Is Folliculitis Itchy?

Last modified: May 20, 2019

Richard Honaker M.D.
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Are your bumps acne? The answer may just lie in the itch

Your body’s largest organ is also one of its most amazing. Your skin has the ability to heal itself, stretch and protect your internal organs, yet even things with this amazing organ can sometimes get a little bumpy.

While the few are able to maintain a perfect complexion, most of us struggle with the occasional skin ailments-especially little red bumps that show up on our faces, chest, back and bikini line.

While often misdiagnosed as acne, often the actual skin condition is folliculitis. Folliculitis is common but not well known. We asked Dr. Honaker to lend us his insight on the signs and symptoms that the unknown bumps on your body are actually folliculitis.

What is Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is a condition in which the hair follicle becomes damaged and then inflamed. The damage can come from shaving, wearing tight clothing or friction. Once the follicle is damaged, it can become inflamed. This inflammation can come from bacterial, fungal, parasitic and viral microorganisms.

External damage to the hair follicle causes most common types of folliculitis. In the rarer form of eosinophilic folliculitis, the damage comes from internal factors. This type of folliculitis is often associated with compromised immune systems such as persons infected with HIV, transplant recipients and some forms of cancer.

Learn more about eosinophilic folliculitis 

What are the signs and symptoms of Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is often misdiagnosed because is often resembles acne. When the hair follicle becomes inflamed it will often produce a red or flesh colored bump that may or may not be filled with pus. These bumps may also bleed or crust over.

An Itch you Should not Scratch

Back view of a little boy scratching his back

Many forms of folliculitis can be very itchy. Itching is one of your skin’s natural defense mechanisms. In many cases, your skin sends a message to your brain to itch your skin in order to remove a potential external hazard. Unfortunately, in the case of folliculitis, itching can actually spread the infection.

Large Painful Bumps

While itchy red bumps are an annoying addition, the alternative is painful-literally. If folliculitis does not produce small itchy bumps, it can produce large painful bumps. This is because folliculitis can cause inflammation to part of the hair follicle or the entire follicle. These two types of inflammation are classified as superficial and deep folliculitis.

Image of inflamed hair follicles

Types of Superficial Folliculitis:

  • Bacterial folliculitis: This inflammation is caused by a common bacteria that lives on our skin. The bacteria enters our body through a break in the skin (ex. shaving) and causes an infection.
  • Hot tub folliculitis (pseudomonas folliculitis): When hot tubs, whirlpools and heated pools do not have their PH level and chlorine balanced bacteria can grow and cause folliculitis. Itchy red bumps will appear on the skin about 48 hours after exposure.
  • Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) Ingrown hairs are a common cause of folliculitis. Often seen on the face and neck of men and the bikini area of women. Although coarse, curly hair is a risk factor for this, improper shaving methods can also contribute to these itchy, red bumps.
  • Pityrosporum folliculitis: With this type of folliculitis, the red, pus-filled bumps that you see on your back, chest, shoulders, upper arms and face are caused by a yeast infection.

Types of Deep folliculitis:

  • Boils (furuncles) and carbuncles: These are large, red and often painful bumps as a result of a long-term staph infection. Carbuncles are the term for a cluster of boils.
  • Sycosis barbae: This type typically affects males after they begin to shave.
  • Gram-negative folliculitis: This type of folliculitis is often associated with long term antibiotic care for acne.

Treatment for Folliculitis

Many mild cases of folliculitis can clear up on their own with little intervention. There are some measures you can take to encourage this healing:

woman washing hair in the shower

  • A cold cloth or ice pack can help ease the itch of folliculitis without spreading the infection.
  • Washing with a mild antibiotic soap can help to stop reinfection. In same cases a topical antibiotic like Neosporin or Bacitracin can help speed healing.
  • A yeast infection causes Pityrosporum folliculitis. Anti fungal cream or shampoo can be an effective treatment.

Check out how bacitracin can help folliculitis here

Do You Need to Speak with a Doctor?

Not all types of folliculitis will respond to this type of treatment. In some serious or reoccuring cases oral antibiotics may be prescribed. It is important to monitor the area and look for signs of infection. It may be time to contact your health care professional if:

  • The area is red and swollen
  • The skin is warm to the touch
  • You develop a fever

A New Approach to Health Care: Online Doctor Consultation

Female doctor surrounded by a group of doctors

By taking a proactive approach to your health, you can take care of mild inflammation before it becomes serious. By having a good understanding about the health of your skin, you can always be sure you are putting your best foot forward.

Your Doctors Online is committed to providing quality healthcare across the globe in a way that is convenient, easy and safe to use. A simple click of a button will connect you with one of our doctors to answer your questions and health concerns. It’s free to connect and chat 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Taking control of your health has never been simpler. We even have an easy to use app to keep our doctor’s professional advice in the palm of your hand no matter where you go. So no matter how you want to connect, we are here to help with all of your medical questions.

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.

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