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What is Scalp Folliculitis?

Scalp folliculitis is inflammation of the hair follicles on the scalp. This is often associated with small, itchy pimple-like bumps at the base of the hair follicle. Severe folliculitis can permanently destroy hair follicles, and when left untreated, may cause permanent hair loss. Folliculitis not only affects the scalp; it can also present anywhere on the body that hair can grow.

Understanding causes of scalp folliculitis

There are two forms of scalp folliculitis. Non-infectious folliculitis is caused by excess dirt and oils that clog the hair follicles. Infectious folliculitis is caused by bacterial infections which infect the hair follicles on the scalp.

Viral, fungal, or yeast infections may also lead to scalp folliculitis. However, bacterial infections cause most cases of infectious folliculitis. Another common cause of scalp folliculitis is the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, also known as a staph infection. 

Uncovering types of scalp folliculitis

While there are only two forms of scalp folliculitis, there are several types of folliculitis that may be present. They include but are not limited to the following types.

Acne necrotica

Acne necrotica is a severe form of scalp folliculitis. The inflamed follicles become dark, crusty formations that leave pox-like scars. Acne necrotica not only affects the scalp, but it also affects anywhere on the body hair grows.

Bacterial folliculitis 

This is a bacterial infection of the hair follicles that occurs when staph bacteria enters the skin through shaving cuts. Although it is called barber’s itch when it infects a man’s beard, this form of folliculitis occurs anywhere a person may choose to shave, including the scalp.

Eosinophilic folliculitis 

This follicle infection is most commonly found in people with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Although the exact cause of It is unknown, it may stem from the yeast-like fungus that causes pityrosporum folliculitis.


These boils are follicles that become infected due to Staphylococcus bacteria. Furuncles can appear anywhere body hair grows.

Perifolliculitis capitis

This type of folliculitis is an uncommon but severe form of scalp folliculitis that is very resistant to treatment. It is most common in older black people, but may rarely occur in people with fair skin. Peri-folliculitis capitis is also called perifolliculitis capitis abscedens or dissecting cellulitis.

Pityrosporum folliculitis

This infection is commonly found on the face, neck, and back of teens and young men. A yeast infection causes it. Although it typically appears on the upper trunk and shoulders, it may sometimes spread to the head.

Pseudomonas folliculitis

Also called hot tub folliculitis, this infection of the hair follicles stems from swimming in dirty water. The infected bodies of water may include pools, hot tubs, ponds, lakes, and sea water.

Identifying scalp folliculitis signs and symptoms

Scalp folliculitis looks a lot like acne with a hair growing in the center of a bump-like pustule. The pustules are filled with white pus, which is sometimes accompanied by blood.  Other signs and symptoms may include redness and irritation, tenderness or pain, cluster rashes or bumps, discoloration of the skin, and scarring.

Scalp folliculitis risk factors

Scalp folliculitis risk factors include

  • Using pools or hot tubs that are not properly chlorinated
  • Wearing damp or tight-fitting clothes, such as a tight hat
  • Skin contact with substances that can clog follicles, including creosote, motor oil, tar, makeup or cocoa butter
  • Infected scrapes, cuts or surgical wounds
  • Diseases like HIV or diabetes that prevent your body from fighting infection efficiently
  • Long-term use of acne creams or antibiotics
  • Skin conditions like dermatitis or acne
  • Being overweight
  • Irritation from shaving

Diagnosing scalp folliculitis

Diagnosis often begins with a skin care specialist requesting a complete medical history. Next, the doctor does a complete dermal (skin) evaluation. In some cases, he or she takes a sample of a pustule, then sends it to a lab for testing to determine whether it is infectious or not.

Determining folliculitis scalp treatment

Treatments may vary depending on the severity and underlying cause of the condition. Your doctor may suggest any of the following treatments.

  • Antifungal medications or shampoos
  • Steroidal medication or corticosteroids
  • A small incision in a pustule to drain the fluid
  • Photodynamic and laser light therapies; minimally evasive procedures using lights and medicated creams to treat the lesions
  • Antibacterial medications such as ointments, creams, powders, shampoos or washes

Home treatments for scalp folliculitis

Many cases of folliculitis respond well to home care. The following home remedies may help relieve discomfort, speed healing, and prevent the spread of infection.

Saltwater solution

Mix one teaspoon of salt in two cups of water. Soak a clean white washcloth in the solution, then lay the cloth on the infected area. Repeat this treatment as needed to help relieve swelling and discomfort.

Over-the-counter products 

Various non-prescription products contain antibacterial agents. These products include ointments, creams, powders, lotions, shampoos, and facial or body washes.

Natural remedies for scalp folliculitis

Natural remedies may also help clear up scalp follicle inflammation. Keep in mind that many essential oils are concentrates. Dilute them in a carrier oil to prevent further skin irritation.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil has numerous antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties that help soothe and fight scalp folliculitis. Many herbal specialists believe that tea tree oil is one of the healthiest ways to fight bacterial infections. To use tea tree oil for scalp folliculitis, dab a few drops on the infected follicle.

Castor oil

Castor oil relieves pain and swelling caused by scalp folliculitis. To use castor oil, gently massage a couple of drops onto the infected area.  


Garlic is believed to be a natural remedy for all kinds of folliculitis. To use garlic, cut a fresh, ripe garlic clove to expose the liquid inside, then apply the liquid on the infected area.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is full of antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging properties that help promote a healthy scalp. Massage fresh coconut oil onto your scalp every day to hydrate the skin and reduce scalp folliculitis symptoms.

Heat pack

Using a hot compress will help ease the itchiness and swelling caused by scalp folliculitis. It can also prompt pustules to drain without damaging skin, unlike picking or squeezing.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera can soothe lesions, burns, bites, and skin condition such as scalp folliculitis. Cut off a piece of the Aloe Vera plant and rub the aloe on the infected area. Leave the aloe on your skin for at least 15 minutes. Repeat these steps three times a day for best results.

Vinegar and water

Mix one part vinegar and three parts water to make a diluted solution. Soak a clean white cloth in this, lay the cloth on the infected area and leave it for approximately 15 minutes. Repeat these steps as needed.


Curcumin is one of the main healing ingredients in Turmeric. Curcumin is an antioxidant that can be used as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat folliculitis. Sprinkle turmeric power over the infected area and let it sit for a few minutes.

Neem leaves

Neem’s leaves are beneficial in soothing hair folliculitis. Boil 4 – 5 leaves in a pot, then use the water as an herbal shampoo or body wash.

Preventing scalp folliculitis

The following tips help prevent scalp folliculitis from reoccurring.

  • Cleanse the skin daily with a mild soap
  • Avoid reusing dirty towels, washcloths or clothing
  • Apply powder to areas of the skin prone to chaffing
  • Avoid using oil-based skin products
  • Refrain from eating fried foods
  • Reduce or revise shaving methods; in some cases of barber’s itch, doctors advise allowing your beard to grow
  • Use shaving cream or gel to soften the hair before shaving, and apply lotion after each shave
  • Avoid touching or itching the infected areas
  • Clean hot tubs and pools regularly, and use the recommended amount of chlorine

Severe folliculitis can permanently destroy hair follicles, causing permanent hair loss. However, when it is treated early enough, severe complications can be avoided. 

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