Every body part is prone to disease of some kind, no matter how unlikely. When you think of hair, you would hardly consider that you have anything more to worry about than it getting thinner or drier, or maybe baldness in a worst case scenario. However, there are parts of the hair that we do not see and hence forget to take care of, which makes them even more vulnerable to illness. A prime example is the hair follicles. Although we know our hair has follicles, how often in our hair care regimes do we actually take steps to specifically cater to their needs? For most people, the answer to that question is ‘not very often’ or ‘never’.
A common infection that occurs a result of inconsideration toward follicles is folliculitis. Simply put, the hair follicles develop infection underneath the skin and manifests in unpleasant ways on the surface of the skin. Folliculitis can affect hair all over the body, not just on your head. This is one infection you want to proactively avoid instead of treat. You’ll see why when you go through some of the embarrassing symptoms of the disease. Learning about the causes and risk factors can help you in your preventive efforts. If you end up getting folliculitis anyway, there are medical as well as home remedies you can implement to help cure it.
Symptoms of Folliculitis
There are several different types of folliculitis depending on which part of the follicle is affected by the infection. They are characterized on the basis of where in the structure of the follicle the infection develops. Infections that develop on the upper parts which are closer to the surface of the skin are called superficial folliculitis and those developing lower on the follicle and thus deeper in the skin are known as deep folliculitis. By observing your folliculitis symptoms, your doctor can identify which kind of folliculitis you are suffering from.
Superficial Folliculitis Symptoms
- Itchiness is common with superficial folliculitis.
- The skin can get red due to inflammation.
- You may start to see little red bumps under the surface of the skin. These bumps can sometimes be filled with pus and thus appear white or yellow.
- You may get blisters which are filled with pus and which burst to form a crusty layer on the affected area.
Deep Folliculitis Symptoms
- Since this is deeper in the skin, there is a strong likelihood that you may feel pain.
- Here too there may be blisters full of pus which burst.
- There may just be a growth or a swelling under the skin which shows no signs on the surface apart from the raised bump.
With both types of folliculitis, the affected area can get tender to the touch.
Complications of Folliculitis
- As you may already know, the most trying thing about an infection is how uncomfortable it makes you. The pain or itching, especially the latter, can distract you from your daily tasks.
- If the folliculitis occurs on regions like the groin or buttocks, it can make a person feel very unattractive and can affect their sex life.
- Discoloration of skin and spotting can occur especially in cases of recurring folliculitis.
- If the infection is particularly severe, as it sometimes is in the case of deep folliculitis, the affected area may scar.
- There may also be complete hair loss on the area. While most people won’t mind this on the body, permanent hair loss on the eye lashes, eye brows or head can lead to self-esteem issues.
- Many diseases have physical complications but there are always psychological issues that are harder to handle. Because the disease is visually unpleasant to look at, you may develop social awkwardness or even isolate yourself. You may still have to work though and the constant thought of the folliculitis symptoms can make you uncomfortable and depressed, leading to lower self-esteem, less focus and lower levels of productivity.
Causes of Folliculitis
Folliculitis is basically caused when certain types of bacteria, viruses or fungi infect the follicle. Follicles are more prone to infection if they are damaged. Following are some of the ways in which this damage can occur.
- Shaving too much creates friction which eventually damages follicles.
- Friction is also common when you wear clothes that are too tight for you.
- Heavy sweating damages follicles and makes you vulnerable to folliculitis.
- Wounds, especially those that have cut into the skin, can also damage your follicles.
- Follicular damage can occur when plastic dressings are used on wounded skin. Even adhesive tape has been shown to weaken follicles. However, this only happens when either of these are left on the skin for days on end.
- Having a skin condition which causes inflammation of some sort is an obvious culprit. Prime examples are acne, acne rosacea and eczema.
Risk Factors of Folliculitis
Your likelihood of developing folliculitis increases if you meet the following criteria.
Exposure to Hot, Dirty Water
If you spend a lot of time in the hot tub or in a swimming pool with heated water, it makes you more vulnerable to folliculitis as the heat opens up your pores and makes it easy for bacteria to enter your skin. Folliculitis will generally result only if the water is contaminated or unclean. The areas that are most vulnerable to folliculitis are generally the ones covered by your swimsuit as this traps the heat and the water and keeps it in contact with the skin for longer periods of time.
Diseases that Affect Immune System Function
You are more likely to get folliculitis if you have a disease which reduces your body’s ability to fight off infection. Examples include HIV/AIDS, leukaemia, cancer and diabetes.
Antibiotic Treatment for Acne
We have already seen that having an inflammatory skin condition increases the probability of damaged follicles. However, it is not just the condition but also the treatments employed to cure it which can make you more vulnerable. Research has shown that acne sufferers who were prescribed antibiotics on a long-term basis were more likely to develop folliculitis.
