Razor Bumps, Ingrown Hairs and Skin Discoloration
What Are They?
Razor bumps, also known as pseudofolliculitis barbae, is the number one complaint among black men and women who shave or perform other hair removal methods. Caused by stiff facial hair and a genetically-caused curved follicle, the hair tips reverse their course and literally penetrate and grow back into the skin, like a horseshoe, before they would normally exit. Similar to hundreds of splinters, these trapped hairs incite an inflammatory response, causing soreness, redness, and swelling. This reaction is called “bumping up” and it creates perifollicular papules best described as swollen, pus-filled lesions blanketing the beard, or other shaving areas.
Razor Bumps on Women
Similar problems can affect women on the chin, sideburns, neck, chest, abdomen, legs and in the bikini area from tweezing, waxing, shaving and sometimes even depilatories. The sensations experienced by the razor bump (ingrown hair) sufferer are constant itching, tingling, burning, soreness, swelling and sometimes pain. Symptoms can be mildly annoying and localized for some, and severe and extensive for others.
Are Razor Bumps Permanent?
Razor bumps persist as long as the individual shaves, waxes, threads, and/or tweezes. Obviously, the problem can be dealt with by just allowing the hair to grow out. As the hair grows longer, it simply pops out the follicular opening and new “bumping up” stops because the individual has stopped shaving, waxing or tweezing. This option, however, is not always practical due to the pressure of one’s employer, lifestyle, beauty and grooming customs.
Strict grooming regulations have been historically imposed by law enforcement agencies, fire departments, parcel delivery services and the military. These and other industries have traditionally insisted on the clean-shaven look, and this has caused suffering and disfigurement to thousands of black men with razor bumps. In recent years, consciousness has gradually increased and some rules are slowly changing. Some branches of the military, most notably the Navy, are allowing extremely bump-prone men to sport a short, neatly groomed beard.
For decades, viable solutions to this universal problem eluded the medical, esthetic and drug store markets, and continue to do so on a wide-scale basis. Most physicians have relied unsuccessfully on topical steroids, retinoid creams and systematic antibiotics.
Over-the-counter and mail order systems have utilized single edge blades, weak cortisone creams, bromelain enzymes, abrasive scrubs and alcohol-based salicylic acid products. While these methods can help improve the condition, they rarely offer total clearing or long term relief. As a result, this all-too-common skin disorder presents a wide open arena for knowledgeable esthetic practitioners. Clinical skin care pros can dispense exfoliating, calming and antibacterial professional products (exfoliating masks and scrubs, AHA exfoliants, BPO, skin brighteners, acetylsalicylate solutions and hydrocortisone) and have the skill to release ingrown hairs correctly in a safe setting.
We instruct our clients to shave in the direction of hair growth with a single-edge disposable blade like the PFB Bump Fighter or Bic for Sensitive Skin, which is used once or twice and discarded after use. Examine the shaving area and determine which areas are less “bumped up” than others. Carefully imitate the shaving method and direction you use on the clearest areas, and repeat the same process on the entire shaving area.
Do not repeatedly go over the same area in a back-and-forth motion in an effort to get a closer shave. Use fragrance-free shaving creams, mild shaving soaps and gels containing benzoyl peroxide or alpha or beta hydroxy acid, which work well with single-edge disposable blades. The blade should be used no more than once or twice.
If the preferred shaving method involves an electric razor, we prefer the traditional barber’s trimmer, called a T-edger or liner, which gives a close, more precise shave that larger clippers. An example of this compact trimmer is the Wahl, designed for black men who shave, but Oster, Andes and other trimmers work equally well. Professional disinfectant spray (Clippercide or Oster) must be used before and after shaving to disinfect and lubricate the blades.
Avoid rotary shavers that cut beard hair at too many different angles, seriously compounding the problem. The skin should never be stretched to obtain a closer shave. When the skin bounces back, newly-shaved hair will be situated (and later trapped) below the skin line and cn lead to razor bumps. The same principal applies to twin, triple, four and five-blade razors; the first blade stretches the skin, while the second (third, fourth and fifth) blades all shave way too close.
Picking and Tweezing
We include wives, mothers and girlfriends in the consultation. They are often the ones who wield the sewing needles and tweezers, or observe the picking, digging, unhooking, tweezing and other types of skin tampering habits at home. Tampering with the skin of introduces secondary bacteria and leads to inflammation, delayed healing, scarring and larger, thickened dark spots. Tweezing, threading and waxing trap recently removed hairs deep below the skin line, and set them up to become trapped again and again as they re-grow.
Depilatory creams and shaving powders should be discouraged once one of our anti-bacterial, keratolytic topicals is applied nightly in the bump prone area without irritation. Use of depilatories leads to dark hyperpigmentation of the lower face and neck, sometimes called “shadowing”, caused by chemical irritation and subsequent sun exposure. Melanin-suppressing skin lighteners should be introduced gradually in the absence of irritation and allergy. During the day, gentle skin brigheners, greaseless anti-inflammatory creams and oil-free full-spectrum sunscreens are vital to correcting and discouraging beard discoloration.
Those with chronic “trouble spots” (often on the neck or cheeks where tweezing was performed repeatedly) might want to explore the “blend method” of electrolysis for problem areas. The electrologist should be skilled and experienced in the treatment of black, bump-prone clients with curved, often scarred, hair follicles. The curved follicle, healing process, risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation, as well as inflammatory reaction to the temporary “trauma” of electrolysis can differ radically from other races.
Laser Hair Removal
Laser has become increasingly popular in recent years to gradually and permanently reduce hair on the face and body. It is important that candidates do their homework to steer clear of the risks related to lasers, especially scarring and hyperpigmentation on darker skin tones.
Laser practitioners must:
(a) Use the safest, most appropriate laser for darker skin tones, like the YAG Q-switched neodymium yttrium aluminum garnet laser that produces a 1064nm wavelength of laser light.
(b) Be well-trained and experienced in the use of that laser.
(c) Disclose exactly what that laser can and cannot do for you, i.e. delete light, gray or white hair, and tell you how often you must go for treatment, usually every 4-6 weeks at the beginning.
(d) Be experienced working with your ethnic skin type.
(e) Be able to address pre-laser pain management and inflammation, the need for melanin suppression (to control pigmentation), and sun protection/sun avoidance, removal of mineral make-up and physical sunblock before laser treatment, and be able to treat post-laser skin issues if they arise.
The material on this website is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.