Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link
Quick Facts

Folliculitis and Skin Abscesses


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Dec 2019
Click here for the Professional Version
Get the full details
Topic Resources


What is folliculitis?

A hair follicle is where a hair grows out from your skin. Folliculitis is inflammation or infection in a hair follicle. When due to infection, it's a type of very small skin abscess.

  • Folliculitis is usually caused by infection with bacteria

  • Sometimes, stiff hairs can reenter the skin (ingrown hairs) after shaving and cause folliculitis that isn't infected

  • "Hot tub folliculitis" is a type of folliculitis that is caused by certain bacteria that can grow in a hot tub or whirlpool

  • Folliculitis looks like a tiny red or white pimple at the base of a hair

  • Infected follicles are itchy or slightly painful

  • Antibiotic lotion or gel usually cures folliculitis

What causes folliculitis?

Most types of folliculitis are caused by bacteria, usually Staphylococcus bacteria (staph infection). Other types of bacteria and fungus can also cause folliculitis.

You usually get folliculitis where your skin is moist or irritated from rubbing, such as the skin that's under sports equipment or on your buttocks. Or you can get folliculitis if you:

  • Have injuries to your skin

  • Have certain skin conditions such as acne

  • Need to keep your skin covered with adhesive tape or rubber gloves

  • Have a condition or take medicines that weaken your immune system

What are the symptoms of folliculitis?

  • Tiny red or white pimples in a hair follicle

  • The pimples can be itchy or slightly painful

  • You may have one or many infected follicles

  • If infected follicles get bigger and go deeper, they can become skin abscesses (boils)

How do doctors treat folliculitis?

Doctors may have you:

  • Wash your body with antibacterial soap

  • Wet a washcloth with warm salt water and apply it to the folliculitis a few times a day

  • Put antibiotic cream on your skin

  • Take antibiotics by mouth, if you have a large area of infected follicles

If you regularly get ingrown hairs, doctors may have you:

  • Stop shaving for a while

  • Take antibiotics, if the follicles are infected

Hot tub folliculitis will go away on its own. Check and fix the chlorine level of the hot tub to prevent other people from getting folliculitis.

Skin Abscesses

What are skin abscesses?

Skin abscesses are pockets of pus in your skin. Pus is a thick fluid your body makes when it fights infection. You can also have abscesses inside your body.

  • Skin abscesses are caused by a bacterial infection, usually due to Staphylococcus bacteria (staph infection)

  • Sometimes, you get the bacteria through a break in the skin or a hair follicle (where the hair grows out)

  • Abscesses are painful bumps full of pus

  • Doctors will cut the abscess open to drain the pus and sometimes also give you antibiotics

  • Some staphylococcus bacteria called MRSA aren't killed by the usual medicine and may need special antibiotics

Two specific kinds of skin abscesses are:

  • Furuncles (boils): skin abscesses that form around hair follicles

  • Carbuncles: more than one furuncle connected together deeper in the skin

Bacteria may spread from a skin abscess and infect other tissue and organs in your body.

If the infection gets into the blood stream, you can have high fever, low blood pressure, and organ failure (sepsis).

You may get skin abscesses over and over again for unknown reasons.

What causes skin abscesses?

Skin abscesses are caused by a bacterial infection, usually due to Staphylococcus (staph infection). The type of staphylococcus known as MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics and can be hard to treat.

You're more likely to get infected if you:

  • Live in a crowded space

  • Have a chronic (long lasting) skin disease

  • Already have the bacteria in your nose

  • Have a weakened immune system

  • Are very overweight

  • Are a senior citizen

  • Have diabetes

What are the symptoms of skin abscesses?

Skin abscesses can be anywhere on your body.

  • They are red, swollen bumps that hurt a lot and are very tender to touch

  • Furuncles are red, shiny, and usually less than an inch across

  • Abscesses that aren't furuncles can grow up to 2 or 3 inches

  • If not treated, abscesses get bigger, break open, and let the pus out

  • You may have a fever and feel sick

How do doctors treat skin abscesses?

If the abscess is small, doctors will have you put mild heat, such as a warm cloth or hot water bottle, on it. If that doesn't work, doctors will:

  • Cut the skin abscess open and drain the pus

  • Wash out the pus pocket with a salt solution

Doctors may also put gauze in the pocket for 1 to 2 days to keep it open so that it will continue to drain.

Most skin abscesses don't need antibiotics. However, doctors may give you antibiotics if:

If you get skin abscesses again and again, doctors will:

  • Have you to wash your skin with antiseptic liquid soap

  • Give you antibiotics for 1 to 2 months

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version


Others also read

Test your knowledge

Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas
Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are a group of cancers that develop in white blood cells known as lymphocytes. Although there are more than 50 different disorders that can be called non-Hodgkin lymphoma, doctors sometimes group them into two broad categories: indolent lymphomas and aggressive lymphomas. Which of the following is characteristic of aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphomas? 
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID