- Folliculitis happens when your hair follicles become inflamed, causing bumps.
- It's most common on the legs, butt, arms, back, and beard areas.
- You can treat folliculitis by changing the way you shave and using an antibacterial soap.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
If you're experiencing small, itchy, red bumps or white-headed pimples around your hair follicles, you may have folliculitis. These bumps can crop up anywhere you grow hair, but it's most common on the legs, arms, back, butt, or beard area in men.
Folliculitis occurs when your hair follicles become inflamed, typically due to bacteria or fungi. While the condition isn't serious, it can be uncomfortable, and you may want to smoothen out the appearance of your skin.
Here are six ways to treat folliculitis and how to prevent it from cropping up in the future.
1. Change the way you shave
Shaving is one of the main risk factors for developing folliculitis. If stopping shaving isn't an option, there are a few guidelines you can follow to prevent folliculitis when you shave, says Debra Jaliman, MD, board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She recommends:
- Using fresh razor blades: The benefit of this is twofold. First, bacteria can sit and grow on old razors, and second, dull razors can scrape your skin, says Jaliman. Both of these can contribute to folliculitis, so using fresh blades or new disposable razors whenever you shave can help prevent this.
- Using shaving foam or cream: Avoid shaving without some kind of lubricating protection. Jaliman says using shaving foam or cream can lessen your chances of irritating or abrading your skin.
- Shaving after showering: Waiting until the end of your shower or after you shower to shave ensures that your skin and hair are hydrated, with less dead skin cells or excess oil that can get in the way of a clean shave.
2. Practice good post-workout hygiene
When you exercise, bacteria can build up on the skin when you sweat, which can lead to folliculitis, Jaliman says.
To decrease your risk of developing folliculitis, Jaliman says you should take steps like:
- Shower right after your workout to wash away the bacteria.
- Change into fresh clothes after showering.
- Never use the same sweaty clothes multiple times.
- Regularly wash your gym bag so bacteria doesn't grow and infect your clothing.
3. Use a benzoyl peroxide wash
Benzoyl peroxide is something you can easily find over-the-counter at a drugstore. Gordon says to aim for a concentration of 4% benzoyl peroxide, which will be effective without being too irritating.
You can use the wash once a day, letting it sit a few minutes before you rinse so it has a chance to work, says Gordon. If this is too drying for your skin, limit the use to two or three times a week.
4. Use a chemical exfoliant
If your pores are clogged, it's more likely that bacteria will proliferate, says Jaliman. Since this can increase your risk of folliculitis or worsen an existing case, using a chemical exfoliant to unclog your pores can help.
Jaliman says you can use it daily. For best results apply the toner after cleansing your skin.
5. Use topical or oral antibiotics
If your folliculitis is stubborn, your dermatologist may give you a prescription antibiotic that can reduce the bacterial load and resulting inflammation.
"In general, oral antibiotics are used only for severe cases but topical antibiotics can be a great long-term treatment," says Gordon.
If your dermatologist determines that a fungus is responsible for the folliculitis, Gordon says antifungal medication like oral fluconazole or topical ketoconazole cream would be prescribed instead of an antibiotic.
6. Get laser hair removal
If you're very prone to folliculitis and other methods aren't cutting it, laser hair removal can provide you with long-term relief, says Gordon.
Laser hair removal treatments work by damaging your hair follicles so that hair can't grow from them anymore. There's a chance that the follicle may still become inflamed, says Gordon. However, without hair growth and hair removal, your chances of developing folliculitis are significantly reduced since there will be less irritation.
The laser hair removal process takes time. You may need up to six sessions, usually once every four to six weeks. The cost of the procedure will vary based on the city you're in and the dermatologist or medspa you go to.
The key to managing folliculitis is to take measures to prevent it from occurring in the first place, such as by changing the way you shave and bathing after working out. Your doctor can also prescribe antibiotics if necessary in more serious cases.