Razor bumps look and feel like pimples but they are really the result of ingrown hair. The medical term for this condition is pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB)
What causes razor bumps?
Hair grows from tubes in the skin called follicles. When shaved, the tip of the hair is left with a sharp point. As curly hair grows, this sharp point may emerge from the hair follicle, curve back and pierce the skin. The body treats these ingrown hairs just as it would a splinter or other foreign body, producing a pimple-like bump. Razor bumps can also form when shaving too close causes whiskers to be clipped off below the skin surface. This allows hair to penetrate the side of the hair follicle instead of following its normal path to the skin's surface. This occurs more frequently when the hair follicle is curved.
Since most African-American men have curly, coarse hair and curved follicles, they frequently suffer from razor bumps. This is also true for people of Mediterranean descent.
Once razor bumps are formed, continual shaving cuts and slices existing bumps, resulting in a painful and uneven shave and possible worsening of the PFB condition.
What to do about razor bumps:
The best therapy is to avoid shaving and let the beard grow. However, this is not always a practical solution.
A chemical depilatory may be used every 2-3 days, but these are often irritating and unpleasant to use.
Ingrown hairs can be treated by an expert using a lancet or through electrolysis. These procedures are generally expensive, though, and a physician should be consulted before having them done.
If you do shave...
Try shaving every other day and don’t shave too closely. Use a sharp blade. Choosing a razor specially made for razor bumps is also helpful. This type of razor cuts the hair at the right length to reduce the likelihood that the hair tip will re-enter the skin.
Use a non-irritating, highly lubricating shave product formulated for special skin conditions (like Aveeno” Therapeutic Shave Gel) to enhance razor glide and to ‘minimize irritation.
For best results, follow these steps:
- Wet beard with warm water to soften the hair. Taking a shower or washing your face is a good way to make sure the beard hair is in contact with warm water for the 1 ½ to 2 minutes required to fully hydrate the hair.
- Massage beard hair in a circular motion to help free up the tips.
- Lather the entire area to be shaved.
- Shave in the direction of beard growth. Do not stretch the skin or shave against the grain which can cause irritation. Do not pass the blade over the same area more than once.
- Shave the sides of your face first. That will give the most sensitive areas more time to soften.
- When you are finished shaving, rinse face thoroughly with warm water, then blot dry.
- If you use an after shave, make sure it doesn’t contain alcohol. If your face is dry, apply a moisturizer. Your doctor or pharmacist may also recommend the use of a topical steroid cream to reduce inflammation of existing lesions. An antibiotic is sometimes needed to control infection.