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Folliculitis

Definition

Folliculitis is inflammation of one or more hair follicles. It can occur anywhere on the skin.

Alternative Names

Pseudofolliculitis barbae; Tinea barbae; Barber's itch

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Folliculitis starts when hair follicles are damaged by rubing from clothing, blockage of the follicle, or shaving. Most of the time, the damaged follicles become infected with Staphylococcus (staph) bacteria.

Barber's itch is a staph infection of the hair follicles in the beard area of the face, usually the upper lip. Shaving makes it worse. Tinea barbae is similar to barber's itch, but the infection is caused by a fungus.

Pseudofolliculitis barbae is a disorder that occurs mainly in black men. If curly beard hairs are cut too short, they may curve back into the skin and cause inflammation.

Symptoms

Common symptoms include a rash, itching, and pimples or pustules near a hair follicle in the neck, groin, or genital area. The pimples may crust over.

Signs and tests

Your health care provider can diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Lab tests may show which bacteria or fungus is causing the infection.

Treatment

Hot, moist compresses may help drain the affected follicles.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics applied to the skin (mupirocin) or taken by mouth (dicloxacillin)
  • Antifungal medications to control the infection

Expectations (prognosis)

Folliculitis usually responds well to treatment, but may come back.

Complications

Folliculitis may return or spread to other body areas.

Calling your health care provider

Apply home treatment and call your health care provider if your symptoms:

  • Come back often
  • Get worse
  • Last longer than 2 or 3 days

Prevention

To prevent further damage to the hair follicles and infection:

  • Reduce friction from clothing
  • Avoid shaving the area if possible (if shaving is necessary, use a clean, new razor blade or an electric razor each time)
  • Keep the area clean
  • Avoid contaminated clothing and washcloths

References

Habif TM. Principles of diagnosis and anatomy. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 1.

Habif TM. Bacterial infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 9.

Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Cellulitis, necrotizing faciitis, and subcutaneous tissue infections. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 90.


Review Date: 10/14/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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