Shaving rash is a common problem for men with curly hair, or for women who shave their bikini-line pubic hair. (Pubic hair is naturally more curly than head hair.) The medical term is ‘pseudofolliculitis barbae’ or ‘sycosis barbae’; it is a syndrome also called ‘barber’s itch’ or ‘razor lumps’.
Normally, the weight of each individual hair straightens it slightly. When you shave, a remnant of hair is left in the hair follicle. As this starts to grow out of the follicle, it may immediately curve round into the surrounding skin, because there is nothing to keep it straight. The ingrowing hair irritates the skin and can cause a lumpy reaction, especially in black skin (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2002;46:2[2 Suppl]:S113–9
). The next time you shave, you will nick the tops of the lumps, worsening the inflammation and perhaps allowing an infection to occur.
How to prevent shaving rash
Do not pull on the skin. Hairs are most likely to ingrow if you pull the skin while you are shaving, to get a close shave. This makes the hairs pop out of the follicle. Afterwards, the cut tip retracts into the follicle and then turns into the wall of the follicle.
Shave in the direction of the growth of the hairs. If the hairs naturally grow downwards, pull the razor downwards.
Avoid a close shave. The aim is to shave the hairs just above the skin, when they have already emerged from the hair follicle. Use an electric razor or an ordinary single-blade razor. Double-blade or triple-blade razors give too close a shave.
Prepare your skin before shaving, by using a good shaving gel, oil or foam, and thoroughly wet it into the hairs.
Check your razor is in good condition. If it is the disposable type, make sure you use a new one each time. If it is electrical or blade, check it is clean.
How to deal with shaving rash. Curing shaving rash is tedious and will leave you with stubble for a few weeks.
Analyse the problem. Inspect the area with the help of a magnifying mirror. You may be able to see the hairs curling inwards. Have a good look for tiny yellow pustules, and redness and inflammation around the hair follicles or the tips of the ingrowing hairs – this could mean infection with staphylococci bacteria.
If you can see them, try to get the tips of the ingrowing hairs out of the skin. Soak a towel in hot water and put it on the skin for a few minutes to soften the hairs. Then very carefully, using clean tweezers, pull the end of the hair out of the bump. Do not pull the whole hair out of the skin – just the loose end. Then with small scissors cut off the end of the hair that is curling back, quite close to the skin.
. Grow a beard and cut off the hair close to the skin with nail scissors (designer stubble look). You might like to know about a report that women are more attracted to men with stubble, rating them as tough, mature, dominant, masculine and the best romantic partners, according to University of Northumbria research (Daily Telegraph, 29-Jun-08
). As the hair grows, it should grow slightly straighter, and not grow back into the skin. If the problem is in the pubic area, stop shaving and remove the hair after a few weeks with a depilatory cream if you wish.
If you think the rash is infected, dab on a mild antiseptic such as tea tree oil. The infection may clear up on its own if you stop shaving. If it does not improve after a few days, see your doctor again; you might have a fungal infection.
Exfoliants remove the dead cells from the surface of the skin. They will not prevent the hairs turning in, but they may help to flatten the bumps. So if the bumps are slow to settle, exfoliants might be worth trying. Do not use them if your skin is inflamed or infected. There are various types of exfoliants. Facial scrubs usually contain tiny particles of pumice. Alpha hydroxy acids (fruit acids), in creams and face washes, have an exfoliant action. Alpha hydroxy acid creams are often labelled as ‘anti-ageing’; check the ingredients label.
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Tuesday, August 2nd 2011
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