What is Follicular Eczema and How to Treat It?

Jun 10, 2024 | 4 min read

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Follicular eczema is a type of eczema that causes itchy, raised bumps around hair follicles due to genetic factors, immune responses, and skin barrier dysfunctions. Managing triggers and proper treatment are crucial for relief.

follicular eczema

What is Follicular Eczema?

Follicular eczema, a type of atopic dermatitis, affects the hair follicles, causing small bumps around these tiny tubes from which hair grows. This form of eczema can lead to itching, redness, and irritation around body hair in areas like the chest, arms, back, stomach, and legs. 

Unlike other types of eczema, which may present as widespread patches, follicular eczema focuses on the areas surrounding hair follicles.

This condition is more common among individuals with darker skin tones. In darker skin, follicular eczema may cause pigmentation changes, making the skin appear darker or lighter around the affected areas.  These pigmentation changes can sometimes persist even after the flare-up subsides. 

However, it can affect individuals of all skin types, and understanding its prevalence among different skin tones helps in better diagnosis and management.

Causes of Follicular Eczema

The exact causes of follicular eczema are not fully understood. However, several factors contribute to its development:

Genetic Factors:

A significant factor in developing follicular eczema is genetics. If you have a family history of eczema, asthma, or hay fever, you are more likely to develop this condition.

Certain genetic mutations can impair the skin's barrier function, making it more susceptible to irritants and allergens.

Immune System Responses:

In people with eczema, the immune system overreacts to environmental triggers. This overreaction can cause inflammation and irritation, leading to the symptoms of follicular eczema. The immune system's heightened response to allergens, such as dust or pollen, plays a crucial role in flare-ups.

Skin Barrier Dysfunctions:

Individuals with eczema often have a compromised skin barrier. This means their skin is less effective at retaining moisture and keeping out irritants. A weak skin barrier allows bacteria and other microbes to penetrate, leading to inflammation and infection.

Common Triggers:

  • Car exhaust
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Soaps and detergents
  • Harsh fabrics (e.g., wool)
  • Perfumes and cosmetics

Understanding these triggers can help manage the condition by avoiding or minimizing exposure to them.

Symptoms of Follicular Eczema

  • Dry skin around hair follicles
  • Itchy rash that surrounds hair on the chest, arms, stomach, back, or legs
  • Tiny bumps that may appear red, purple, or gray, depending on skin tone
  • Patches of thickened skin, which can result from persistent scratching and irritation

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, consider using Symptom Checker to get an idea of your condition. This tool helps identify potential issues based on your symptoms but should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

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  • Skin Examination: The primary method of diagnosing follicular eczema is a detailed skin examination. Doctors look for the presence of follicular papules, redness, and other signs of inflammation around hair follicles.
  • Medical History: Gathering information about your symptoms, triggers, and family history helps doctors understand your condition better.
  • Patch Testing: To identify potential allergens that may trigger eczema, doctors may perform patch testing. Small amounts of common allergens are applied to the skin to see if a reaction occurs.
  • Biopsy: In rare cases, a skin biopsy may be performed. A small sample of skin is taken and examined under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.

Treatment Options

Managing follicular eczema involves a combination of proper skin care, avoiding triggers, and using medications as needed. Treatment plans are often personalized based on the severity of the condition and individual needs.


  • Use lukewarm water instead of hot water to avoid drying out the skin. Limit bath time to 10-15 minutes.
  • Oatmeal baths can soothe itching and inflammation. Bleach baths, when done correctly and under medical supervision, can reduce bacteria on the skin and prevent infections. Always consult your doctor before trying a bleach bath.


  • Use thicker emollients like shea butter or petroleum jelly to lock in moisture. Fragrance-free lotions are also beneficial.
  • Moisturize immediately after bathing, when the skin is still damp, to maximize hydration.

Topical Treatments:

  • Topical corticosteroids can reduce inflammation and itching but should be used only for limited periods as directed by a doctor. Nonsteroidal creams are an alternative for long-term use.
  • Apply topical treatments as prescribed, typically once or twice daily. Follow your doctor’s instructions to avoid side effects.


  • Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to controlled doses of ultraviolet light under medical supervision. This treatment can reduce inflammation and itching.
  • Phototherapy is generally effective for all skin tones, but individual responses may vary.

Prevention Strategies

Preventing follicular eczema flare-ups involves a proactive approach to skin care and avoiding known triggers.

Importance of Avoiding Triggers:

Identifying and avoiding triggers such as dust, harsh fabrics, and certain soaps can help prevent flare-ups. Keep a diary to track potential triggers and their effects on your skin.

Daily Skin Care Routines:

  • Maintain a consistent skincare routine that includes gentle cleansing, moisturizing, and protecting your skin from irritants.
  • Use mild, fragrance-free products designed for sensitive skin.

Supplements and Probiotics:

According to WebMD, omega-3 supplements and probiotics may help reduce the severity of eczema. However, more research is needed to confirm their effectiveness.

Living with Follicular Eczema

Living with follicular eczema requires adapting your lifestyle to manage the condition effectively.

Tips for Managing Daily Life:

  • Wear Soft, Breathable Fabrics: Choose cotton or other gentle materials to avoid skin irritation.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated from the inside out.
  • Avoid Scratching: Keep your nails short and consider wearing gloves at night to prevent scratching.

Dealing with a chronic condition like follicular eczema can be stressful. Prioritize your mental health by practicing relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga.

Frequently Asked Questions

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  • Follicular eczema affects hair follicles, causing small, itchy bumps.
  • Genetic factors, immune system responses, and skin barrier dysfunctions contribute to its development.
  • Common triggers include car exhaust, dust, mold, soaps, detergents, harsh fabrics, and cosmetics.
  • Proper skin care, avoiding triggers, and using prescribed treatments can help manage symptoms.
  • Phototherapy and moisturizing are effective treatment options.
  • Regularly consulting with healthcare professionals is essential for personalized care.
  • Use support groups and mental health resources to cope with the emotional aspects of the condition.
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