Razor bumps are not uncommon to men with coarse or curly hair. They are especially common for black men, with some people estimating up to 30 or 40% of black men may experience bumps. The process of blade shaving can cut the hair at an angle, making it sharp. Curly hair then sometimes curls back toward the skin and can puncture the skin and become ingrown. This leads to red bumps and skin irritation, which can be very painful for some men. The technical name for razor bumps is pseudofolliculitis barbae (often abbreviated PFB).
You can see some pictures at the Dermatology Image Atlas.
The following steps may reduce your chance of suffering from razor bumps:
- Make sure to get your hair very wet before shaving, ideally after taking a bath or shower. If you don’t shower first, wet your hair for at least two minutes with warm, soapy water. Wet hair cuts better and easier than dry hair, and is more likely to cut evenly (and not at an angle).
- Use a good shaving cream to reduce friction and irritation. Really work the shaving cream into your scalp for at least two minutes, and save areas that tend to develop bumps for last when you’re shaving, so that the shaving cream has longer to soften the hair.
- Shave with the grain, not against it.
- Don’t go over the same area more than twice.
- Don’t stretch out your skin while shaving; let is stay neutral and relaxed. Stretching your skin while you shave increases the chance that the hair will ‘snap back’ to below skin level.
- Replace your blade regularly. Shaving with a dull blade increases the chances of hair tearing unevenly.
- Use a single-blade razor instead of a double- or triple-blade razor. The ‘lift and cut’ effect of multi-blade razors is something people with PFB generally try to avoid.
Some people who suffer from razor bumps might prefer using a depilatory (like Nair or Neet) instead of a razor. Depilatories work by dissolving the hair so it can be washed off. The chemicals used in depilatories are strong, and may cause irritation. There’s a little more information about them in this article.
If you’re already suffering from razor bumps, keep the following points in mind:
- Before anything else, let your hair grow out for a while and give your skin a rest before shaving again (a minimum of three days).
- Bumps can get infected fairly easily, so tend to them immediately. Using a local antibiotic will probably help, especially if there’s a cut.
- Don’t pick at or squeeze bumps. That will tend to make things worse.
A recent treatment for razor bumps is called eflornithine hydrochloride 13.9 percent, usually called Vaniqa (made by Bristol-Myers Squibb). It’s a prescription drug used to remove facial hair for women, but it’s apparently proven effective in controlling and treating razor bumps as well. Since it’s a prescription drug, you’ll have to talk to your doctor about it.
The following companies sell products that are available on the Internet and claim to help people suffering from razor bumps. I haven’t tried any of them myself; buyer beware.
If you are suffering seriously from razor bumps, you should probably consult a dermatologist or your family doctor.
Since I’ve never suffered from razor bumps myself, all of the information I have comes from personal reading. The websites and magazine articles listed below provide the sources for the previous article.
Pseudofolliculitis of the Beard – A detailed article on razor bumps, from eMedicine.com.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae (shaving bumps) – information for patients – Article (with picture), from the New Zealand DermNet
Deas, Gerald W. “Getting a jump on the razor bump.” New York Amsterdam News, 10/4/2001, Vol. 92 Issue 40, p16, 1/4p, 1bw.
“EM insider.” Ebony Man, Oct97, Vol. 12 Issue 12, p20, 1p, 4c.
Gite, Lloyd. “How to take the bumps out of shaving.” Heart & Soul, Jun/Jul96 Issue 15, p72, 1/2p, 1c.
Laliberte, Richard.”Chin flicks: how to shave so you’ll never again have to deal with razor bumps, burns or slashes.” Men’s Health, Feb 1991 v6 n1 p19(2).
Tucker, Miriam E. “Eflornithine Cream Clears Razor Bumps.” Internal Medicine News, Sept 15, 2001 v34 i18 p15.
If you have any additional comments or questions about razor bumps, feel free to contact me about them.