THERE IS MUCH YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT HAIR FOLLICLE INFECTIONS AND AVOID HAIR LOSS, WHICH IS PERMANENT ONCE HAIR FOLLICLES DIE.
Any bacteria or fungus can cause an infection in a hair follicle that presents as inflammation, itching, pimples, pustules, a rash or redness on your scalp, explains Dr. Valerie Callender, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and director of the Callender Skin & Laser Center in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. “In my practice, I most commonly see cases of folliculitis caused by traction, or hairstyles that are too tight, and the second most common irritation is allergic reactions to chemicals in hair products such as chemical relaxers and even fragrances in shampoos and conditioners or styling products containing alcohol.” Another common way women get folliculitis is from children, caused by the fungal infection tinea capitis, or ringworm, Callender says.
Another very common cause of folliculitis is ingrown hairs from shaving the scalp, neck or face (in addition to any other part of the body). Hairs become ingrown when a shaved or tweezed hair grows back into the skin, causing inflammation and irritation that subside once you release the ingrown end of the hair. Folliculitis can also be caused by the use of sticky styling products on the base of the hair and at the scalp; these can attract dirt and bacteria and can plug up pores and follicles when not washed away well enough. Cell respiration at the bulb gets reduced and infections can quickly form.
A single hair follicle infection easily forms a boil (technically called a furuncle), which swells up the entire hair follicle and skin around it. Once this happens, skin’s protective barrier is weakened, leading to secondary infection caused by bacteria or fungus; it can also lead to multiple boils in one location (called a carbuncle.) A boil, or group of boils, can disrupt the hair growth cycle, leading to hair loss, which, if left untreated, can cause permanent hair loss because of damage to the hair follicle. Sometimes the boil and secondary infection can be caused by a scratch, a bug bite or unsterile instruments used in a hair salon. In children, very often the culprit is tinea capitis (ringworm), which can transfer to adults.
Folliculitis is preventable
- Shave with a single-blade razor, since double-edged razors lift hairs to cut them below the scalp line and therefore increase the chance of ingrown hairs upon regrowth.
- Treat hair gently. Avoid tight, repetitive hairstyles such as cornrows, tight buns or ponytails, or vary the placement and tightness of these hairstyles.
- Wash hair often and avoid sticky styling products on the scalp, which can build up on the surface of hair follicles and trap bacteria, leading to an infection.
- Have your hairstylist examine your scalp every visit. He or she is in the perfect position, above your head, to quickly identify product buildup, sebum plugs and fungal or other infections.
- If you are susceptible to these types of follicle infections, change your hairstyle often, increase your washing routine and note and change any chemical processes that are irritating to your scalp.
If you notice marked signs of hair loss and are concerned, a general rule of thumb is to head straight to your physician and a dermatologist to rule out any serious health issues. That said, try making any of the changes above to your daily routines and habits to improve the health and look of your hair.