Many men must endure the chore of shaving every day. Without the right technique, this type of hair removal can lead to unwanted side effects, including the condition pseudofolliculitis barbae (which people normally refer to as 'razor bumps'). Pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB) most commonly occurs on a man's face and neck, but women who shave their legs and other body parts may also experience this problem. If you regularly suffer from shaving bumps, learn more about the cause of the issue, and what you can do to avoid this common condition.
Causes of PFB
Shaving or razor bumps occur when cut hairs grow back into or under your skin. When you shave your facial hair, you leave the end of the follicle with a sharp edge. If you cut the hair just above your skin's surface, the sharp edge can push against and reenter the skin. After a very close shave, cut hair can retract below the skin surface, without emerging again, and some ingrown hairs can burrow under the skin for several centimeters.
Ingrown hairs will normally cause an inflammatory reaction, which leads to the unsightly red bumps that most people associate with pseudofolliculitis. In some cases, these small bumps can increase in size and become infected and sore.
Factors that increase the risk of PFB
Everybody is likely to suffer with occasional shaving or razor bumps, particularly when shaving a natural skin fold. That aside, some people are at higher risk than others. People with curly hair often find it difficult to shave closely without causing the condition. People with scarred skin are also at higher risk.
African-American men are at higher risk than any other group of people. Between 45 and 83 percent of men in this group suffer with this condition, largely due to the natural kink and curl of their hair follicles. African hair also tends to dry out and weather more easily. Studies show that the problem starts to occur around the age of 22.
PFB can cause ongoing problems for African-American men. For example, men in the US Armed Forces must adhere to strict grooming requirements that mean they cannot stop shaving. As such, many men in the military have to put up with the symptoms of PFB.
Treatment options for mild to moderate PFB
The best way to deal with PFB is to allow the facial hair to grow. Research shows that the symptoms of the condition generally disappear if you stop saving for one month. Some men control the condition by keeping a very short beard length (0.5 to 1 millimeter), but it's not always possible or preferable to allow your facial hair to grow.
As such, most men control the symptoms of PFB by adopting a good shaving regime. While many brands now offer four or five-blade disposable razors, experts recommend that people at risk of PFB use a single-blade razor. Single-blade razors don't offer such a close shave, which lowers the risk of PFB.
Other tips for a safe shave include:
- Discarding blades after four or five uses.
- Shaving every other day, to give the hairs a chance to grow straight through the skin's surface.
- Exfoliating before shaving, to lift the follicles away from the skin.
- Shaving in the direction of hair growth, and don't pull the skin taut when shaving.
- Softening stubble with a high-quality shave cream before shaving.
Some men prefer to use hair removal products (depilatories), which weaken the bonds in the hair's keratin, so you can easily scrape the hairs away with a blunt tool. Depilatories can work well, but some of these products contain chemicals that can still irritate your skin.
Dealing with more severe PFB
In severe cases, a doctor or dermatologist may recommend other treatment options. Steroid creams can reduce inflammation, while antiseptic lotions can cut the risk of infection. You may need antibiotics for more severe infections, and a doctor may prescribe a retinoid/antibiotic combination cream.
In some cases, a nurse or doctor may remove ingrown hairs with a sterile needle. Long, burrowing hairs may need surgery. Electrolysis can effectively remove hair permanently, but the process is sometimes painful and expensive. In African-American men, electrolysis can also cause increased or decreased pigmentation. Laser hair removal is normally more effective. Talk to a doctor or dermatologist about the right treatment option for you.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae is a common condition that can cause unsightly and painful bumps after shaving. Left untreated, PFB can lead to a serious infection, so it's important to carefully understand and manage the risks.