What Causes Infected Hair Follicles on the Scalp?

Linda White

This condition is known medically as folliculitis. It occurs when the hair follicles become inflamed. But, what causes infected hair follicles on the scalp? Well, it can be caused by either bacteria or fungus. Either problem can lead to an infection that needs to be dealt with quickly.

Damaged hair follicles can cause more problems than you might think. You can have this condition on any part of your body where hair grows. The condition makes it difficult for the follicles to fight off infection. Bacteria staphylococcus and fungus can get into the follicles that have become compromised. Unfortunately, those growths can spread quickly and cause painful symptoms.

When left untreated, folliculitis can cause your scalp to become red and itchy. But, if it’s left alone for too long, the infection can cause ‘pimples’ or pustules that leak fluid and hurt a lot. It can be tempting to scratch these raised bumps, but this will open you up to a much worse infection.

What Causes Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is caused by a bacteria or fungus that attacks damaged hair follicles. This is because it’s easier to get into the follicle itself and spread. But, how does the bacteria or fungus get into the follicle? The reasons may not be what you expect. Things you do each day can potentially cause infected hair follicles, such as wearing hats and beanies. If you shave your head, that can also damage the follicles.

External elements can also play a role in folliculitis. If the follicles are plugged with sweat, sebum (excess oils), or makeup, they can become more prone to infection. Damaged follicles are weak follicles. When they are injured, it’s harder to fight off an infection of any kind.

This guide will cover what you need to know about folliculitis. We’ll go over what you can expect from the condition, what it looks like, and how to treat it. It can be irritating to have infected hair follicles, and it can cause more damage when it’s not treated. But, once you know what to look for you can heal the condition much faster.

What Does Folliculitis Look Like?

One of the most important things to know about folliculitis is how to identify the condition. There are so many different scalp conditions people can get, understanding the differences between each one can be helpful. That way, you’ll know how to treat it correctly.

When it comes to an infection of the hair follicles, there are a few distinct characteristics that you should know. Folliculitis usually looks like small, white-headed pimples on the scalp.

These pustules can grow to look like oozing blisters if left unresolved. They occur right around the hair follicles themselves. One way to tell if it’s an infected follicle or a pimple is to check if there is a hair growing in the center of the bump.

Other symptoms usually go along with the appearance of these bumps. Some of the more common symptoms of infected hair follicles include:

  • Swelling/inflammation
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Redness

Because the pustules can quickly become inflamed and itchy, it’s tempting to scratch at them. Sometimes the blisters can be fluid-filled. If they burst open for any reason, such as itching, they can start to ooze pus, blood, or both. That can create a painful situation.

If they do start to ooze, it can make the infection even worse. Sebum from the pustules can spread to other parts of the scalp. Then, it can clog up more follicles, and spread the infection.

If you’ve noticed a painful or itching sensation on your scalp lately, take the time to look. Folliculitis is usually self-diagnosed. A quick peek at your scalp through your hair should give you a clear sign if you have the condition.

If you do want an official diagnosis, see a doctor or dermatologist. They will likely take a sample of tissue or fluid from the leaking sores. Because there are so many scalp conditions, some people want to be sure they aren’t dealing with something else. A diagnosis from a doctor can help with that.

Who Is at Risk?

Almost anyone can get folliculitis. We all have hair follicles all over the body. Even if you don’t have a thick head of hair, the follicles on your scalp can become infected. Some people can become more prone to the condition based on lifestyle factors or medical issues.

These include the following:

  • Individuals with weakened immune systems from disease
  • People with acne or dermatitis
  • You are on taking medications, such as steroid creams
  • People who consistently wear clothing that can trap heat and sweat, such as stocking caps
  • Those who shave their head with a razor

Some of these risks can be avoided or lessened. Others, like a compromised immune system, may not be able to. If you fall into any of these categories, be aware that it may be easier for your hair follicles to become infected. Once you know how easy it is for the problem to occur, you can take more preventative steps toward protecting yourself.

