Pseudofolliculitis Barbae is a skin condition that, thankfully, also goes by easy-to-pronounce names like razor bumps and shaving bumps.
Most experts consider razor bumps to be a form of adult acne and it can be difficult to tell the two apart. Both appear as angry red eruptions whose only apparent function is to embarrass the heck out of you and totally mess up a job interview or big date.
The medical similarity is that both Pseudofolliculitis Barbae and adult acne are caused by clogged hair follicles. With pimples and blackheads, the hair follicles are clogged with oil and dead skin cells.
However, the pimples you get from shaving originate in a completely different way. Razor bumps appear when the hair itself clogs the follicle.
Here’s how that happens (and why men and women with thick, curly hair are more at risk for razor bumps):
After a hair is shaved, it immediately begins to grow back. A straight hair grows out of the follicle and stands straight and tall. On the other hand, a thick, curly hair wants to curl back toward the skin. When it does, it keeps growing in that direction, right back down into the follicle.
The result is a clogged follicle, inflammation, swelling … Razor bump!
How to Avoid Bumps After Shaving
Believe it or not, many dermatologists and skin experts offer these dubious words of advice on how to get rid of razor bumps: Stop shaving!
That may be helpful if you’re Santa Claus or auditioning for a role on Duck Dynasty. But for most of us — men or women — it’s easier said than done.
Fortunately, by taking precautions and paying attention to these shaving tips you can minimize and even eliminate bumps after shaving.
Before You Shave …
Exfoliating may not be in your skin care regimen, especially if you’re a man. But consider adding it if bumps after shaving are a problem. Exfoliation can help lift the hair out of the follicle and buff away the dead skin cells that your hair likes to grow back into. It will also help get rid of bacteria that can infect the microscopic nicks and cuts you get when shaving.
Soak and Steam
If practical, get a fog-resistant mirror and shave in the shower. Shaving while your face is drenched in hot water and steam will help your razor glide across your face instead of dragging. If shaving in the shower is out of the question, always shave after you shower, not before.
If you’re shaving with acne in addition to shaving bumps, you need to pay particular attention to removing dirt and bacteria from your skin beforehand. There are a number of products, including mild soaps, available for this purpose. Be sure to choose a non-comedogenic product that won’t clog pores.
While You Shave…
Go for a shaving gel or cream that gives you a thin layer of protection. These are typically the thinner, filmier shaving creams. Using a brush shaving cream can lift your hairs and better prepare them for the shave. However, if you are shaving with acne on your face, be aware that a brush can also pick up bacteria and spread it around.
Raise the Right Razor
Here’s a bummer fact: The closer you shave, the more likely you are to get shaving bumps.
If you can live with a shave that isn’t quite as smooth as a baby’s bottom, use an electric razor on a low setting, suggests Dr. Charles Crutchfield, a noted Minnesota dermatologist. If you must use a traditional blade, consider a razor guard to keep from cutting the hairs too short.
Also, opt for a good, old-fashioned single-blade razor. Razor manufacturers want you to think the more blades, the better. But because of the way they act on your skin, razors with too many blades could be the main cause of your razor bumps!
Shave With the Grain
Pull the razor in the direction your hair is growing or at a 90-degree angle. This usually means shaving down instead of up. Don’t stretch the skin as you shave and, if you have acne, avoid passing the razor over it. You don’t want to break whiteheads and spread bacteria.
After You Shave …
Tone and Moisturize
Post-cleansing products like toners and moisturizers are designed to calm skin and clear dead skin cells and other pore-clogging debris. For that reason, toners and moisturizers make great after shaves. You can also use an antibacterial gel with benzoyl peroxide to start killing bacteria before it attacks the newly shaved follicles.
Rinse the Razor
Whether you use an electric razor or a blade, rinse the shaving head in rubbing alcohol before and after each shave to eliminate bacteria.
Try the Toothbrush Trick
Dr. Crutchfield also recommends using a soft-bristled toothbrush on your face before bedtime. Gently massage the area where you’re most likely to get shave bumps. It can help take out those curly hairs that have begun to grow back into the follicle, and they won’t continue growing in that direction as you sleep.
OK, we agree it sounds like a lot of work. But it really isn’t. And you don’t have to incorporate these shaving tips into your routine all at once. Of course, if the end result is never seeing another red, itchy, gnarly looking razor bump on your face or body again, who cares about an extra two or three minutes every time you shave!