Folliculitis generally isn’t very contagious. But certain types can spread from person to person under the right conditions.

Folliculitis is the infection or inflammation of hair follicles. Most types of folliculitis do not spread from person to person, but it can be contagious in certain forms.

While folliculitis often occurs due to a bacterial infection, it can also be caused by a virus, fungus, or another agent.

Folliculitis can affect anywhere that hair grows on the body, even if the hair is sparse and thin. Folliculitis typically appears as red, inflamed bumps and can be white-headed like acne. Its appearance may differ depending on the amount of melanin in your skin.

We’ll go over the types of folliculitis, when it’s contagious, and how to prevent infection.

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

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

Once you have folliculitis, it can spread to other parts of your body. Folliculitis can occur anywhere there’s hair.

Common areas affected by folliculitis include the:

  • scalp
  • buttocks
  • arms
  • armpits
  • legs

If you scratch at the bumps then touch another part of your body, or use a towel or razor that has touched an affected area, this can transfer the bacteria that can cause folliculitis. Itching can spread folliculitis to nearby follicles.

Overall, it is very difficult to acquire folliculitis from another person, but not impossible.

These types of folliculitis are known to be contagious in certain conditions:

  • Folliculitis caused by the herpes simplex virus. Herpes can be spread by exchanging bodily fluids.
  • Folliculitis caused by a staphylococcal (staph) infection. Close skin contact, especially if you have open cuts, can put you at risk of acquiring a staph infection. Sharing a razor can also spread this type of folliculitis.
  • Hot tub folliculitis. This type of folliculitis can be passed on from person to person through contact with hot tub or pool water containing the infectious agent.

We’ll go over these types of folliculitis and others in more depth below.

Though all cases of folliculitis may look similar, there are different types with different root causes.

Viral folliculitis

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

Herpes can be passed on through skin-to-skin contact and contact with bodily fluids (via sharing food utensils, kissing, or sexual activity).

Drug-induced folliculitis

Drug-induced folliculitis often resembles acne (acne vulgaris). However, unlike acne, this type of folliculitis doesn‘t have comedones.

Other names for drug-induced folliculitis are:

  • acneiform eruptions
  • drug-induced acne
  • papulopustular eruptions

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

These medications include:

  • isoniazid
  • steroids
  • lithium
  • certain seizure medications

Acne vs. folliculitis

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.

Folliculitis is usually the direct result of hair follicle infection. Acne vulgaris can happen due to multiple causes, including overactive sebaceous (oil) glands, bacteria, or dead skin cells clogging pores.

It’s possible to have both acne and folliculitis, and acne can also be caused by ingrown or trapped hairs.

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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 a staph infection.

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 pustules or papules on the upper body, including the face. It is typically itchy.

A yeast infection causes this type of folliculitis. It’s also a chronic form, meaning it recurs or persists. This type of folliculitis needs to be treated with an oral or topical antifungal medication.

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, often called hot tub rash. The first red, itchy bumps will typically form a few days after a person has used a hot tub. If the infection is in the water, it can spread to others.

Folliculitis decalvans

Folliculitis decalvans is a hair loss disorder that can lead to scarring.

Some believe it’s due to an irregular immune system response to a staph infection on the scalp, although this is not definitively proven.

This type of folliculitis destroys hair follicles, resulting in scarring. This typically makes it difficult or impossible for the hair to grow back.

A small 2010 study found antimicrobial medications helped prevent the destruction of hair follicles in some people with folliculitis decalvans. The researchers identified Rifampicin or Clarythromycin in combination with Minocycline as the most effective. However, more research is needed.

Other treatment approaches include oral antibiotics, topical lotions, and light or laser therapies done over multiple sessions.

Pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps)

This kind of folliculitis often occurs after a close shave, earning the name “razor bumps.” It can become a chronic, but manageable, condition. “Razor burn,” or general irritation after shaving, is not the same thing.

Pseudofolliculitis barbae usually refers to hair follicle inflammation on the face and neck, but other shaved areas of the body can be affected too. Shaving can give hairs a sharp edge, making it easier for them to poke into your skin (ingrown hairs). In some cases, this type of folliculitis can cause scarring and keloids (hard growths of extra scar tissue).

Razor bumps can occur in anyone who shaves. It occurs most frequently in Black men who shave their faces, and others who may have curly hair. Overall, having thick or curly hair can increase your likelihood of having ingrown hairs. The most effective solution is to stop the shaving or hair removal processes on the affected follicles.

Below, we’ll discuss how ingrown hairs occur, and what else you can do to prevent them.

Ingrown hairs occur most frequently after shaving or other hair removal techniques. It can also happen if your skin isn‘t properly exfoliated or cleaned. Dead skin can clog hair follicles, preventing hairs from growing in the proper direction.

Ingrown hairs happen when a hair doesn‘t grow straight up through the skin like it’s supposed to, but instead, it becomes trapped underneath. These hairs can penetrate the surrounding skin, causing inflammation.

Signs of ingrown hair may include:

  • red, swollen bumps
  • whiteheads or pus at the site
  • pain, itching, or soreness
  • in some cases, seeing the trapped hair under the skin

Preventing ingrown hairs

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Folliculitis isn‘t considered a sexually transmitted infection, though in some cases it can transfer via close skin contact.

However, the herpes simplex virus is spread through sexual contact. In rare cases, this virus can cause folliculitis.

Most cases of mild folliculitis can be treated at home. In certain situations, it’s advisable to consult with a doctor.

A quick remedy is stopping the behavior that’s causing the folliculitis, even if just temporarily. This includes shaving or hair removal routines or wearing tight and restrictive clothing.

Other home remedies include:

  • Warm compress. Apply a warm compress to the affected area a few times a day. This can help your skin relax and release the trapped hair.
  • 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 due to hair removal, you may consider laser hair removal to destroy the hair follicle.

It’s important to talk with a doctor before trying any home remedies.

If your folliculitis doesn‘t improve or worsens after a few days of treatment at home, reach out to your doctor.

You should seek medical attention if:

  • your folliculitis hasn‘t improved after several days of treatment at home
  • your skin is extremely red, warm, swollen, or painful
  • pus is leaking from the affected area
  • you have a fever

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

Folliculitis can be treated by your primary care doctor, but you may be referred to a dermatologist (skin expert).

You can view doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.

There are several ways to help prevent folliculitis:

  • Avoid restrictive clothes, which can trap sweat and irritate skin.
  • Avoid shaving, or shave less frequently. Use shaving cream, and apply moisturizer after shaving. Practice proper shaving techniques, and don’t rush.
  • Only go in hot tubs and pools that you know are clean and well chlorinated.
  • Shower with soap immediately after using a hot tub, Jacuzzi, or heated swimming pool.
  • Shower with soap after exercise.
  • Avoid sharing towels, face cloths, and razors.

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

Folliculitis from infectious agents may spread by sharing razors, towels, or through hot tubs. It can also spread from one part of the body to another if you’re not careful.

Some types of folliculitis may require treatment with topical or oral medication (including antibiotics or antifungals). Many cases of folliculitis can resolve on their own if you stop the cause of irritation, such as shaving, or wearing tight clothing.

Talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing painful, red bumps on your skin that don’t resolve with treatment at home. You may need further care to treat your type or case of folliculitis, and prevent it from recurring.