What is Pruritic Folliculitis of Pregnancy?

A rash that is not worrisome and resembles acne

Pregnant woman
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First described in 1981, pruritic folliculitis (PF or PFP) is a relatively rare but benign skin condition in pregnancy, that occurs in about one in three thousand pregnancies, according to a review article in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. That being said, some experts believed that the incidence of pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy may be higher because it could be misdiagnosed as bacterial folliculitis.

 

What Does Pruritic Folliculitis of Pregnancy Look Like?

The rash consists of several small red bumps (called papules) that may or may not be filled with pus (called pustules). In fact, the condition resembles acne, but the main difference is that there is no bacteria present in the bumps—in other words, the pustules are sterile. These bumps are usually on the shoulders, upper back, arms, chest, and abdomen, and may be very itchy. Although, there is also research suggesting that some women may not experience any itchiness (contrary to the name of the rash).

Other conditions that may mimic pruritic folliculitis include:

When Does Pruritic Folliculitis Develop?

Pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy typically develops in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

It resolves spontaneously within 2 to 8 weeks after delivery. The good news is that this rash is benign, and there are no scientific reports clearly linking this rash to any adverse effects on the baby.

What Causes Pruritic Folliculitis of Pregnancy?

The cause of pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy is unknown.

Some investigators believe it is caused by hormonal changes. It doesn't appear to be caused by abnormalities of the woman's immune system.

How is Pruritic Folliculitis Treated?

Pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy is typically treated like mild acne. Benzoyl peroxide has been used with some success, but antibiotics are not needed. Oral antihistamines are useful to treat the itching. Low potency topical corticosteroids are also sometimes used, as well as ultraviolet B light therapy.

That being said, be sure to address any medications (including anything applied to the skin) with your doctor first, to ensure it is safe for the baby. Also, if the rash is not bothering you, than leaving it alone is certainly an option (and a good one), as the rash will eventually resolve on its own.

A Word From Verywell

The vast majority of pregnant women undergo skin changes during pregnancy, and while most are not concerning and go away after delivery of the baby, there are a select few that may pose a risk to the mother or baby. This is why it's important to not self-diagnose a skin problem during pregnancy. Get it checked out by your doctor.

Finally, if your dermatologist does diagnose you with pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy, be assured that there are treatments available and that while potentially a nuisance, the rash will go away eventually.

 

Sources:

Clinician's Photo Guide to Recognizing and Treating Skin Diseases in Women: Part 2. Pregnancy-Related Dermatoses. Medscape. 

Delorenze LM. Pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy. An Bras Dermatol. 2016 Sep-Oct;91(5 Suppl 1):66-68.

Roth MM. Pregnancy dermatoses: diagnosis, management, and controversies. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2011 Feb 1;12(1):25-41.

Tunzi M, Gray GR. Common skin conditions during pregnancy. Am Fam Physician. 2007 Jan 15;75(2):211-18.

Vora RV, Gupta R, Mehta MJ, Chaudharu AH, Pilani AP, Patel N. Pregnancy and skin. J Family Med Prim Care. 2014 Oct-Dec;3(4):318-24.

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