Folliculitis Folliculitis (Infected Hair Follicle): Symptoms, Razor Bumps, Causes …

Folliculitis Folliculitis (Infected Hair Follicle): Symptoms, Razor Bumps, Causes …

Skip to main content

Skin Topics

  • Acne
  • Bedbugs
  • Cold Sores
  • Eczema
  • Fungal Infections
  • Hair Loss
  • Healthy Beauty
  • Lice
  • Psoriasis
  • Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Poison Ivy
  • Rosacea
  • Shingles
  • Skin Cancer
  • More Related Topics

Skin Problems & Treatments Guide

  • Skin Discolorations
  • Chronic Skin Conditions
  • Acute Skin Problems
  • Skin Infections

Skin Conditions Resources

  • News
  • Medical Reference
  • Slideshows
  • Quizzes
  • Questions & Answers
  • Message Board
  • Find a Dermatologist
  • Skin Problems and Treatments

  • Reference

What’s Causing My Bumpy Skin?

What is Folliculitis?

In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

  • What Causes This Problem?
  • Symptoms
  • How Do I Know I Have It?
  • Treatments
  • I Need To Shave; What Can I Do?
  • How Can I Prevent This?

Your skin does some amazing work. It protects you from the elements, heals its own wounds, and even grows your hair. With all that going on, things are bound to go wrong once in a while.

If you have sore red bumps that look like pimples, especially where you shave, you may have folliculitis, a common skin problem .

Hair follicles are tiny pockets in your skin. You have them just about everywhere except for your lips, your palms, and the soles of your feet. If you get bacteria or a blockage in a follicle, it may become red and swollen.

You can get this condition anywhere you have hair, but it’s most likely to show up on your neck, thighs, buttocks, or armpits. You can often treat it yourself, but for more severe cases you may need to see your doctor.

Different kinds of folliculitis have other names you might have heard, such as:

  • Barber’s itch
  • Hot tub rash
  • Razor bumps
  • Shaving rash

What Causes This Problem?

Staph , a kind of bacteria, is most often to blame. You have staph on your skin all the time, and it normally doesn’t cause any issues. But if it gets inside your body, say through a cut, then it can cause problems.

These other things can also cause folliculitis:

  • Blockages from skin products, such as moisturizers with oils
  • A fungus
  • Hair removal, such as shaving, waxing, and plucking
  • Ingrown hairs
  • Other bacteria, such as the kind you might find in a hot tub
  • Some drugs , such as corticosteroids that are used to ease inflammation

In general, you’re more likely to get the condition if you have damaged follicles. This can happen from things such as shaving, skin injuries, sticky bandages, and tight clothes.


You’ll find that they vary based on the exact type of folliculitis you and how bad it is. You may have:

  • Groups of small red bumps like pimples, some with white heads on them
  • Blisters that break open, ooze, and become crusty
  • Large areas of red, swollen skin that may leak pus

These areas of your skin may be itchy, tender, and painful as well.


How Do I Know I Have It?

Your doctor can usually tell if you have it by looking at your skin closely and asking questions about your medical history.

You don’t usually need tests unless other treatments don’t work. In that case, your doctor may use a swab to take a skin sample and find out exactly what’s causing the problem.


Mild folliculitis might go away without any treatment. To help yourself heal and ease symptoms, you can:

Clean the infected area: Wash twice a day with warm water and antibacterial soap. Be sure to use a fresh cloth and towel each time.

Turn to salt: Put warm saltwater — 1 teaspoon table salt mixed with 2 cups of water — on a washcloth and place it on your skin. You can also try white vinegar.

Gels, creams and washes: Use over-the-counter antibiotics that you rub on your skin. If you’re itchy, you can try oatmeal lotion or hydrocortisone cream. It also helps to avoid shaving, scratching, and wearing tight or rough clothes on the infected area.

If these self-care treatments don’t work, your doctor may give you:

  • Antibiotic cream if the folliculitis is caused by bacteria (pills for very severe cases only)
  • Antifungal creams, shampoos, or pills if it’s caused by fungus
  • Steroid cream to help reduce swelling

I Need To Shave; What Can I Do?

Your best bet is not to shave for at least three months, but for a lot of people that won’t do. You might want to try an electric razor. If that doesn’t work for you either, then be sure to:

  • Wash your skin with warm water and a gentle cleanser.
  • Apply plenty of gel or shaving cream, not soap, and let it sit 5 to 10 minutes to soften your hairs.
  • Use a new blade each time you shave so you know it’s clean and sharp; single blades are ideal.
  • Shave in the direction your hairs grow.
  • Rinse with warm water and use moisturizing lotion.

It can help to shave only every other day.


How Can I Prevent This?

To lower your chances of getting folliculitis, avoid wearing clothes that irritate your skin or trap heat and sweat, such as Lycra, rubber gloves, and high boots.

Limit your use of skin oils and other greasy skin products. They can cause blockages and trap bacteria. Other things you can do:

  • Dip into hot tubs only if you know for sure they are clean and well-maintained.
  • Use clean towels, razors, and other personal care items, and avoid sharing them with anyone else.
  • Wash your hands often.


Top Picks

further reading

Today on WebMD


What Is Psoriasis?

Pictures and symptoms of the red, scaly rash.

ringworm on chest and arm

Skin Infections

What you should know.

tick biting human skin close up

How Ticks Make You Sick

8 diseases you can catch from ticks.

bunions illustration

The Facts About Bunions

What causes them, and what you can do about them.

Recommended for You

black widow spider

Spider Bites: What You Need to Know

woman with skin tag

Skin Tags: What Are They?


What Your Face Says About Your Health

wart on finger

Warts: A Visual Guide


Are You a Mosquito Magnet?

woman smelling aromatherapy bottle

How to Use Essential Oils

iced feet

9 Reasons Your Feet Are Swollen


Foot Problems From Bunions to Warts

Tools & Resources

Health Solutions

  • Nutritious Milk Substitute
  • Open Heart Alternatives
  • Cancer: Second Opinions
  • Is My Penis Normal?
  • How Pain Works
  • Severe Aortic Stenosis?
  • Benefits of Probiotics
  • Get Help with ED
  • Diabetes Management
  • Probiotic Supplements
  • Low Sugar Dairy Drink
  • Treating Addiction
  • Affordable ED Meds
  • Rehabilitation Services
  • Valve Disease Treatment
  • Tips to Beat Heartburn

More from WebMD

  • Test Your Eye Health
  • Live Better With MS Assessment
  • What Is Endometriosis?
  • Yeast Infection Assessment
  • How Does Chemo Work?
  • Tips to Prevent Heartburn
  • Food After Chemo
  • What Meningitis Does to Your Body
  • Managing Diabetes at Work
  • Remedies for Heartburn
  • Avoid Allergy Triggers
  • Treating Advanced Prostate Cancer
  • Protect Yourself from a Bone Fracture
  • Your Guide to Epilepsy
  • What’s New in Psoriasis Research
  • Sex When You Have Genital Psoriasis

  • Skip to main
  • Skip to
  • Resources
  • How To
  • About NCBI Accesskeys
My NCBI Sign in to NCBI Sign Out


US National Library of Medicine

National Institutes of Health
  • Advanced
  • Journal list
  • Help
  • Journal List
  • Ann Dermatol
  • v.26(5); 2014 Oct
  • PMC4198587
Logo of annalderma

Ann Dermatol. 2014 Oct; 26(5): 598–602.
Published online 2014 Sep 26. doi:  [ 10.5021/ad.2014.26.5.598 ]
PMCID: PMC4198587
PMID: 25324652

Comparison between Malassezia Folliculitis and Non-Malassezia Folliculitis

Hyo Sang Song , Sue Kyung Kim , and You Chan Kim corresponding author

Hyo Sang Song

Department of Dermatology, Ajou University School of Medicine, Suwon, Korea.