Surgery or Skin Trauma
If you have undergone surgery, have had wounds or cuts from accidents or have suffered from skin problems of some sort in the past, your follicles are very likely damaged and this greatly increases your risk of developing folliculitis.
Those who are overweight are more likely to develop folliculitis that those who are at an average weight. The reason for this is that having all that extra weight on the body puts a lot more pressure on the follicles than they are equipped to deal with thus leading to weakened or damaged follicles. Being obese also means that there are folds of skin all over the body which are difficult to keep clean. The folds are an inviting, warm, damp environment for bacteria of all sorts to come and set up house. Also, obesity puts pressure on your immune system which in turn means that your body has a harder time fighting off the infection.
Wearing Heat-trapping Clothes
Knee-high boots are indispensible wardrobe items for many women but if they are worn for long periods of time they create the perfect atmosphere for infection. Those whose jobs require them to wear gum boots or waders for the better part of the day are also more susceptible. Even wearing skinny jeans or tights for too long increases your risk for the condition.
Treatment for Folliculitis
Generally, the milder forms of the disease will go away on their own even if you do nothing. However, there are cases of recurring folliculitis too and these need to be treated. Remember that there are different types of folliculitis and the best way to get an accurate diagnosis and therefore treatment plan is to see your doctor. A sample of the pus may be sent for analysis, which can help determine what kind of folliculitis you are suffering from. Based on the diagnosis, the following may be prescribed or recommended.
- Antibiotics and/or anti-fungals, both oral and topical, are the first line of defense. Do not just go and take antibiotics if you have folliculitis. Some types of folliculitis-causing bacteria react horribly to antibiotics and you may only make things worse.
- Topical applications for itching may also be necessary. However, itchy skin can also easily (and more safely) be soothed with an oatmeal paste.
- Saline compresses are used to treat some kinds of folliculitis. The salt serves to lower the amount of liquid in the boils thus facilitating quicker healing as well as reducing pain.
- If the folliculitis is severe and the boils are too large, your doctor may suggest piercing them to remove the liquid from within. Boils can be very painful, take really long to heal, and can also result in severe scarring. Draining them can help to counteract all of that.
- Topical steroids are often quite effective at dealing with some types of folliculitis.
Shaving with Folliculitis
- Try not to shave the area where the folliculitis has occurred until healing is complete.
- If it is necessary for you to shave, then try to use an electric razor as this will not graze too close to the skin and is a better option than regular razors.
- If you do have to use regular razors, use a fresh blade every time you shave. Also use a warm, damp washcloth to gently rub the area to be shaved beforehand. This will raise the hairs so that they are easier to cut.
- Normally, you would shave against the direction of hair growth to get a clean, close, smooth shave. However, this causes the skin to pull slightly when the hair is pulled against the grain which in turn can hurt the pustules/boils of folliculitis. So instead, shave in the direction that the hair is growing.
- After shaving, apply an aftershave or any product which is designed as a post-shaving moisturizer.
Home Remedies for Folliculitis
- Experts in alternative medicine recommend turmeric tablets to fight folliculitis. Turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory with no side effects so it does indeed work at reducing the intensity of the boils.
- Applying tea tree oil on the affected area is also touted as an effective home remedy.
- We have already seen that a warm compress can help alleviate the symptoms of folliculitis. Add white vinegar for a natural cure. Make a mixture of 2 cups of water and one tablespoon of white vinegar. Warm the solution. Dip your wash cloth in it and apply as compress to affected area. This helps a lot with the resulting discoloration of folliculitis as well. Vinegar is also a natural disinfectant so it can contain the infection too. Instead of compresses, you can try soaking the affected area in the mixture.
- Even apple cider vinegar applied raw on the affected area can help. This can be a bit smelly though and since it is not diluted it can sting a bit. Leave it on overnight for best results.
Remember that like medication, natural home remedies too will work differently for different people. Your body chemistry is composed differently from that of your family and friends so you may have to try a few remedies before you find one that works for you.
If your folliculitis persists for longer than a week with or without your efforts at treatment, see a doctor.
- As long as the folliculitis is around, do not use the same towels as everyone else. Also throw your own towels for a wash after every use. Use hot water to launder them so that any bacteria can be eliminated.
- Keep the affected area clean and dry.
- If possible, prevent all friction on the affected area. For example, if the infection is on your armpit, wear loose-fitting or sleeveless clothes till the infection goes away.
- Do not pick at the pustules. This will just lead to scarring.
- Instead of using regular soap, use one with antibacterial properties until the folliculitis disappears.