Last modified: May 20, 2019
Richard Honaker M.D.View Full Profile
Neglecting your scalp could lead to scalp folliculitis and permanent hair loss
Many people spend a good amount of time and money to achieve healthy and good looking hair. Whether they spring for high end hair cuts, treatments or products or just love to style it for hours on end, hair is often seen as your ‘crowning glory’.
While most consider the condition or health of their hair as a priority, they often overlook the state of their scalp. Scalp folliculitis is a common condition that in extreme cases can lead to permanent hair loss! We asked Dr. NAME to share with us the causes, risks and treatments of this often not talked about skin ailment.
What is Scalp Folliculitis?
Folliculitis refers to the inflammation that is caused when an irritant, often a bacteria or fungus invades the hair follicle. Unfortunately, as most of the human body is actually covered with hair, this condition can affect almost every part of your body. When the condition affects the scalp it is referred to as scalp folliculitis.
Scalp folliculitis often begins on the hairline and may spread to include the scalp. Signs and symptoms include:
- Small red or flesh colored bumps that may have a white tip
- Bumps may feel itchy or painful
- Sore or tingling sensation on your scalp
- Bumps may drain pus
- Your sores may be brown or yellowish
According to the American Council for Hair Loss, scalp folliculitis can cause you to lose your hair, although in most cases the loss is temporary.
What Causes Scalp Folliculitis?
Folliculitis is caused when the hair follicle is damaged and bacteria or fungi are more easily able to penetrate. This is not always the case, as a rarer form of folliculitis called eosinophilic folliculitis, is actually caused by internal changes in the body.
Damage to the hair follicles in the scalp can be caused in the following ways:
- Wearing sports helmets
- Pulling your hair
- Putting hair into tight hairstyles such as ponytails or buns
- Frequently rubbing or scratching your head
- Infrequent hair washing that causes product build up on the scalp
- Wearing hats often
- Shaving your head
Are you at an Increased Risk?
While folliculitis can affect anyone (even babies!) there are certain conditions that can put you at a higher risk for contacting this skin condition.
You may be at a higher risk if:
- You have a weakened immune system as a result of a condition such as diabetes, HIV, some cancers or are a organ recipient
- You suffer from acne or dermatitis
- You are a male with thick or curly hair
- You are taking certain acne medications such as steroid creams or antibiotic therapy
Treatment of Scalp Folliculitis
Scalp Folliculitis usually be treated at home with some simple and basic care methods. Try to pinpoint the reason you may have contacted the condition and stop that behavior to allow the area time to heal. This may mean leaving your hair in a loose style, or taking a break from shaving your head.
You can also Encourage Healing by:
- Apply a warm compress to the area to help with the pain and itch
- If your hairline is affected, try washing with an antibacterial soap twice a day
- Use an anti dandruff shampoo that contains anti-fungal ingredients such as tea tree oil, ketoconazole, or ciclopirox
- Apply a cortisone cream to help ease the inflammation and itch
- Avoid washing your hair in hot water and instead use warm water to help soothe the scalp
- Wash any items that may have come into contact with your scalp such as towels, hats or bedding
Apply an antibiotic ointment to the area, such as Bacitracin
Once your condition clears up, it is important to still consider what factors may have lead to the inflammation. Keeping your scalp free of product build-up, wearing looser hairstyles and shaving with an electric razor can all help prevent the inflammation from recurring.
You May Need to Seek Medical Advice if:
Not all cases of scalp folliculitis are able to clear up without medical intervention. You may need to seek medical attention if:
- You notice no improvement after a two days of home treatment or the condition seems to be worsening
- You have a fever higher than 100°F (38°C)
- The skin around the hair follicles is red and painful
- The folliculitis is caused by shaving but you are unable to stop
While scalp folliculitis may be a common dermatological ailment, it can be hard to diagnose. Often physicians cannot diagnose the condition on appearance alone and also require additional health information.
Some cases of folliculitis may need a prescription antibiotic or antifungal cream in order to remove the infection. This is commonly seen in cases of recurring folliculitis or in people with compromised immune systems.
A Better Option for Your Health
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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.