Psoriasis vs. folliculitis

Psoriasis and folliculitis can be difficult to distinguish from each other. They share similar features and may even coexist. However, they have very different causes and treatments.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the skin. It triggers the rapid buildup of skin cells. In addition to skin lesions, psoriasis symptoms may include:

  • raised, red scaly patches or plaques that may be small or widespread
  • dry and cracked skin
  • bleeding skin
  • itching
  • burning
  • swollen joints
  • stiffness in bones and joints
  • nails that are thickened, pitted, or ridged

Psoriasis is a chronic condition. It has no cure. However, you may experience periods when symptoms improve.

Psoriasis may increase your risk of developing certain diseases, such as:

Researchers aren’t sure what causes psoriasis. However, the following may put you at increased risk:

  • smoking
  • skin injuries
  • obesity
  • infections, usually severe types
  • stress
  • family history of psoriasis
  • HIV

What is folliculitis?

Folliculitis is the inflammation of infected hair follicles. They’re often infected with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. It may occur anywhere on the skin. Folliculitis is common on the scalp where hair follicles are abundant.

Folliculitis begins as small, pimple-like bumps that spread and turn into crusty sores. Other symptoms may include:

  • pus-filled blisters that may erupt and ooze pus
  • itching
  • burning skin
  • pain
  • a large bump or mass

Anyone can get folliculitis. Your risk increases if any of the following apply:

  • you have a medical condition that suppresses the immune system, such as HIV or chronic leukemia
  • you have acne or dermatitis
  • you’ve experienced a previous skin injury
  • you’re overweight
  • you frequently wear tight, restrictive clothing

How to differentiate between psoriasis and folliculitis

Despite some similarities between psoriasis and folliculitis, there are ways to identify each condition.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease.Folliculitis is an infection caused by bacteria.
Psoriasis is incurable and flares may be long-lasting.Folliculitis is curable and usually heals within a few days.
The cause of psoriasis is unknown.Folliculitis may be caused by tight clothing, heat, skin injury, exposure to hot water, or shaving.

Treatment options

Your treatment plan depends on which condition you have.

Psoriasis treatment

There are several treatments for psoriasis. These may include:

  • moisturizers to combat dry skin
  • coal tar products to soften skin and help remove scales
  • topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and itching
  • retinoids to help reduce inflammation
  • salicylic acid to slough skin and reduce scaling
  • light therapy
  • oral and injected medications

Folliculitis treatment

Self-care remedies are often an effective treatment for folliculitis. These may include:

  • warm compresses
  • oatmeal baths or lotions
  • keeping the affected area clean
  • avoiding irritating triggers

When self-care isn’t enough, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics. Infections caused by fungus are treated with antifungal medication.

When to contact your doctor

Call your doctor if you have symptoms of psoriasis. If you’ve received a psoriasis diagnosis, contact your doctor if:

  • you experience a widespread flare
  • your symptoms are worse than usual
  • you show signs of infection, such as fever, increased pain, or swelling

If you have an unexplained rash or suspect you have folliculitis, consult your doctor. Also seek medical help if you’ve received a folliculitis diagnosis and your symptoms recur frequently, worsen, or last longer than a few days.