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Bacterial Folliculitis

What is Bacterial Folliculitis?

Bacterial Folliculitis is the medical condition that occurs when hair follicles are infected with bacteria. This infection presents as pus filled, white bumps on a hair bearing area. While this condition can occur anywhere on the body, the scalp is a very common location.

What is the cause of Bacterial Folliculitis?

The cause of Bacterial Folliculitis is overgrowth of a variety of bacteria inside the hair follicle due to excessive heat and perspiration such as wearing hard hats or helmets, trauma from close haircuts and shaving the scalp bald, chemical irritation from hair treatments, open areas of irritation created by excessive scratching of conditions associated with an itchy scalp, and individual predisposition.

What are the symptoms and findings?

There can one or two be painful, pus-filled bumps around the involved hair follicles or in more extreme cases, hundreds of lesions can be present on a person’s scalp. In some cases scalp tenderness alone might be the only symptom with no pus bumps detected.

How is it diagnosed?

The doctor, usually a dermatologist, will examine this area and based upon the appearance of the pus bumps around the hair follicles, it is pretty straight forward to make a diagnosis of folliculitis. However, additional studies can be needed to identify the type of bacterial organism present

What tests are needed?

A bacterial culture is sometimes done by taking a sample of the pus with a swab that is sent to a microbiology lab for identification and sensitivity studies. The sensitivity studies can provide information on the medications that should work best to clear up the infection

What is the expected duration?

Treatment can take several weeks to many months depending upon the results of the culture and sensitivity studies, individuals’ work environment and grooming and styling techniques used to take care of the hair.

How can it be prevented?

Keep the scalp cool and dry as much as possible.

Use antibacterial shampoos

Avoid very close haircuts if the scalp is easily irritated

Avoid using any chemicals on the scalp that cause irritation or occlusion of the hair follicles

Get any itchy scalp condition treated to avoid creating open areas on the scalp that can get infected with bacteria


Antibiotic pills and creams are usually given to treat the infection. Medicated shampoos with zinc or antibacterial ingredients can be helpful as well. It is important to treat the condition until it resolves completely, because it is very common for the infection to come back again. Some individuals battle this condition for years without resolution.

When to contact a professional

Contact a professional at the first sign of pimples involving hair follicles on the scalp or persistent tenderness that does not resolve right away on its own. Waiting months or years to see a physician can lead to chronic inflammation and scarring of hair follicles that cause the affected areas to become bald.


Early treatment with appropriate antibiotics and effective preventative measures can clear this problem completely with improvement shown as soon as a few weeks to a month. Chronic cases that are stubborn can persist for years if resistant bacteria are present or a work environment is not improved upon.

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