Straight, No Chaser: Hot Tub and Barbershop Folliculitis

Follulicitis. You know it well as hot tub rash, barber bumps, ingrown hairs and many other names. The first thing you need to know is the ‘itis’ means inflammation, and the follicle is the pouch from which your hair grows. Any inflammation of that area is folliculitis. You’ll typically see white-headed pimples with or without itching, pain and redness. So what? Let’s quickly run through causes, problems, prevention and treatment.



  • It’s usually caused by microorganisms (usually bacteria, including Staph and others, but also yeast, fungi and viruses may do the same).
  • Blocking skin pores will also get you there (think heavy application of make-up or oils, or heavy sweating in tight spandex-type clothing).
  • External irritation can be a cause (think long-term topical steroid use, tight clothing, untreated scratches or lacerations, improperly chlorinated hot tubs, whirlpools or swimming pools).

It’s inflammation that most commonly is an infection. The irritation can progress to a skin infection (cellulitis) and/or a boil (abscess). These can range from annoyances to ‘not-fun’ to outright problematic, particularly if you’re diabetic, have HIV or otherwise have a compromised immune system.

folliculitis razor-bumps

I’m just going to give you a list of healthy hygiene tips that will serve you well in many circumstances, including prevention of folliculitis.

  • Use antimicrobial soap.
  • Don’t share towels, and avoid using the same towel multiple times (Sorry, hotel chains!).
  • Shower immediately after getting out of the swimming pool, whirlpool or hot tub.
  • Don’t shave (and avoid otherwise irritating) areas where razor bumps exist.
  • Be moderate with application of lotions, makeups and other moisturizers.

Most cases of folliculitis, whether an inflammation or an infection, resolve in 1-2 weeks, assuming you don’t further irritate it to the point where a substantial skin infection sets in. Consider the following a treatment progression for the overwhelming majority of cases; cases more severe (or any you may be concerned with) require consultation with your individual physician.

  • Warm compresses (clean, hot towels) to the area do a world of good.
  • Wash with antimicrobial soap, and consider using medicated shampoo, particularly if the discomfort is on the scalp and/or beard.
  • Your physician may consider topical or oral antibiotics if the situation warrants or worsens. That means you need to be alert for spreading of the bumps, fever, drainage or worsening of pain, swelling or redness.

Feel free to ask any questions you may have on this topic.
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