Razor bumps look and feel like pimples but they are really the result of ingrown hairs. The medical term for this condition is Pseudofolliculitis Barbae (PFB).
What Causes Razor Bumps
Hair grows inside 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 tip may curve back and pierce the skin. The medical term for this cause of PFB is “extrafollicullar penetration.”
Razor bumps can also form when shaving too close to the skin, which causes the whiskers to be clipped off below the skin surface. This allows the hair to penetrate the side of the follicle instead of following it’s normal path to the skin’s surface. This can occur more often with curly hair. The medical term for this cause of PFB is “transfollicular penetration.”
The body treats all ingrown hairs just as it would a splinter or any other foreign object- by producing an inflammatory pimple-like bump. Often, if the condition occurs over an extended period of time, the skin will respond by producing unsightly dark spots at the sites of the PFB bumps. Unfortunately, these dark spots can take many months to fade. Since most black men have curly, coarse hair and curved follicles, they frequently suffer from razor bumps. this is also true for people of Mediterranean descent. It should be noted that razor bumps can affect anyone who has curly hair, or, who has hair follicles oriented at oblique angles to the skin surface which makes it easier for the sharp hair tips to re-enter the skin.
The key to controlling PFB is to minimize hair re-entry back into the skin (and subsequent inflammation) by reducing the sharpness of the hair tip and to leave the hair at the appropriate length after shaving.
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. If you do have, the following step-by-step program is recommended:
(It should be noted that if Dr. Crutchfield feels your condition is extreme, you should let your beard grow out for several weeks before proceeding. As the hair lengthens, the shafts will act like miniature “springs” and eventually pop free. Dr. Crutchfield may even prescribe a short course of antibiotics. Dr. Crutchfield will tell you when to begin the anti-PFB shaving program.)
1. Wet your beard with warm water to soften the hair. The best way to accomplish this is to take a shower before shaving. Make sure that your beard hair is in contact with the water for at least 2 minutes. This will fully hydrate your hair. Hydrated hair cuts more easily and leaves a hair tip that is not as sharp. This will decrease the chance of re-entering the skin.
2. Use a soft bristled tooth brush, in a circular motion on the beard area, to dislodge any hair tips that are beginning to pierce the skin. This should be done twice per day: before shaving and at bed-time. If Dr. Crutchfield approves of it, you may even use a sterile needle (cleaned with rubbing alcohol), or a pointed toothpick, to dislodge any particularly stubborn tips. Failure to dislodge any tips attempting to re-enter the skin will cause “extra follicular” razor bumps.
Learn more about treating razor bumps
Dr. Crutchfield is an expert in the treatment of PFB. He lectures nationally on the topic and has written the essential medical paper on the treatment of razor bumps, "The causes and treatment of pseudofolliculitis barbae".
Dr. Crutchfield will carefully evaluate and design a treatment program most appropriate for each individual case.
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