These two conditions often mimic each other, but they have key differences.

Have you ever shaved or gotten a wax, only to find what looks like a severe case of razor burn or a flare of whiteheads a few days later? Believe it or not, this occurrence is actually completely normal—and no, it's not acne, though it certainly looks like it. You probably have folliculitis, an infection deep within the follicle (acne, on the other hand, is an eruption inside the pore). In addition to whiteheads, folliculitis is often associated with inflammation, which brings more attention (and more concern) to the area. Luckily, it's easy to address and correct, so take a deep breath and keep reading to learn how.

woman checking skin in bathroom mirror
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Active people who like to sweat are most likely to experience folliculitis.

Since the telltale signs of folliculitis are straightforward (red bumps capped with whiteheads), let's get straight to what causes the common skin concern. According to New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian, any hair-bearing area (such as the scalp, underarms, legs, buttocks, and groin) can be susceptible to fungal and bacterial follicle infections. That said, these infections most often flare up in areas where excessive sweating and friction is at play—say, in the groin and underarm area as opposed to on the shins. "The people most likely to experience folliculitis include active individuals who like working out, especially if they're wearing tighter clothing such as leggings," Dr. Nazarian shares.

Improper shaving is another common cause.

But friction and sweat aren't the only things to blame. "Oftentimes improper shaving techniques can also induce folliculitis by using a dull blade or inadequate lubrication from the shaving gel, which puts pressure and tugging on the hair and skin," Dr. Nazarian explains. What's more, this can then lead to both folliculitis and ingrown hairs; when a white head pops, a trapped hair emerges.

Practice good hygiene to reduce this condition.

Sweat, friction, and improper hair removal are the biggest culprits for triggering a folliculitis flare, which is why Dr. Nazarian says that managing this condition is often as simple as practicing good hygiene. And that doesn't just mean showering daily. Rather, if folliculitis is a concern for you, you should pay close attention to how soon after a workout you remove your leggings and compressive gear and hop in the shower. As a general rule of thumb, the sooner, the better. Additionally, when shaving, you want to ensure that you're not using a dull blade and that you are using plenty of shaving cream or gel.

Exfoliation is also key.

Another helpful method? Exfoliate post-shave or wax. This will help rid the follicle of any built-up sweat, dirt, or debris which could lead to a folliculitis flare. Look for formulas with actives like benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid; Dr. Nazarian says that you can opt for the former to decrease the bacteria on the skin, gently exfoliate build-up and dead skin cells, and effectively minimize the rise of folliculitis.


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