Find articles by Hyo Sang Song

Sue Kyung Kim

Department of Dermatology, Ajou University School of Medicine, Suwon, Korea.

Find articles by Sue Kyung Kim

You Chan Kim

Department of Dermatology, Ajou University School of Medicine, Suwon, Korea.

Find articles by You Chan Kim
Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer
Department of Dermatology, Ajou University School of Medicine, Suwon, Korea.
corresponding authorCorresponding author.
Corresponding author: You Chan Kim, Department of Dermatology, Ajou University School of Medicine, 164 WorldCup-ro, Yeongtong-gu, Suwon 443-380, Korea. Tel: 82-31-219-5190, Fax: 82-31-219-5189, [email protected]
Received 2013 Sep 26; Revised 2013 Nov 23; Accepted 2013 Nov 25.
Copyright © 2014 The Korean Dermatological Association and The Korean Society for Investigative Dermatology
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( ) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.



Among the various types of folliculitis, differentiation of Malassezia folliculitis (MF) from other forms of folliculitis is important because it is usually treated with antifungal agents.


We attempted to find a method to enhance the detection rate of MF, and examined the differences in the clinical manifestation between MF and non-MF (NMF).


We performed a retrospective study involving patients with folliculitis who were previously diagnosed with MF or NMF on the basis of serial tissue sectioning and diastase-Periodic acid-Schiff (d-PAS) staining findings. The clinical features of MF and NMF were compared.


Among a total of 100 folliculitis patients, 20 were diagnosed with MF and 80 with NMF. Tissues from the 80 patients with NMF were sectioned serially into 10 slices and stained with hematoxylin and eosin stain; among these, 10 had many round-to-oval yeast organisms in the hair follicles that confirmed MF. Finally, d-PAS staining was used to detect the presence of yeast in the NMF slides. Notably, among the 70 d-PAS-stained samples, yeast organisms were found in 6 samples, confirming MF. As a result, the diagnosis of 16 patients changed from NMF to MF. Compared with NMF, MF showed major involvement of the trunk and low involvement of the face and legs as well as male predilection.


Physicians should consider serial sectioning and/or d-PAS staining of folliculitis lesions, particularly of those on the trunk of male patients, even if no yeast organisms are detected initially.

Keywords: Folliculitis, Malassezia folliculitis, Serial section


Folliculitis is an inflammatory disorder involving the superficial or deep portion of the hair follicles. The clinical manifestations include erythematous pustules or papulopustules in the acute phase 1 . The various causes of folliculitis range frominfection with bacterial, viral, and fungal organismstoother noninfectious causes 2 . Common histopathologic findings are follicular inflammatory cell infiltration with neutrophils, lymphocytes, and sometimes eosinophils, the proportions of which depend on the origin of the folliculitis. Malassezia folliculitis (MF), a form of folliculitis caused by yeast infection, is characterized by dome-shaped papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts in severe cases. Inflammatory infiltrates consisting of lymphocytes and neutrophils with focal ruptured follicles can be observed in the histopathologic analysis of MF skin samples 3 . Although MF and non-MF (NMF) exhibit common clinical and histopathologic findings, it is important to differentiate between the 2 conditions because their treatments tend to differ. For the treatment of MF, antifungal agents are used rather than antibiotics or corticosteroids 3 . Based on these factors, we reviewed previous cases of folliculitis in which patients were diagnosed on the basis of the findings of serial sections of tissue block and histochemical staining for identifying undetected Malassezia species. In addition, we examined the differences in the clinical manifestations between MF and NMF.


Cases and histopathologic definition

We collected and reviewed cases of folliculitis where the diagnosis was madeon the basis of skin biopsy findings at our institution from 2008 to 2011. Clinical information was retrospectively obtained through review of medical charts, and histologic information was obtained through slides stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E). We divided the cases of folliculitis into MF and NMF. MF was confirmed on the basis of pathological findings of follicular inflammatory infiltration with abundant round yeast cells in the follicles and/or perifollicular dermis. In contrast, NMF was defined as follicular infiltration of inflammatory cells including neutrophils without the definite presence of yeast cells.

Histopathologic analysis

In the histopathologic evaluation, the first step was serial section for visualizing hair follicles and follicular yeast cells in patients initially diagnosed with NMF. Tissues were serially sectioned from formalin-fixed paraffin blocksinto 10 slices with a thickness of 0.5 µm each. After serial section, 2 dermatopathologists confirmed the presence of inflammation in all hair follicle slides. In addition, they ascertained the presence of yeast cells in the hair follicles or perifollicular dermis, leading to a change in the diagnosis to MF. The second step of the evaluation was a histochemical study using diastase-Periodic acid-Schiff (d-PAS) stain for the remaining NMF cases to identify undetected yeast cells, with diastase-resistant cells staining red.

Clinical analysis

After evaluating and dividing the cases into MF and NMF, a retrospective chart review was performed to compare their clinical features. Various data were obtained from the medical charts: sex, age, duration and distribution of symptoms, and clinical morphology of the skin lesions. In addition to chart review, the distribution and clinical morphology of the skin lesions were visualized and evaluated using clinical photographs taken before the skin biopsy. Lesion distribution was divided according to 5 areas of the body (face, scalp, trunk, arm, and leg). Concerning clinical morphology, the skin lesions were divided into papules, pustules, and papulopustules in cases of mixed skin lesions.

Statistical analysis and ethics statement

Statistical analysis of the collected clinical data wasperformed using the t-test or the Fisher’s exact test. Data were expressed as mean values with standard deviation. A p-value of <0.05 was considered statistically significant. IBM SPSS Statistics 20.0 (IBM Co., Armonk, NY, USA) and Microsoft Excel 2010 (Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA, USA) were used for data analysis. The study protocol was approved by the Institutional Review Board of our institution (IRB No. MED-KSP-12-424).


We studied the cases of 100 patients previously diagnosed with folliculitis ( Fig. 1 ). Among them, 20 patients were diagnosed with MF: 11 of the 20 patients with MF showed poor response to treatment with conventional folliculitis medication, such as minocycline; therefore, they revisited our institution; furthermore, 17 of 20 patients showed clinical improvement after receiving oral and/or topical antifungal medication, such as itraconazole, fluconazole, after histologic confirmation of the folliculitis as MF. The remaining 80 cases were diagnosed as NMF. Serial section with H&E stain was performed for these 80 patients, and follicular infiltration of inflammatory cells was visualized precisely in 10 cases with abundant eosinophilic round-to-oval yeast cells in the follicles ( Fig. 2 ). As a result, the diagnosis in these 10 cases changed from NMF to MF. Among the remaining 70 cases of NMF for which d-PAS staining was performed, the samples from 6 patients were PAS-positive and diastase-negative, confirming the diagnosis of MF ( Fig. 3 ). Therefore, the diagnosis of 16 cases of NMF changed to MF finally. Then, we divided these cases into 2 groups: 64 cases of NMF and 36 cases of MF and retrospectively compared the clinical characteristics of the 2 groups ( Table 1 ). All patients were immunocompetent with no specific medicosurgical history. The mean age and symptom duration did not significantly differ between the 2 groups. The MF group showed male predilection (men=83.3%, women=16.7%), as compared with the NMF group (men=48.4%, women=51.6%; p=0.001). Among the various body sites, facial and leg involvement were more dominant in the NMF group than in the MF group, with statistical significance. Truncal involvement was more predominant in the MF group than in the NMF group, with statistical significance. In cases of scalp and arm involvement, no significant differences between the 2 groups were observed. Various morphologic features of folliculitis were Onoted, including papules, pustules, and papulopustules, with no significant differences between the 2 groups (p=0.589).

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is ad-26-598-g001.jpg

Open in a separate window
Fig. 1

Scheme of evaluation of Malassezia folliculitis (MF) and non-MF (NMF). Through serial section and histochemical study, additional Malassezia species could be visualized, and the previous diagnosis of NMF was changed to MF. H&E: hematoxylin and eosin, d-PAS: diastase-Periodic acid-Schiff.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is ad-26-598-g002.jpg
Open in a separate window
Fig. 2

Through serial ttisue sections stained with hematoxylin and eosin, Malassezia are seen in the hair follicle (B, C) resulting in s change in the diagnosis from non-Malassezia folliculitis (A) to Malassezia folliculitis.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is ad-26-598-g003.jpg
Open in a separate window
Fig. 3

(A) Initial slide diagnosed as non-Malassezia folliculitis. Malassezia microorganisms, not found by serial tissue section (B), but visible on diastase-Peridoc acid-Schiff (d-PAS) staining (C).

Table 1

Comparison between NMF group and MF groups in clinical manifestations

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is ad-26-598-i001.jpg
Open in a separate window

Values are presented as number (%) or mean±standard deviation. In MF, male predilection and major involvement of trunk were noted as well as lower incidence of involvement at face and legs. MF: Malassezia folliculitis, NMF: non-Malassezia folliculitis.


Folliculitis originates from follicular and perifollicular inflammation characterized by erythematous papules and pustules. Skin biopsy revealed follicular inflammatory cell infiltration with neutrophils and lymphocytes with variable findings, depending on etiology. Etiologic factors of folliculitis are numerous, such as bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, and noninfectious factors such as eosinophilic infiltration and drugs 2 . Among the different types of folliculitis, MF is commonly encountered by physicians. However, MF could be easily misdiagnosed as simple superficial bacterial folliculitis and treated with anti-acne medications or antibiotics rather than antifungal agents 4 . Because of these experiences, we decided to perform this study to determinethe likelihood of misdiagnosis of MF and analyze the relevant clinical data retrospectively.

First, we rediagnosed 10 patients who were previously diagnosed with NMF with MF on the basis of findings from serial sections stained with H&E. When dermatologists and pathologists encounter tissue slides that clinically indicate folliculitis, there is a tendency to arrive at a diagnosis of “consistent with folliculitis” or “suggestive of folliculitis” if follicular inflammation that includes neutrophils is noted. Moreover, serial section is not routinely performed unless the pathologic finding is inconclusive because the sections cannot be adequately visualized 5 . Through serial section of folliculitis tissues in this study, clear visualization of the hair follicles and adjacent area led to an accurate diagnosis of MF. These results indicate that a simple and easy serial section of folliculitis tissues prevents misdiagnosis of MF and prescription of improper medication.

Second, we conducted a histochemical study using the d-PAS staining method. Eosinophilic round to oval organisms are observed within follicles using this method 6 . Through this method, we found Malassezia in the hair follicles of 6 patients. This indicates that MF was not diagnosed by H&E staining in these 6 cases, but the causative organism was visible with d-PAS stain. Another possibility is that additional serial section for d-PAS staining enabled the detection of Malassezia. These results suggest that d-PAS stain should be considered in suspected MF cases, when yeast cells are not detected by H&E staining.

On the basis of serial section and d-PAS staining findings, we divided all the cases again into 2 groups, NMF (n=64) and MF (n=36), for comparison of clinical characteristics. The incidence of MF was 5 times higher in men than in women. This result is compatible with that of a previous report from Singapore, wherein the incidence of MF was 11 times higher in men than in women 7 . This sex predilection can be attributed to the metabolic and physical differences between men and women. Compared with women, men have increased physical activity, resulting in increased sweating and likelihood of infection. This sex discrepancy, however, is hard to explain precisely and requires further evaluation. The distribution pattern was quite different between the 2 groups and was thought to be remarkable. Similar to previous reports 8 , in our study, MF predominantly involved the trunk, whereas facial involvement and leg involvement rates were relatively low. This distributional discrepancy can be attributed to the differences in the skin environment such as sweating and chance of occlusion 9 , 10 . Some authors stated that facial involvement is quite common 11 . The degree of facial involvement differs depending on the patients’ country of residence, subtype of Malassezia, and coexisting disease. Additional evaluations are required to clarify this controversial point. It was difficult to find differences between the 2 groups with regard to the duration and morphology of skin lesions, such as papules, pustules, and papulopustules.

This study has some limitations. We relied on data from the medical charts; some data were missing, such as pruritus, treatment outcome, and prognosis. Therefore, well-designed and prospective studies are recommended to remedy our shortcomings.

In conclusion, when physicians encounter follicular skin lesions, various diagnostic tools should be considered with Malassezia infection in mind. Especially in male patients with follicular papules or pustules located predominantly on the trunk, MF as well as other types of folliculitis should be considered in the differential diagnosis. If biopsy is performed for histologic confirmation, physicians should try to obtain numerous slides through serial section and visualize the hair follicles. In cases of patients suspected with Malassezia infection, d-PAS staining is also recommended. Through serial tissue section and d-PAS staining, the detection rate of Malassezia would improve, thereby allowing precise diagnosis and proper treatment.


1. Luelmo-Aguilar J, Santandreu MS. Folliculitis: recognition and management. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2004;5:301–310. [ PubMed ]
2. Durdu M, Ilkit M. First step in the differential diagnosis of folliculitis: cytology. Crit Rev Microbiol. 2013;39:9–25. [ PubMed ]
3. Gupta AK, Batra R, Bluhm R, Boekhout T, Dawson TL., Jr Skin diseases associated with Malassezia species. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004;51:785–798. [ PubMed ]
4. Lévy A, Feuilhade de Chauvin M, Dubertret L, Morel P, Flageul B. Malassezia folliculitis: characteristics and therapeutic response in 26 patients. Ann Dermatol Venereol. 2007;134:823–828. [ PubMed ]
5. Sigg C, Pelloni F, Schnyder UW. Focal melanocytic atypia in dysplastic nevus cell nevi. Results of a serial section study. Hautarzt. 1989;40:701–707. [ PubMed ]
6. Cuadra Oyanguren J, Barbera Montesinos E, Sánchez Carazo JL, Aliaga Boniche A. Folliculitis caused by Pityrosporum. Med Cutan Ibero Lat Am. 1985;13:357–361. [ PubMed ]
7. Lim KB, Giam YC, Tan T. The epidemiology of Malassezia (Pityrosporon) folliculitis in Singapore. Int J Dermatol. 1987;26:438–441. [ PubMed ]
8. Budavari JM, Grayson W. Papular follicular eruptions in human immunodeficiency virus-positive patients in South Africa. Int J Dermatol. 2007;46:706–710. [ PubMed ]
9. Bäck O, Faergemann J, Hörnqvist R. Pityrosporum folliculitis: a common disease of the young and middle-aged. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1985;12:56–61. [ PubMed ]
10. Bäck O, Scheynius A, Johansson SG. Ketoconazole in atopic dermatitis: therapeutic response is correlated with decrease in serum IgE. Arch Dermatol Res. 1995;287:448–451. [ PubMed ]
11. Jacinto-Jamora S, Tamesis J, Katigbak ML. Pityrosporum folliculitis in the Philippines: diagnosis, prevalence, and management. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1991;24:693–696. [ PubMed ]

Articles from Annals of Dermatology are provided here courtesy of Korean Dermatological Association and Korean Society for Investigative Dermatology


  • Article
  • |

  • PubReader
  • |

  • ePub (beta)
  • |

  • PDF (670K)
  • |

  • Citation


  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Google Plus

Support Center
Support Center

External link. Please review our privacy policy .

National Center for
Biotechnology Information ,
U.S. National Library of Medicine

8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda
MD, 20894

Policies and Guidelines | Contact

Tagged as: , , , ,