It’s easy to dismiss the clusters of red spots we see on our face as acne. But it’s not always acne—it could be folliculitis.

A lot of skin conditions can resemble acne. Knowing the difference between these conditions—in the case of this post, acne vs folliculitis—can help us better deal with them.

So, don't go grabbing your favorite acne gel and rub it all over those cluster of red spots yet. Let’s find out if it’s acne vs folliculitis.

What is Folliculitis?

Folliculitis is a skin condition where hair follicles become inflamed [1]. When you damage your hair follicles, it’s easier for germs to enter the follicles and cause infection.

Our skin is home to a lot of organisms. Bacteria like Staph aureus or fungi like Malassezia globosa can cause infection on our skin. And those are just a couple of examples from the around 1,000 species living on our skin [2].

Spotting Folliculitis

acne vs folliculitis

The result of the infection in the follicles is acne-like breakouts. It's those itchy clusters of small red bumps and whitehead-like blemishes.

These blemishes can appear anywhere on the skin where there are follicles. So, only our palms, soles, and lips are safe from folliculitis.

Folliculitis often comes after:

  • Touching or rubbing skin frequently
  • Chilling in an improperly maintained hot tub
  • Shaving, plucking, or waxing
  • Wearing tight clothing or equipment
  • Applying medication to the skin like coal tar

Treating Folliculitis

Folliculitis often goes away after a few days.

Having a healthy immune system and stopping what caused the folliculitis are often enough to get rid of the bumps.

Using a warm compress on the affected skin can help you heal faster. At least 3 to 4 times a day for 15 to 20 minutes can be enough to soothe the area.

If shaving, plucking, or waxing caused your folliculitis, you may need to stop doing them for 30 days. But if that’s not possible for you, seeing a dermatologist will help. They can provide you with medication that will let you shave safely after applying.

Preventing Folliculitis

acne vs folliculitis

Remember that folliculitis develops after damaging your hair follicles. So, you’ll want to avoid the damage as much as you can.

When it’s hot and humid, wear loose fitting clothes. This will help you avoid friction on your skin that can cause damage.

Avoid going in ill-maintained hot tubs. Bacteria can flourish in ill-maintained pools and hot tubs. That's especially true when chlorine and pH-levels aren’t well-regulated.

Shave carefully. With how much stress and friction shaving can cause on skin, you’ll want to be careful to avoid folliculitis. Shaving is a common cause for it after all.

Wash your swimwear after each use and let it dry. Doing this will help eliminate bacteria on the material that can cause infection in your skin.

Acne VS Folliculitis

acne vs folliculitis

You can see from the info above how acne and folliculitis can seem so similar. That’s why it can be so difficult to tell them apart.

Especially when the spots are on your face, acne and folliculitis can be nearly identical. The best signs that it could be folliculitis are when the spots are clustered and appear in uniformed sizes; and, when pus-filled blisters break open and crust over.

The good news is that folliculitis often goes away after a few days. Beyond that, the best course of action is to set an appointment with your dermatologist. Some cases of folliculitis can call for antibiotics or antifungals. While others only need some TLC using soothing products. Your derm will know the best treatment for you.


Some acne-like blemishes can be unresponsive to acne-centered products. Using them haphazardly can even worsen acne-like blemishes. You can end up frustrated with the products you’re using. The frustration can even prompt you to go on a “holy-grail” hunt, which can potentially waste your money.

So, knowing what your blemishes are exactly can help you better deal with them and avoid frustrations.

On that note, thank you for reading and I hope to see you again soon!

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