topical steroid to address this symptom.
Prevention of Folliculitis
Once you have cleared your inflammation, it is important to start putting steps in place to make sure that it does not return. In addition to washing with a mild antibacterial cleanser and showering immediately after a hard workout or any other sweat-inducing activities, you will also want to:
- Refrain from sharing towels, face cloths or razors with anyone else
- Only use properly maintained hot tubs, spas, or heated pools
- Wear loose clothing in breathable materials
- Rinse out your bathing suit after each use and let dry completely
- Use proper shaving methods
When to Speak to a Doctor
While some mild forms of folliculitis can clear up with minor interventions, it is not always the case. With any skin inflammation, it is important to monitor the area for signs of infection. If you notice the following symptoms it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional:
- The area is red and swollen
- The skin feels warm to the touch
- The bumps become filled with pus
- You develop a fever
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Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.