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The Battle of the Hairs!

Men's shaving & ingrown hairs. Cause, treatment & prevention.

 

        It is an age-old battle – man vs. hair.  In the quest for smooth skin, men have to shave.  Unfortunately, shaving can cause issues for a man’s skin.  The most common issue that plagues men is ingrown hairs, better known as razor bumps.  Although ingrown hairs tend to be more prominent for men of color, no man is immune.  The best strategy for men in this battle is to understand what razor bumps are and how to best treat them.

What They Are

        On the street, the common name is razor bumps.  Officially, the proper name is pseudofolliculitis barbae.  Either way, an ingrown hair is one that has curled back and grown into the skin.  Shaving provides the perfect conditions for this because it sharpens the tips of the hair and leaves that tip close to the skin.  At that point, the body’s immune system identifies the hair as a foreign body and fights back – hence the bump.

        Ingrown hairs appear in similar fashion for most men, a raised bump on the skin’s surface – either solid or pus-filled.  The embedded hair causes inflammation and irritation accompanied by symptoms such as pain, itching, hyper-pigmentation, and scarring.  Most common areas affected include beard area and back of the neck hairline.

 What to Do

        Caring for and treating ingrown hairs is a simple process to do at home.  Applying a moist, hot compress (washcloth) for about 3-5 minutes can offer double-duty for relief.  This opens the pores and softens the ingrown hair.  Afterwards, using a disinfected needle or tweezers to free the tip of the hair will help in healing.  Important: when dislodging the hair be careful not to dig excessively or cut the skin since that can cause infection.  Finally, apply topical solutions with ingredients such as salicylic acid, hydrocortisone, or witch hazel.  This helps to reduce swelling and irritation while preventing infection in the affected area.

 How to Prevent

        The most effective way to prevent razor bumps is simple – stop shaving.  Since that is not an option for most men, then take care when you do shave.  Below are simple key points that help in preventing ingrown hairs when shaving:

  • Be sure to clean and exfoliate the skin.  Apply a mild astringent to deep clean the area to reduce the bacteria that cause infection.  
  • Moisten hairs by steaming in the shower or using a hot washcloth for approximately 5-10 minutes. 
  • Allow a rich lubricant to set on the skin/hair for a couple of minutes to soften. 
  • Use a clean, sharp razor.  Do not stretch the skin.
  • Start at the sideburns and work down along the cheeks and neck.  Save the upper lip and chin areas for last because hair is denser there, and benefits from more time under the lubricant.
  • Shave with the grain, not against it.  Going against the grain gives a closer shave, which promotes razor bumps.
  • Do not use repeated strokes or apply too much pressure.
  • When finished, wash your skin with warm water then rinse with cool water.  Apply witch hazel or menthol.

For the Future

         As long as men shave, ingrown hairs will continue to torment them.  However, keeping these simple tips in mind can help alleviate the dilemma.  Understanding razor bumps can help in treatment and prevention at home. Of course, if these bumps become excessive, chronic, or severe consult with your doctor for alternative options.

References

Tips on shaving, including how to get a handle on ingrown hairs.  (1995). Modern Medicine, 63(3), 24.

George, D. (2012).  Ingrown Hairs After Shaving / LIVESTRONG.COM.  Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/137333-ingrown-hairs-after-shaving/

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.  (2012). Pseudofolliculitis Barbae.  Retrieved from http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/pseudofolliculitis.html

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