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How do I Treat a Swollen Hair Follicle?

Anna T.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A swollen hair follicle is most likely either infected, or you may have an ingrown hair. The proper treatment for your hair follicle will depend on the cause of the swelling. Infected hair follicles can typically be treated with over-the-counter topical antibiotics rubbed into the skin. If the infection was caused by a fungus, anti-fungal medications might be able to take care of it. Ingrown hairs are treated differently and can normally be taken care of at home without a doctor visit or any special medication.

Some people may notice a swollen hair follicle that is tender or painful to the touch soon after exiting a hot tub or heated pool. This is because heated water is the primary culprit for a certain type of bacteria that causes folliculitis. If your swollen hair follicle shows up not long after you've used a hot tub or pool, check to see if there are other swollen hair follicles alongside it because they usually appear in small patches. You can attempt to treat your swollen hair follicle with the use of over-the-counter topical antibiotic cream. If this does not work, the infection might be fungal, in which case you can try an anti-fungal cream on your skin.

If your swollen hair follicle is isolated and there are no other red, itchy bumps around it, you may have an ingrown hair. You might be able to remedy this by using a pair of tweezers and attempting to pluck the hair out of your skin. This could be tricky because it may be necessary to dig around just beneath your skin to find it. If you successfully get it plucked out, be sure to sanitize the area afterward to keep it from getting infected. Once the hair is gone, the swelling should go down, but keep in mind that the hair may always grow back in at an awkward angle, and you may have to keep plucking it out to prevent it from bothering you.

If your swollen hair follicle does not appear to be the result of an ingrown hair and no topical medication you apply to the area seems to work, you should see a doctor. It is likely that the problem is something you cannot treat yourself. A doctor can examine the hair follicle and determine what is causing it. You may end up needing prescription medication to effectively get rid of your swollen hair follicle.

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Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to The Health Board. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By anon302155 — On Nov 07, 2012

I'm not sure if this is possible, but I am a guy and have swollen hair follicles all over my legs. I have had these for years, they haven't gone away, but they have made my legs unhairy, since most of my hairs will not grow.

I have never shaved my legs, so if they are ingrown hairs, then I was born with them somehow. I do not think they are fungal infections, since they have been there for years with no change. I have found nothing addressing a case like this, so if anyone has suggestions please post.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 12, 2011

@Oceana - They are very painful, especially on my thighs when I sit down. The best thing you can do with a furuncle is to encourage it to drain.

I do this by using warm, moist compresses. I soak the area several times a day, and that helps it heal faster. If the lesions are very deep, I have to get a doctor to surgically drain them. I cannot squeeze them or cut them, because doing that could spread the infection.

The ones I get usually drain on their own. I have gotten some bad ones that came with a fever, and that forced me to see my doctor, who prescribed antibiotics.

By Oceana — On Jul 11, 2011

@OeKc05 - That sounds terrible! I’ve had ingrown hairs before, but I don’t think that I have ever had a furuncle. I would imagine they are rather painful.

How do you treat one? Do you use antibiotic cream, or does a doctor have to give you something stronger?

By OeKc05 — On Jul 11, 2011

I frequently get boils called furuncles that are caused by damage to an entire follicle and the surrounding skin. I get them on my thighs and neck at times.

They start out as tender pink spots that feel like water balloons. The pain increases as they fill up with pus and dead skin.

A furuncle ranges from the size of a pea to the size of golf ball. They usually end up with white centers, and they grow quickly. They tend to ooze pus and crust over.

By seag47 — On Jul 10, 2011

I get ingrown hairs on my neck pretty frequently. The inflamed hair follicle is usually very tender, and the hair is often too thin for tweezers to get a good grip on it without multiple tries and lots of pain.

I prefer to use a needle to fish out the ingrown hair. It is still painful, but at least it is more precise, and the areas that I have to dig and stab are smaller with a needle. I usually have greater success than with tweezers.

By Sara007 — On Jul 09, 2011

I have had a problem with ingrown hairs my entire life and I hate the way they make my legs look. Nothing is worse than little swollen dots on your legs when it becomes summer. It is especially bad if they get dark and look infected.

I have tried a lot of over the counter beauty products but so far haven't had a lot of luck with things like salt scrubs and a special washcloth. I would really like to try something that is natural but actually works. I liked the idea of a strong exfoliating brush that ceilingcat recommended, so I may have to give that a try.

By drtroubles — On Jul 09, 2011

If you shave anything the chance of you getting a swollen hair follicle can be pretty high. Usually I get at least one or two of these a month and they can be downright unsightly.

Finding a swollen hair follicle can be distressing because they can get quite large and look terrible. If you find one it is definitely worth a go to try and get the hair out with a pair of tweezers you have disinfected. Be very careful not to cut yourself too badly, but the hair needs to come out. If you leave it you could end up at the doctors getting it drained. This is not a good experience.

By indemnifyme — On Jul 08, 2011

@ceilingcat - I'm a frequent ingrown hair sufferer so I think I'm going to try your exfoliating method.

I would just like to second what the article said about sanitizing the area after you pluck an ingrown hair. It's also a good idea to use some rubbing alcohol to clean the tweezers beforehand as well. I once got a really bad infection that stemmed from using a pair of tweezers to get an ingrown hair out and the doctor recommended those steps for prevention.

By ceilingcat — On Jul 08, 2011

Ingrown hairs are just the worst! I find that if I exfoliate before shaving my legs I can avoid most ingrown hairs though. I bought an exfoliating brush from a natural foods stores and I use it faithfully on my legs before I take a shower and shave. I've only had one ingrown hair since I started doing this!

By poppyseed — On Jul 07, 2011

I had no idea that hot water could actually cause swollen hair follicles! I have always used a hot rag to sort of ease off the inflammation!

I didn’t know that it caused it! I also had no idea that it could be caused by fungus…that could be why it takes so long for mine to go away. Wow – I’m going to change my ways right now.

By Agni3 — On Jul 06, 2011

I had an ingrown hair that went very wrong. I developed a little lump under the skin right at the bottom of my back bone, just above the hinny area. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but over a period of time it became so sore that I had difficulty sitting down and leaning back against anything.

I finally had to go to the doctor with it, because it hurt so badly. The doctor took a look and said that it was a cyst which had developed over a number of years. But get this; it was caused ultimately by an ingrown hair that I was born with!

It had to be surgically removed, but could actually grow back inward, and probably will eventually. I just hope the next one takes twenty years to start hurting, too!

By nanny3 — On Jul 06, 2011

Swollen hair follicles can be incredibly painful to be such small little things. Particularly if you get them in the typical areas that are usually covered by clothes.

I’ve had them in both the simple irritated and ingrown hair instances, and I can say that I would go with the simple rash-like kind any day. Throw a little triple antibiotic ointment on that baby and you are home free in no time at all.

But with an ingrown hair it seems like I always have to really break the skin to get at the thing. And half of the time I can’t get a hold of it in the first place. It can take many tries over several days or longer. And when the hair breaks off, you’re really in trouble.

Anna T.
Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to The Health Board. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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