How Long Does Folliculitis Last?

The good news is that folliculitis usually only lasts about two weeks. This is when cases are mild. If you have a more extreme example, it may take longer to clear up. The problem is that the symptoms can become quite painful and irritating. So, most people don’t just want to let it clear up on its own. There is no exact timeline to know when or how it will start to go away.

If you have folliculitis and it keeps coming back or causes a fever, you may need to call your doctor for an antibiotic. Folliculitis shouldn’t come back frequently, especially if you’re treating it at home.

Severe cases of infected hair follicles may need special medication. If the condition isn’t properly treated, it can lead to permanent hair loss and scars on the scalp. It can also lead to boils under the skin or permanent skin damage.

It’s rare for the problem to get this extreme. But, it does happen and shouldn’t be ignored. If your symptoms feel heightened or extremely painful at all, you may need a more intense treatment.

Is Folliculitis Contagious?

In general, infected hair follicles aren’t dangerous, and they aren’t contagious. But, any type of infection can be contagious if it’s not properly treated. You won’t ‘catch’ folliculitis just by being around someone who has it. You also won’t give it to people just by being in their presence. Even if you live with someone, it doesn’t mean you’ll spread the condition back and forth.

The infection can be passed through skin-to-skin contact. This is only a problem if the pustules from the infection have started to burst open or ooze. If you share things like razors or brushes/combs that may have touched an open sore, it could also spread the infection.

If you keep up proper hygiene and you’re careful with the tools that touch your scalp, you can avoid spreading this condition to anyone else. You can also avoid getting it yourself.

damaged hair follicles

How to Treat Infected Hair Follicles

If you have a severe case of folliculitis, you may need a prescribed antibiotic treatment. In severe cases, laser treatment may be necessary. Keep in mind that laser treatment will kill the follicles themselves. But, it will prevent the infection from returning.

If you’re looking for an infected hair follicle treatment at home, there are a few to consider. You can choose to treat your folliculitis at home using over-the-counter antibacterial products.

Antibacterial washes can help to combat the condition almost anywhere on the body. But, it can be hard to use these types of washes on the scalp. So, for infected follicles on your head, you should turn to a medicated shampoo.

One of the best shampoos for treating infected hair follicles is Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo. It is dermatologist-recommended and is a solution for many different scalp conditions. It offers complete scalp therapy. Not only will it help to soothe irritating symptoms of folliculitis, but it can help to speed up the healing process.

The great thing about a medicated shampoo like Neutrogena T/Gel is that it keeps working long after washing your hair with it. You’ll be treating your scalp constantly with regular use.

If the symptoms and itching are becoming too much to handle, something as simple as a warm compress can help. Just soak a cloth in warm water and gently apply it to the infected area(s) on the scalp. The warmth will help to soothe your scalp and reduce inflammation. It can also lower your desire to itch.

Natural Remedies for Folliculitis

If you don’t want to use an over-the-counter solution, there are a few natural home remedies to try. These DIY treatments can help to soothe folliculitis safe and naturally. If you have sensitive skin or are prone to negative side effects, one of these options might be best for you.

  • Tea tree oil: It is a perfect natural solution for fighting folliculitis. It is a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent. You can use just a few drops mixed into a carrier oil directly on the scalp to treat the problem. Or, you can add a few drops of tea tree oil to your regular shampoo. This will help to turn it into a ‘naturally medicated’ shampoo. You may wish to make life easier with Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Scalp Treatment.
  • Coconut oil: It also contains antifungal properties. If your infected hair follicles are the result of a fungus, coconut oil can help to get rid of the symptoms and promote healing. Because it’s completely natural, you can massage coconut oil into your scalp several times a day. It will also provide soothing relief to painful and irritating symptoms like swelling and itching.
  • Castor oil: Like tea tree oil, castor oil can be used directly on your scalp to help symptoms of folliculitis. It will also help to kill the bacteria that causes infected follicles.

