Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Folliculitis is when hair follicles become inflamed. It’s commonly caused by an infection after removing hair although it can also be caused by irritation or a blockage of the hair follicle. Read about what causes folliculitis and how to treat it.

What is folliculitis?

Folliculitis is a skin condition involving inflammation of the hair follicles. It’s very common and usually nothing to worry about. It can occur anywhere on the body where hair grows – the most common places are the chest, underarms, legs, back and jaw area. 

What causes folliculitis?

Folliculitis is usually caused by an infection of the hair follicles by bacteria. It can also be caused by a fungus or virus. Folliculitis can also be non-infectious, for example, inflammation caused by ingrown hair or a blockage. 

Some of the most common causes of folliculitis include: 

  • Removing hair by shaving, waxing or another method

  • Swimming in an improperly treated pool or hot tub

  • Taking oral antibiotics for a long time

What are the symptoms of folliculitis?

Common folliculitis symptoms include: 

  • Red spots around hair follicles

  • Pustules (pus-filled sores)

  • Itching

  • Tenderness

How is folliculitis treated?

Most of the time, folliculitis will go away on its own within 7-10 days with good hygiene. There are a few things you can do to help it get better:

  • Clean the area with soap and water regularly

  • Use a warm compress several times a day for up to 15 minutes

  • Avoid scratching the area as it could spread the infection or lead to scars

  • Don’t shave, wax or pluck your hair until the area heals

To prevent folliculitis, try using an electric razor when you go back to removing hair. It can be a gentler way to remove hair than waxing or blade shaving. Always use plenty of shaving cream or gel. 

How is folliculitis treated?

If a doctor thinks you need treatment, a topical antibiotic cream or antiseptic, such as chlorhexidine, usually does the trick. Oral antibiotics may be needed if the folliculitis has spread over a larger area.

If the folliculitis is caused by a fungus, a topical or oral antifungal agent would be prescribed instead.

Rarely, a severe case of folliculitis may need referral to a skin specialist. 

What else could it be?

Folliculitis can also look like other common skin problems, like:

  • Acne

  • Hidradenitis suppurativa

  • Scabies

  • Keratosis pilaris

  • Papulopustular rosacea

When should I speak to a doctor?

  • If you have symptoms of folliculitis and need antibiotic treatment

  • If the area of folliculitis is spreading despite using treatment provided by a GP

  • If you’re diabetic or have a weakened immune system

  • If you get larger boils or abscesses around hair follicles

  • If you get recurrent episodes of folliculitis

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor can talk to you about your symptoms and advise on investigations and possible treatment.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi