Folliculitis is an infection or inflammation of the hair follicle. A bacterial infection often causes it.

It can appear essentially anywhere hair grows, even if the hair is sparse and thin, including the:

  • scalp
  • buttocks
  • arms
  • armpits
  • legs

Folliculitis looks like red bumps or acne.

Anyone can get folliculitis, but it’s more common in people who:

  • take certain medications
  • have a condition that weakens the immune system
  • use hot tubs
  • frequently wear restrictive clothing
  • have coarse, curly hair that they shave
  • are overweight

In certain cases, folliculitis can be contagious, but most types don’t spread from person to person.

Most types of folliculitis aren’t contagious. However, in certain cases, if an infectious agent (like hot tub water) causes the folliculitis, it can transfer.

Folliculitis can spread via:

  • very close skin-to-skin contact
  • sharing razors or towels
  • Jacuzzis, hot tubs, and pools

Some people with compromised immune systems will be more susceptible to contracting folliculitis.

Folliculitis can spread to other parts of the body. Scratching at the bumps then touching another part of the body, or using a towel or razor that’s touched an affected area, can transfer folliculitis.

It can also spread to nearby follicles.

Though all variations of folliculitis will look similar, there are many different types of folliculitis. The type will also determine whether it’s contagious.

Viral folliculitis

Herpes simplex virus, the virus that causes cold sores, can cause folliculitis. This is an uncommon form of folliculitis. The bumps will be in close proximity to a cold sore and can be spread by shaving.

Acne vulgaris

Acne vulgaris and folliculitis can sometimes be hard to distinguish. Both present as inflammatory papules, pustules, or nodules, but they’re not the same thing.

Acne vulgaris is essentially due to clogged pores caused in part by overproductive sebaceous glands.

Folliculitis lacks any comedones, or clogged pores. It’s usually the direct result of an infection of the hair follicle.

Drug-induced folliculitis

Drug-induced folliculitis is commonly referred to as an “acneiform eruption” since it looks like acne but lacks comedones.

Certain medications can cause this type of folliculitis in a small percentage of people. These medications include:

  • isoniazid
  • steroids
  • lithium
  • certain seizure medications

Staphylococcal folliculitis

Staphylococcal folliculitis is one of the more common types of folliculitis. It develops from a staph infection. You can contract staph from direct body contact with someone else who has it.

In some areas of the skin, staph may be naturally present. It becomes problematic when it breaks through the skin barrier via a cut or open wound.

If you share a razor with someone with staphylococcal folliculitis, you may also get it if you have a cut on your skin.

Fungal folliculitis

Fungus or yeast can also cause folliculitis. Pityrosporum folliculitis is characterized by red, itchy pustules on the upper body, including the face. A yeast infection causes this type of folliculitis. It’s also a chronic form, meaning it recurs or persists.

Hot tub folliculitis

Pseudomonas bacteria are found in hot tubs and heated pools (among other places) that aren’t properly cleaned or where the chlorine isn’t strong enough to kill them.

The bacteria can cause folliculitis. The first red, itchy bumps will typically form a few days after a person has used a hot tub.

Folliculitis decalvans

Folliculitis decalvans is essentially a scarring hair loss disorder. Some believe it’s due to a staph infection on the scalp. It can destroy hair follicles that result in scars, thus making it so the hair doesn’t grow back.

Folliculitis isn’t a sexually transmitted inflected (STI). In some cases, it can transfer via close skin contact, but it’s not transferred sexually.

Most cases of mild folliculitis can be treated at home. In certain situations, it will be important to consult a doctor.

One quick remedy is simply stopping the behavior that’s causing the folliculitis, like shaving or wearing restricting clothing.

Other home remedies to try include:

  • Warm compress. Apply a warm compress to the affected area a few times a day.
  • Topicals and body washes. In many cases of bacterial folliculitis, an over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial wash, such as chlorhexidine (Hibiclens) or benzoyl peroxide, can provide relief. Avoid using Hibiclens above the neck. If you suspect yeast is causing your folliculitis, try an OTC antifungal cream.
  • Bathe with lukewarm water. Hot water may further irritate or inflame folliculitis.
  • Laser hair removal. If your folliculitis is recurring, you may consider laser hair removal to destroy the hair follicle.

If your folliculitis doesn’t improve or worsens after a few days of using home remedies, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Other signs that you need medical attention include painful red skin and fever. Also see your doctor if shaving is causing your folliculitis but you’re unable to stop shaving, like for work.

Your doctor may prescribe prescription-strength antibiotic topicals or oral medications, as well as recommend an antibacterial wash.

There are several ways to prevent folliculitis:

  • Avoid tight clothes.
  • Avoid shaving, or shave less frequently. Use shaving cream, and apply moisturizer after shaving.
  • Only go in hot tubs and pools that you know are clean and well chlorinated.

There are many types of folliculitis. Most types aren’t contagious and won’t transfer from person to person.

Folliculitis from infectious agents may spread by sharing razors, towels, or through Jacuzzis or hot tubs. It can also spread from one part of the body to another.

You can help prevent the spread of folliculitis by avoiding tight, restrictive clothing and keeping the affected area clean.