Razor Bumps: Why Shaving Technique is Key to Avoiding Skin Irritation of Pseudofolliculitis Barbae

Men who shave with a blade know the risks of irritating the skin. But even careful shaving runs the risk of causing more serious “razor bumps” – a condition in which the curved hairs grow back into the skin and cause a reaction, such as inflammation. “The medical term for the condition is pseudofolliculitis barbae,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, board certified dermatologist in Austin, Texas. “Some people have hair and skin that puts them at greater risk of developing the condition.” But those who are more susceptible to pseudofolliculitis barbae can improve their chances of avoiding it by taking some precautionary steps.

The man has a shave with the machine tool in a bathroomPseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, occurs in up to 60 percent of African-American men and others with curly hair. Shaving sharpens the ends of the hairs. The natural curl of the hair can increase the chances for the hair to grow back into the skin, pierced by those sharpened ends. Shaving technique can increase the likelihood of pseudofolliculitis barbae.  Pulling the skin taut while shaving or shaving against the grain can result in a hair that is cut below the surface of the skin, which is more likely to grow inward.

“One way to avoid PFB is to just let the hair grow,” says Emily Johnston, certified physician assistant at Sanova Dermatology. Letting the hair grow for several weeks until skin lesions have subsided is one approach patients can take. A cortisone cream can be applied to reduce inflammation. “Another approach is to reduce the frequency of shaving, or shave with an electric razor, which does not cut as close to the skin as a blade.” Those who prefer using razors should soften the beard with a warm compress cloth for about five minutes, then lubricate the beard prior to shaving. It is also recommended to shave with the grain of the beard and avoiding any stretching of the skin.

While pseudofolliculitis barbae is found predominantly in men, women can develop these ingrown hairs if they are not careful with their shaving technique. Also, pubic hair removal by shaving or waxing in both genders can result in the similar condition called pseudofolliculitis pubis.

“In severe cases, when PFB can not be controlled by changing shaving techniques or when we start to see scarring, we’ll often recommend permanent hair reduction or removal,” says Dr. Mamelak. “Laser hair removal, for example, is often recommended on the neck or in the bikini area and can lead to a significant reduction in symptoms.”

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Skin irritation from shaving is common but it’s a problem that can be addressed by adjusting shaving technique or with some simple skin treatments. For more information, please contact us today at Sanova Dermatology.

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