Natural remedies for folliculitis rarely cause any adverse side effects, so you don’t have to worry about experiencing a reaction. You can also use them frequently to provide relief to your worst symptoms and continue to use them even after the problem has cleared up.

What Are the Risks of Scratching Too Much?

We touched on it briefly above, but it’s important to know how risky it is to itch at your scalp. You shouldn’t do it even on a healthy scalp. But, a scalp with infected hair follicles can be even more dangerous.

Because folliculitis causes pustules to form, it can also cause severe itching. But, as you now know, these pustules are often filled with liquid. That liquid can make it much easier for your infection to spread to other areas or even other people.

When you scratch at your scalp too much, you’re also increasing your risk for more infection. If you break the skin of your scalp, you can start to bleed. Once you have an open wound on your skin, dirt, debris, and bacteria can get in. This can create a different kind of infection that will take another type of treatment.

Even if you’re not worried about infection or spreading, itching can lead to more pain. You may be scratching at your scalp to find instant relief. But, that relief will only be temporary. Because folliculitis causes inflammation, any itching or irritation can make it worse. Itching may cause the red bumps on your scalp to go from mildly irritated to red and burning.

Instead of scratching at your scalp, try to find ways to relieve the itching. The suggestion of a warm compress, listed above, is a great way to keep yourself from scratching.

what does Folliculitis look like?

Can You Prevent Infected Hair Follicles?

Folliculitis may not be 100% preventable. Some people can be more prone to it based on their immune systems and how well they can fight off infection. But, there are practical ways to lower your risk of getting the condition.

Some preventative measures include:

  • Practice good hygiene. Keep your scalp as clean as possible, especially after working out or sweating excessively. Remember, sweat and dirt can clog your hair follicles which can increase your chances of infection. Washing your hair every day can dry out your scalp. But, washing it a few times a week with a mild shampoo can help to prevent folliculitis.
  • Avoid sharing items if you have folliculitis, or if you live with someone who does. Sharing things like towels, razors, or hair tools can increase your risk of spreading the infection. This becomes especially dangerous if the sores on your scalp have burst open.
  • Avoid scratching the bumps on your head as much as possible. Again, if they burst open, the infection could spread. You may even get it on your hands. If you then touch other parts of your body, you could be putting yourself at risk. Folliculitis can occur anywhere on the body where hair grows, not just on the scalp.
  • Don’t use too many oils or heavy hair products on your scalp. These oils can block your pores and follicles and lead to infection.
  • Give your skin time to breathe. If you wear hats frequently or have your head covered, remember that sweat and dirt can cause the infection to flare up. When sweat is trapped on your scalp because you have your head covered, you’re raising your risk. Giving your scalp a chance to be exposed to the open air can help to prevent this problem.

Another helpful tip to keep in mind is always to wash or bathe after using public hot tubs or spas. There is a specific kind of folliculitis called “hot tub folliculitis.” This usually occurs elsewhere on the body, such as the abdomen. But, you can spread it to your scalp through touching open sores.

Are Infected Hair Follicles Dangerous?

Folliculitis isn’t a life-threatening disease. In most cases, you won’t experience any symptoms that affect other areas of the body (like nausea, etc.). If you’re aware of the problem, you can keep it localized to your scalp.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy condition to deal with when you have it. When your hair follicles are infected, they will likely be itchy, swollen, and painful. Trying to find relief through scratching at your scalp can only make things worse.

So, while the condition itself isn’t dangerous, it can be hard to deal with when you’re not treating it properly. That can make for an uncomfortable few days or weeks, depending on how long it takes your case to clear up.

We hope this guide has helped you to understand more about folliculitis. There are so many scalp conditions we can contract. Being able to know the symptoms and signs of infected hair follicles can make it easier to get the right treatment and find relief.

Copyright 2018 by DryScalpGone.