Your skin does some amazing work. It protects you from the elements, heals its own wounds, and even grows your hair. With all that going on, things are bound to go wrong once in a while.
If you have sore red bumps that look like pimples, especially where you shave, you may have folliculitis, a common skin problem.
Hair follicles are tiny pockets in your skin. You have them just about everywhere except for your lips, your palms, and the soles of your feet. If you get bacteria or a blockage in a follicle, it may become red and swollen.
You can get this condition anywhere you have hair, but it’s most likely to show up on your neck, thighs, buttocks, or armpits. You can often treat it yourself, but for more severe cases you may need to see your doctor.
Different kinds of folliculitis have other names you might have heard, such as:
- Barber’s itch
- Hot tub rash
- Razor bumps
- Shaving rash
What Causes This Problem?
Staph, a kind of bacteria, is most often to blame. You have staph on your skin all the time, and it normally doesn’t cause any issues. But if it gets inside your body, say through a cut, then it can cause problems.
These other things can also cause folliculitis:
- Blockages from skin products, such as moisturizers with oils
- A fungus
- Hair removal, such as shaving, waxing, and plucking
- Ingrown hairs
- Other bacteria, such as the kind you might find in a hot tub
- Some drugs, such as corticosteroids that are used to ease inflammation
In general, you’re more likely to get the condition if you have damaged follicles. This can happen from things such as shaving, skin injuries, sticky bandages, and tight clothes.
You’ll find that they vary based on the exact type of folliculitis you and how bad it is. You may have:
- Groups of small red bumps like pimples, some with white heads on them
- Blisters that break open, ooze, and become crusty
- Large areas of red, swollen skin that may leak pus
These areas of your skin may be itchy, tender, and painful as well.
How Do I Know I Have It?
Your doctor can usually tell if you have it by looking at your skin closely and asking questions about your medical history.
You don’t usually need tests unless other treatments don’t work. In that case, your doctor may use a swab to take a skin sample and find out exactly what’s causing the problem.
Mild folliculitis might go away without any treatment. To help yourself heal and ease symptoms, you can:
Clean the infected area: Wash twice a day with warm water and antibacterial soap. Be sure to use a fresh cloth and towel each time.
Turn to salt: Put warm saltwater -- 1 teaspoon table salt mixed with 2 cups of water -- on a washcloth and place it on your skin. You can also try white vinegar.
Gels, creams and washes: Use over-the-counter antibiotics that you rub on your skin. If you’re itchy, you can try oatmeal lotion or hydrocortisone cream. It also helps to avoid shaving, scratching, and wearing tight or rough clothes on the infected area.
If these self-care treatments don’t work, your doctor may give you:
- Antibiotic cream if the folliculitis is caused by bacteria (pills for very severe cases only)
- Antifungal creams, shampoos, or pills if it’s caused by fungus
- Steroid cream to help reduce swelling
I Need To Shave; What Can I Do?
Your best bet is not to shave for at least three months, but for a lot of people that won’t do. You might want to try an electric razor. If that doesn’t work for you either, then be sure to:
- Wash your skin with warm water and a gentle cleanser.
- Apply plenty of gel or shaving cream, not soap, and let it sit 5 to 10 minutes to soften your hairs.
- Use a new blade each time you shave so you know it’s clean and sharp; single blades are ideal.
- Shave in the direction your hairs grow.
- Rinse with warm water and use moisturizing lotion.
It can help to shave only every other day.
How Can I Prevent This?
To lower your chances of getting folliculitis, avoid wearing clothes that irritate your skin or trap heat and sweat, such as Lycra, rubber gloves, and high boots.
Limit your use of skin oils and other greasy skin products. They can cause blockages and trap bacteria. Other things you can do:
- Dip into hot tubs only if you know for sure they are clean and well-maintained.
- Use clean towels, razors, and other personal care items, and avoid sharing them with anyone else.
- Wash your hands often.