What is folliculitis?

A follicle is a small pouch from which hair grows. Folliculitis occurs when the hair follicle becomes inflamed or infected.

How does folliculitis affect the body?

​If your child has folliculitis, they will develop many little red bumps wher​e their body hair grows. Sometimes these bumps may feel itchy or slightly painful and even produce pus. Other times there are no symptoms.

When the folliculitis heals, the red bump is sometimes replaced by darker skin. This condition is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

What causes folliculitis?

There are many causes for folliculitis, including:

  • infections by Staphylococcus aureus or other bacteria, for example from water in hot tubs or swimming pools
  • irritation from shaving, plucking or waxing hair (especially common among those with very curly hair)
  • irritation from sporting equipment or tight clothing rubbing against the skin
  • blockage of hair follicles by creams, oils or ointments.

How is folliculitis diagnosed?

Your child’s doctor can often diagnose folliculitis simply by looking at your child’s skin and asking about your child’s symptoms and recent activities.

If your child’s skin seems to be very infected or there have been many episodes of folliculitis, your doctor may do a skin swab to see which bacteria are responsible.

How is folliculitis treated?

Treatment depends on the extent of the folliculitis and where it is located on the body. In most cases, folliculitis goes away on its own, especially if it is mild and limited to a small area.

When to see a doctor for folliculitis

See your child’s doctor if the folliculitis does not go away on its own. The doctor may suggest one or more of the following treatments.

  • Using a warm wet cloth compress over the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes three times a day
  • Using antibacterial soaps and washes (such as benzoyl peroxide or chlorhexidine) or bleach baths
  • Avoiding any triggers of folliculitis (such as tight clothing)
  • Avoiding any contaminated water (such as in a hot tub) until it is thoroughly cleaned

Your child’s doctor may recommend a topical or oral antibiotic (an antibiotic for the skin or by mouth) if:

  • your child’s folliculitis is spreading 
  • your child's folliculitis does not improve on its own with time
  • your child’s skin is red, tender or painful around the folliculitis
  • your child develops a fever​.

Key points

  • Folliculitis is an inflammation or infection of the hair follicle. It results in small red bumps, which may be itchy or painful.
  • The most common cause of folliculitis is a bacterial infection, but skin irritation is also a factor.
  • Folliculitis usually goes away on its own but can be helped with warm wet compresses or antibacterial soaps.
  • See your child’s doctor if the folliculitis does not improve, if there is redness, swelling or pain at the folliculitis or if your child develops a fever. Your child may need an antibiotic.
Michael Bishara, BSc, MD, FRCPC
Irene Lara-Corrales, MSc, MD​​​