Diagnosis

Your health care provider will likely be able to tell whether you have folliculitis by looking at your skin and asking about your medical history.

If early treatments don't clear up your infection, your health care provider may run some tests. These tests might include:

  • Scraping of the skin to look for yeast under the microscope
  • Obtaining a swab for culture to determine the cause of infection
  • Rarely, doing a skin biopsy to rule out other conditions

More Information

Treatment

Treatments for folliculitis depend on the type and severity of your condition, what self-care measures you've already tried, and how you'd like to proceed.

If you've tried nonprescription products for a few weeks and they haven't helped, ask your health care provider about prescription-strength medications. A dermatologist can help you:

  • Control your folliculitis
  • Figure out whether a drug you take might be causing your symptoms and whether you can stop taking it
  • Avoid scarring or other damage to the skin
  • Make scars less noticeable

Even if treatment helps, the infection may come back. Talk with your health care provider about the risks of the treatments you're considering.

Medications

  • Lotions, gels or pills to control bacterial infection. For mild infection caused by bacteria, your health care provider may prescribe an antibiotic lotion or gel. Infection-fighting pills (oral antibiotics) aren't routinely used for folliculitis, but you may need them for a severe or repeat infection.
  • Creams, shampoos or pills to fight fungal infections. Antifungals are for infections caused by yeast rather than bacteria. Antibiotics aren't helpful in treating this type of folliculitis.
  • Creams or pills to calm inflammation. If you have mild eosinophilic folliculitis, your health care provider may suggest you try a steroid cream to ease the itching. If you have HIV/AIDS, you may see improvement in your eosinophilic folliculitis symptoms after antiretroviral therapy.

Other interventions

  • Minor surgery. If you have a large boil or carbuncle, your health care provider may make a small cut in it to drain the pus. This may relieve pain, speed recovery and lower the risk of scarring. Your health care provider may then cover the area with sterile gauze to absorb any leaking pus.
  • Laser hair removal. Your health care provider may suggest laser hair removal as an option for pseudofolliculitis barbae, especially when other treatments haven't improved your symptoms. This treatment often requires multiple visits to the health care provider's office.

    Talk with your health care provider about possible side effects of laser treatment. They include scarring and skin that lightens (hypopigmentation) or darkens (hyperpigmentation).

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Lifestyle and home remedies

Mild cases of bacterial folliculitis often improve with home care. The following self-care tips may help relieve discomfort, speed healing and prevent an infection from spreading:

  • Apply a warm, moist washcloth. Do this several times a day to relieve discomfort and help the area drain, if needed. Moisten the washcloth with a vinegar solution made of 1 tablespoon (17 grams) of table white vinegar in 1 pint (473 milliliters) of water.
  • Apply a nonprescription antibiotic. Try one of the many infection-fighting lotions, gels and washes that are available in stores without a prescription.
  • Apply a soothing lotion or cream. Try relieving itchy skin with a soothing lotion or a nonprescription-strength hydrocortisone cream.
  • Clean the affected skin. Gently wash the infected skin at least twice a day with an antibacterial soap or cleanser, such as benzoyl peroxide. Use a clean washcloth and towel each time and don't share your towels or washcloths. Use hot, soapy water to wash these items.
  • Protect the skin. If you shave, stop if you can. Barber's itch usually clears up a few weeks after you stop shaving.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your primary care provider. You may then be referred to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions (dermatologist).

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

  • List your key medical information, such as other conditions you're dealing with and any medications, vitamins and supplements you're using.
  • List key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
  • List questions to ask. Having a list ready can help you make the most of your time with your health care provider.

Below are some basic questions to ask your health care provider about folliculitis. If any other questions occur to you during your visit, don't hesitate to ask.

  • What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • What are other possible causes for my symptoms?
  • Do I need any tests?
  • What's the best treatment for my condition?
  • I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • What are the possible side effects of the treatment you're recommending?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
  • Do you have any relevant brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend?
  • What will determine whether I should plan for a follow-up visit?

What to expect from your health care provider

Your health care provider is likely to ask you a few questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to talk about in-depth. Your health care provider may ask:

  • How long have you had this skin infection?
  • Do you have a history of dermatitis?
  • Does your work or a hobby expose your hands to heat and moisture, such as from wearing rubber gloves?
  • Were you in a hot tub or a heated swimming pool a day or two before you noticed your skin rash?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • Does your skin itch? Is it painful to the touch?
  • Does anything make your symptoms worse?
  • What treatments or self-care steps have you tried so far? Have any been effective?

What you can do in the meantime

Sometimes folliculitis goes away without medical treatment. Self-care measures may help relieve your symptoms. For example, it might help to apply a warm, moist washcloth to the affected skin, followed by an anti-itch cream.

Aug. 31, 2022
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