Almost everyone who has touched a razor (almost all males and some females who shave off excess body hair) is familiar with razor bumps. Also colloquially known as “chicken skin”, they are those small white or red bumps that one can't seem to get rid of. But what really causes them and is there really a solution for their removal?
The scientific term for razor bumps is pseudofolliculitis barbae. African-Americans and those with curly hair are particularly susceptible to razor bumps.
They are created when hair curls and then grows back into the skin. It is treated as an intruder by the body's immune system, which causes irritation, inflammation, swelling, and redness. The bumps are also particularly prone to infection. These may result in the development of pimples or scarring.
Another consequence may be the development of barber's rash, caused when bacteria called Staphyloccocus aureus, normally residents of the nose, come into contact with hair follicles. Razor bumps that have turned into barber's rash are characterized by redness, itching, and pus-filled blisters.
How can razor bumps be treated?
- A clean needle can be used to release the affected hair from the inflamed area.
- A pair of tweezers can also be used to gently pull the hair from the skin.
- If pain is experienced, the use of a mild corticosteroid cream may be able to alleviate it, along with the inflammation.
- Benzoyl peroxide cream or gel is also useful in reducing bacteria in the area, although it should be used sparingly as it can irritate sensitive skin.
- Glycolic acid is another product that is used by sufferers of razor bumps.
- Aside from chemical treatments, another alternative is to simply stop shaving. The hair shaft should grow enough so that it can free itself from the follicle after about three to four weeks of not shaving, and no new razor bumps will develop.
- For more long-term results, laser treatment is also an option to consider. Laser hair removal will destroy the follicle completely, and therefore remove razor bumps. However, it will have to be repeated throughout the year, as hair will grow back and return to normal thickness after half a year to a year. There is also a possibility of skin discoloration and scarring.
Thankfully, there are a number of tips that can be followed to prevent the appearance of razor bumps. These are:
• Using warm water to soften the skin, hair and opening of the pores, or choosing to shave right after taking a hot shower
• Applying thick shaving cream, gel, foam or soap when shaving
• Shaving in the direction of the hair growth, which is usually downward
• Not stretching the skin taut while shaving
• Rinsing with cold water after a shave or pressing a cloth dipped in cold water against your face for about five minutes
• Maintaining hygienic practices with the razor being used. The razor should be rinsed thoroughly after each use, and its blades should be replaced every week or whenever necessary
• Moisturizing the skin afterwards with lotion
• Gently using an electric razor set on the highest setting
• Using razors with a single blade and avoiding those which have double or triple blades
If razor bumps cannot be prevented by simple tips or over the counter medication, a primary care provider or a dermatologist can be consulted. Stronger chemical treatments can then be prescribed to the patient. Dermatologists will also be able to remove hairs for those who suffer from severe cases of razor bumps.