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HEALTH ANSWERS

Can tight-fitting garments cause skin rashes?

You bet. Tights, skin-hugging pants, panty hose and other garments, like underwear with a tight elastic band, can all cause folliculitis, an inflammation of hair follicles caused by a bacterium or fungus that is already on the skin and, because of the irritation caused by the clothing, gets pushed in deeper. Sweating exacerbates this process.

A slightly different problem called pseudo-folliculitis can be triggered not by an infection but by shaving too closely. When you shave hair -- especially in the pubic area, in the armpit, or on the face -- the hair often grows back curly, cutting into the skin and causing inflammation, said Dr. Bernard Cohen, director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

If tight clothing is the problem, wear looser garments, or at least clothes designed to ''wick" sweat away from the skin. You can also combat folliculitis with antibacterial soaps or benzoyl peroxide-based products such as Panoxyl soap, said Dr. John Williams, a dermatologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. In general, he added, ''folliculitis will run its course." If it doesn't, oral antibiotics may be required.

In some cases, infectious folliculitis can progress to boils -- painful, pimple-like sores deeper in the skin that may have to be lanced to get rid of pus. If inflamed hair follicles are large, tender, or are accompanied by a high temperature or swollen glands, you should see a doctor.

For pseudo-folliculitis, the solution is to try not to shave too close (some electric razors do not shave as close) and shave in the direction in which hair grows.

JUDY FOREMAN

E-mail health questions to foreman@globe.com.

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