Red Bumps in the Nape of the Scalp

Red bumps along the nape of the scalp are likely the result of folliculitis, an infection of the hair follicle. Most forms of folliculitis are caused by bacteria, namely Staphylococcus aureus, but you may also develop this skin condition from a virus or fungus. When the follicle is exposed to a foreign pathogen, the body reacts with an isolated inflammatory response that leads to a red papule. Treatment is typically based on the cause of the red bumps, so talking to a doctor or dermatologist is highly recommended.

A red rash on the back of a neck. (Image: -aniaostudio-/iStock/Getty Images)


The infection often begins with some sort of follicular damage. Any damage to a follicle makes it much more vulnerable to foreign bodies, notes the Mayo Clinic. In the case of red bumps along the nape of your hairline, the follicular damage could be caused by friction from shirt collars, excessive perspiration or abrasions from tight haircuts. Even another skin condition can produce follicular damage.


Regardless of its contributing factors, most forms of folliculitis are marked by small, red papules that are regularly mistaken for pimples. They're accompanied by pain, tenderness, itching, rash and redness to surrounding skin. In some cases, the bumps may even take on the form of blisterlike lesions, filling with pus and crusting over when they break.


Folliculitis often responds to self-care methods. A warm compress placed on the nape can encourage the red bumps to drain and ease skin discomfort, advises the National Institutes of Health. Washing the area with an antibacterial cleanser twice a day may also prove beneficial.


If folliculitis doesn't respond to self-care measures or if the red bumps are severe, talk to a doctor or dermatologist. Medications may be necessary. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology notes that cephalexin, dicloxacillin or another antibiotic may be prescribed to treat the infection. Instead of an oral medication, your doctor may suggest using a topical ointment specific to the type of folliculitis affecting the skin.


Mild to moderate folliculitis isn't likely to cause serious problems. But if the infection goes deep within the follicle, you may experience scarring, hair loss, boils or cellulitis, a serious bacterial infection that can spread beyond the original damage site.

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