Robert C. Robinson III, MD
Have you ever noticed that whenever you go for a close shave, your skin ends up looking like this?
While we are getting our fresh fades, ‘fros trimmed, heads shaved, beards and goatees trimmed or cornrows and dreds maintained, there are a few hidden dangers to be aware of. Take the opportunity to read these tips and make sure you are doing everything you can to protect your skin and hair.
“Razor bumps” aren’t a normal part of shaving.
The condition pictured above is Psuedofolliculitis Barbae (PFB), a condition affecting up to 60% of African American men. This is caused by shaving “too close”, resulting in in-grown hairs. This occurs most commonly in the bearded areas, at times the hairline, and at the nape of the neck but can occur anywhere shaving occurs.
After the hair is cut, particularly with a razor, the ends can be left so sharp that when they grow back it creates a problem. Given the naturally curly pattern of a lot of African American men’s hair, the sharp ends of the hairs can curl back into the skin penetrating very easily. Once the hairs have become ingrown, an inflammatory response occurs resulting in the itching, pain, irritation and bumps that we so often see.
If left untreated, this can progress to chronic scarring, keloid formation, or infection. Folliculitis barbae is a bacterial infection of the skin and can be a potential complication. This may develop as the surrounding skin becomes more irritated after rubbing and scratching the inflamed area. This must be treated with antibiotics. It can be distinguished by characteristic pus-filled white bumps as opposed to inflamed red or flesh-colored ones.
Is there any treatment?
First things First….You must allow the skin to heal!
- Avoid shaving the area. Wait at least 4 weeks to allow the inflammation to subside. Your doctor may prescribe a mild steroid cream or other topical meds to help with the itch and irritation, to help prevent scarring or treat any underlying infection.
- Prevention is key. Once the skin has healed and recovered try some of the prevention techniques listed below. The only way to truly avoid this problem is to keep the hairs long.
- Don’t cut the hairs too short. It’s best to use an electric razor or clippers with guards in place to avoid a close shave. Avoid stretching the skin and applying too much pressure with the razor head or clippers.
- Avoid shaving too frequently. This decreases the likelihood of irritation and allows the hairs a chance to grow out from the skin. Daily is too often!
- Soften the skin and hairs. If using a straight edge razor blade soften the skin and hairs for 5-10 minutes with warm moist heat. Also avoid repeatedly stroking the same area. There are moisturizing oils and gels and “before” shave preparations to help decrease the likelihood of irritation.
- Seek the help of a dermatologist If despite your efforts, PFB recurs now is the time to seek the help of a skin care professional. There are some chemical hair removal techniques and laser hair removal techniques that can be used if absolutely necessary and done under the supervision of a board-certified dermatologist. There are increased risks of irritation, and possible scarring with some of these methods so be sure to consult with your personal health professional to determine what method is best for you.