Pseudofolliculitis Barbae: Everything You Need to Know
If you happen to shave on the reg, you know the importance of following a pre and post-care routine. But, that doesn’t mean you always do them. ;)
And we totally get it, life gets busy. You may be in a hurry or aren’t paying attention to the products you’re using. Perhaps you’re using an electric razor or simply pressing a touch too hard with your razor. No matter the reason, the results will always be the same — razor bumps.
These red, painful, inflamed bumps can most commonly be found on the legs, cheeks, neck, and bikini line. But what exactly are they, and how does one avoid them?
Read on to learn everything you need to know about these bumps and how you can keep them at bay.
What Exactly Are Razor Bumps?
A good clean shave leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth at first -- but then comes the red bumps. Love it.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae, commonly known as razor bumps, is more than just an annoyance. In fact, in some cases, they can cause permanent skin damage if they’re not treated.
Razor bumps and razor rashes are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually considered to be different skin conditions. Razor rashes — also known as razor burn — can cause itchy rashes that are red and tender to the touch. Razor bumps, on the other hand, are painful ingrown hairs caused by cut hair strands that curl back into the skin, causing painful pimple-like bumps.
Other names for pseudofolliculitis barbae include:
Pseudofolliculitis pubis (specifically when the razor bumps occur in the pubic area)
Folliculitis barbae traumatica
Hot tub rash
Symptoms of Razor Bumps
While the primary symptom of razor bumps is raised, red bumps, other symptoms may include:
Darkening of the skin
Pustules (puss-filled, blister-like lesions)
Small papules (solid, round bumps)
Razor bumps can occur literally anywhere on the body that’s been shaved. Plucking, waxing, and removal by a chemical depilatory cream may cause the condition in some cases, too.
Causes of Razor Bumps
These bumps occur when curly hairs get stuck inside the hair follicles, causing ingrown hairs. Instead of growing straight out of the follicle like what your hair is supposed to do, the hair meets resistance from dead skin, causing the hair to curl back around inside the pore.
While anyone who banishes their body hair can develop razor bumps, they are most likely to affect those with dark skin — specifically African-American males. In fact, between 45 and 85 percent of African-American males experience razor bumps. Latino men and others with curly hair are also more likely to develop razor bumps.
What about genetics?
Interestingly enough, some individuals are more prone to developing pseudofolliculitis barbae beyond just hair texture.
A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that people who had a single nucleotide substitution in a specific keratin gene were six times more likely to develop razor bumps than those without it.
Are there any other possible triggers?
Razor bumps are much more common in people with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and other common hormonal disorders that cause hirsutism or excessive facial hair. It’s also more common in folks who are perimenopausal or menopausal.
Other risk factors for razor bumps include taking cyclosporine and corticosteroids in renal transplant patients.
How to Treat Razor Bumps
This condition is diagnosed based on a review of symptoms and a visual inspection of the skin. There’s no specific test for diagnosing it, but your primary care provider can usually tell right away if you do, in fact, have it.
Your doctor may look at your skin using a dermoscope (a handheld instrument similar to a magnifying glass and is used to magnify the skin up to ten times), allowing the doctor to see ingrown hairs under the skin’s surface.
They usually look like black or dark grey spots or lines under the skin. Very rarely, your doc may swab your skin to check for a bacterial infection.
In general, razor bumps are very easy to diagnose, but there are many other skin conditions that cause inflamed bumps, which might be a bit tricky to differentiate.
These skin condition imposters include:
Tinea barbae: Better known as ringworm, tinea is a fungal infection and can occur anywhere on the skin. When it appears in the beard area, it’s called tinea barbae.
Razor burn: As we mentioned early on, razor burn is similar to razor bumps, with both appearing after shaving, but they are not exactly the same. Razor burn is not caused by ingrown hairs, but rather irritation from the friction caused by shaving and usually improves a day or two after shaving.
- Acne vulgaris: Razor bumps look remarkably similar to acne vulgaris and are often confused with this common skin issue. But there are many differences between an ingrown hair and a zit. More tellingly, razor bumps only appear in the areas where the hair is coarse or thick, especially if you’re shaving or getting waxed in that area. Acne occurs over the entire face and other areas on the body that don’t necessarily have thick, coarse hair.
How to manage Pseudofolliculitis Barbae
The very best treatment for razor bumps is prevention. Arguably, the most effective way to prevent these ingrown hairs from cropping up is to stop shaving and let the hair grow out.
At first, this may cause a tiny increase in symptoms because the hair that’s already been shaved already is trying to grow out and can become trapped under the skin. Over time though, your skin will improve because the grown-out hair stays above the skin’s surface and isn’t given a chance to turn into an ingrown hair.
When you completely stop shaving, marked improvement is generally seen in about three months’ time, but it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different, so results may vary.
In many cases, ceasing to shave will completely clear up those painful razor bumps. At this point, any good quality treatment for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or scars can be started.
However, some people prefer to shave their body hair. You may have a job that requires you to be clean-shaven, or perhaps you just don’t want to take part in “no-shave-November” or “Jan-u-hairy.” And we totally get that, it’s your body.
Everyone has their own preferences on body hair, and if it’s just not your thing, there are other treatment options that can be used.
Here are some shaving tips and tricks you can use for all areas of the body to help lessen the risk of razor bumps:
Preshave, hydrate the hair to soften. This is important for those looking to combat painful ingrowns and can be done easily with a warm damp towel. At home, it’s much more practical to shave immediately after you rinse off. This allows the hair and skin to be well hydrated, causing them to soften. Shaving well-hydrated hair is much more likely to produce a healthy blunt tip rather than a sharp slanted end that might turn into a razor bump.
Don’t pull the skin taut when shaving. Yes, this does give you a much closer shave, but a close shave isn’t what you’re going for here. When the skin is pulled taut, the hair is cut so close to the surface of your skin that it stretches and then retracts, which results in an ingrown hair.
Shave less frequently, if possible. This allows your hair to stay a bit on the longer side, helping to reduce the development of ingrown hairs. Be free!
There are amazing products like the ones at Topicals that can help treat pseudofolliculitis barbae!
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