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Folliculitis is a common inflammatory skin condition affecting your hair follicles. It’s usually caused by a fungal or bacterial infection.

The infection occurs when you damage your hair follicles, which are the openings in your skin that hold the roots of your hair. This can affect any part of your body with hair, including your scalp.

The condition isn’t contagious, and you can usually treat it at home. But in some cases, the infection can spread to other follicles and cause scarring or permanent hair loss.

Folliculitis initially causes small, red bumps that look similar to an acne breakout. Over time, it may spread to other follicles and the bumps may get larger and more inflamed.

While it can affect any part of your scalp, it often begins along your hairline.

Other signs and symptoms of scalp folliculitis include:

  • clusters of tiny, red bumps on your scalp that may have a white tip
  • sores with yellowish-brown scabs
  • sores that drain pus
  • itching
  • burning or stinging sensation
  • pain or tenderness

Folliculitis is caused by damage to your hair follicles, which leaves them vulnerable to infection-causing bacteria and fungi.

Many things can damage the hair follicles on your scalp, such as:

  • frequently scratching or rubbing your head
  • tugging on or twisting your hair
  • wearing hairstyles that pull your hair, such as tight ponytails or braids
  • frequently wearing hats
  • shaving your head
  • wearing sports helmets
  • using a lot of hair products, which can build up over time

Several things can also increase your risk of developing scalp folliculitis, including:

  • having acne or dermatitis
  • being a male with coarse or curly hair
  • having a weakened immune system due to an underlying condition
  • taking certain medications for acne, including steroid creams or antibiotic therapy

You can usually take care of mild cases of folliculitis at home. The most important thing is to stop doing anything that may have caused it in the first place.

For example, if you shave your head frequently, try taking a few weeks off. If your folliculitis clears up, you may want to change your shaving technique.

You can also try:

  • Warm compress. Applying a warm compress or warm, damp cloth to your scalp a few times a day can help to soothe your scalp and drain any pus.
  • Antibacterial soap. If your scalp folliculitis is located along your hairline, gently wash the skin twice daily with antibacterial soap and dry the area with a clean towel.
  • Anti-dandruff shampoo. Washing your scalp with an anti-dandruff shampoo that contains antifungal agents, such as ketoconazole, ciclopirox, or tea tree oil, may be helpful. You can buy anti-dandruff shampoo on Amazon.
  • Cortisone cream. A cortisone cream, also available on Amazon, can help to soothe the inflammation and itch of scalp folliculitis.
  • Antibiotic ointment. You can also try applying an antibiotic ointment, like Neosporin, to the area to help target bacteria.
  • Lukewarm water. Avoid washing your hair or scalp with hot water, which can further irritate your scalp. Stick to lukewarm water instead.
  • Washing. Wash any items, such as hats, bedding, or combs, that have come into contact with the affected part of your scalp.

Once your condition has cleared up, be sure to practice proper scalp hygiene. Wash your scalp regularly to avoid a buildup of hair products and oils that can clog or irritate your hair follicles.

If you shave your head with a hand razor, consider switching to an electric razor and using a soothing lotion after each shave.

While folliculitis is often treatable at home, some cases may require a trip to the doctor. Make an appointment if you aren’t noticing any improvement after a few days of home treatment, or if things seem to be getting worse.

You should also see a doctor if:

  • sores continue to worsen or spread after two full days of home treatment
  • your skin is red or painful around the hair follicles
  • you develop a fever of over 100°F (38°C)
  • your folliculitis was caused by shaving, but you’re not able to stop shaving

You may need a prescription antifungal cream or oral antibiotic, especially if you have a weakened immune system or have recurring folliculitis.

Folliculitis of the scalp can be uncomfortable, but you can usually manage it at home.

If you aren’t noticing any improvement after a few days, or things seem to be getting worse, make an appointment to see a doctor. You may need a prescription treatment.