Last updated: May 20, 2019
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
View Full Profile
Avoid painful folliculitis (razor burn) after shaving with our 11 skin saving methods.
Most people choose to shave to show off smooth skin, but can end up with swollen painful bumps. So what exactly are these painful reminders of a razor gone wrong?
The medical term for this type of skin infection is called folliculitis and when you get it after shaving it is known as pseudofolliculitis barbae. It may be hard to pronounce, but the good news is it can be prevented! We asked our resident GP Dr. Honaker to share his tips for preventing these bumps.
What is Folliculitis?
Folliculitis is the medical term for a infection of the hair follicle. It can occur on any part of the body that has hair follicles, so that means with a few exceptions (palms, soles and eyelids) your whole body is fair game!
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, folliculitis is often mistaken for another common skin condition-acne.
It is often mistaken for acne in part because they look very similar. Both will produce large red bumps that may or may not be filled with pus.
They also occur in similar areas: the face, the back and the chest. According to a folliculitis study published by the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, over 70 percent of participants were infected in more than one area, with their face most commonly affected.
What are the symptoms of Folliculitis?
Symptoms of folliculitis can vary depending on the type of infection you have. Folliculitis is often mistaken for acne and can mimic some of the same symptoms:
- Clusters of red bumps or white head pimples around hair follicles
- Pus filled blisters that may break the skin and crust over
- A large swollen bump or mass
- Skin that itches or burns
- Skin that is painful to the touch
What Causes Folliculitis?
Folliculitis is an infection that is caused when the hair follicle is damaged and becomes infected by a bacteria, virus or fungus. A common way to damage your hair follicle is improper shaving methods. The resulting folliculitis is commonly caused razor burn (pseudofolliculitis barbae).
Many men will suffer from folliculitis along their neck when they shave and women often get these angry red bumps along their bikini line.
The bacteria that commonly causes this infection is called Staphylococcus aureus. It often lives on the skin or in the nose of much of the population without causing an infection.
Yet when your skin is disturbed, such as the act of shaving, it can have an adverse effect and cause these often itchy and painful bumps. Staphylococcus aureus likes to grow in many of the areas that are commonly shaved on the body such as the armpit, groin and in skin folds.
Types of Folliculitis
There are two main types of folliculitis: superficial and deep. The first general only involves part of the follicle and the latter involves the entire follicle. The deep folliculitis tends to be the more severe of the two and can be painful.
Types of Superficial Folliculitis:
- Bacterial folliculitis: caused by the common bacterial that often lives on our skin or in our nose. This type of folliculitis occurs when the bacterial enters the body through a break in the skin.
- Hot tub folliculitis (pseudomonas folliculitis): This is caused by an improperly maintained hot tub. When the PH level and chlorine is not balanced and bacterial is allowed to grow you can become infected. You will notice itchy red bumps about 24-48 hours after exposure.
- Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) This is caused by ingrown hairs and is most notably seen on the face and neck. This can be caused by improper shaving methods.
- Pityrosporum folliculitis: This type of folliculitis is caused by a yeast infection and can produce red pus filled bumps on the back, chest, shoulders, upper arm and face.
Types of Deep folliculitis:
- Sycosis barbae: This type typically affects males after they begin to shave. Gram-negative folliculitis: Long term antibiotic care for acne can make you susceptible to this type.
- Boils (furuncles) and carbuncles: This is the result of a long-term staph infection. Boils are large red and often painful bumps and carbuncles are a cluster of boils.
Who is at Risk?
While Folliculitis is a common skin condition, there are some factors that can heighten your risk such as:
- Having acne or dermatitis
- Being a male with curly hair who shaves-(curly hair can be more susceptible to ingrown hairs, a common cause of folliculitis)
- Having a medical condition that reduces your body’s ability to fight off infection, such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes or chronic leukemia.
- Those who regularly wear clothing that traps heat and sweat such as rubber gloves or high boots
- Those who damage their hair follicles regularly through shaving, waxing or wearing tight clothing.
Is Folliculitis infectious?
“Although most strains of folliculitis are not infectious, there is a possibility of spreading the infection through skin to skin contact, sharing razors or sharing hot tubs or jacuzzis,” says Komal A. Malik, MD, who works with patients at Your Doctors Online.
How to Prevent Folliculitis:
While this common skin condition may be itchy, painful or embarrassing, the good news is it is often easy to prevent.
The easiest way to prevent infection is to take better care of your follicles. Since damage to your follicles can leave you susceptible to Folliculitis.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you can do this by:
- Wear loose and comfortable clothing, especially when it is hot and humid. Tight clothing can damage your hair follicles and when it is also hot and humid this can lead to folliculitis. If you wear tight clothing to work out, you can lessen your chance of folliculitis by removing your clothes immediately after your workout and then showering with soap and water.
- Be choosy about the hot tubs you visit: Improperly maintained hot tubs can cause hot tub folliculitis. If you are unsure about the levels of chlorine and PH balance of a hot tub or jacuzzi. skipping a dip could save your skin.
- Wash your bathing suit or wetsuit after each use and let it dry completely: By washing and drying your suit between each use you are able to lessen your exposure to bacteria and help reduce your chance of folliculitis.
A major cause of folliculitis is improper shaving methods.
Here are our 11 easy ways to finally banish razor burn
Prepare the Skin:
- Wash your skin with warm water and antibacterial soap.This will help to minimize the bacteria on your skin in case you do damage the hair follicles during shaving.
- Apply a warm towel to the skin before shaving. This can help open up the pores.
- Wash the area in a circular motion daily using an exfoliating scrub or wet washcloth to help loosen and release ingrown hairs. Do not try and remove ingrown hairs with tweezers as this can cause an infection.
Shave the Right Way:
- Use a single blade razor
- Apply a liberal amount of moisturizing shaving cream
- Rinse your razor after each swipe
- Don’t push too hard on your razor
- Only go over each area once
- If using an electric razor try and hold the razor slightly above the skin to leave a little stubble
- Apply lotion to the skin after shaving
- Shave less often
So are you suffering from acne or folliculitis? It can be hard to tell because they can both cause similar skin irritations and occur in the same area. While some folliculitis can go away on its own by using the proper prevention methods, other types may require medical intervention.
Take the Next Step – Chat with an online doctor
Do you think that your acne may be folliculitis? Why not chat with one of our medical doctors to get a second opinion?
Folliculitis is often misdiagnosed. In extreme cases can result in permanent hair loss. All it takes is a few minutes to put you in touch with a medical professional and put your mind at ease.
Start your free Your Doctors Online account now!
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.
About Richard Honaker M.D.
All Your Warm Weather Skin Questions Answered
Save your summer skin with our guide to playing it safe in the sand, surf ...Read more
Folliculitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention
Everything you need to know about the skin ailment you never knew you probably have. ...Read more
Neglecting your scalp could lead to scalp folliculitis and permanent hair loss Many people ...Read more