It’s happened again!
Your skin has become irritated and bumpy after what you thought was a quality shave session.
As one unfortunately knowledgeable with the bane of razor bumps, you likely are familiar with falling victim to the annoyance that is only made worse by additional swipes of your razor.
Razor bumps or razor burn, whose technical term is pseudofolliculitis barbae, are pimple-like protrusions that develop after shaving. These pesky dermatological ailments can completely ruin the intended clean-shave look of a recent razor session.
Worse still, if not properly treated, razor bumps can eventually turn into permanent scar tissue, broadcasting the issue for the rest of your life.
In order to get to the solution of what can be done about this annoyance, we must first understand what causes razor bumps, the different types of razor bumps, what can increase the susceptibility to razor bumps and razor burn and hot to predictably prevent them from forming.
What causes razor bumps?
It’s likely a bit obvious to state that your shaving is causing the razor burn and razor bumps you are experiencing. However, it is important to understand “how” your particular shaving hardware, your personal uniqueness and your technique may be causing the uncomfortable and ghastly bumps you are experiencing.
When facial hair is cut at or below the surface of the skin, it leaves the follicle susceptible to growing back toward (and not away from the skin surface). When this occurs, the hair follicle can swell into red lumps that look like a zit or pimple.
Different types of shaving tools, techniques and hair itself can contribute to this recurring annoyance.
What are the different types of razor bumps?
Two different types of razor bumps exist.
Extrafollicular razor bumps occur when the hair curls around and grows inward without ever existing the surface of the skin at all.
Transfollicular razor bumps occur when the hair actually exits the skin before it curls back on itself to grow inward. When this occurs, you can sometimes see the remaining exposed hair.
In both cases it may be a temptation to squeeze the inflamed area or remove the exposed hair with a pair of tweezers. Unfortunately, doing so may result in greater irritation and further exacerbation of the issue.
What makes me susceptible to razor bumps?
While razor bumps know no sex, ethnic or racial boundaries, they are not equal-opportunity inflict-ors.
Men are more susceptible than women. Men typically shave more frequently which increases the probability of recurrence and facial skin tends to be more sensitive to razor bumps.
According to a poll conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology, 78% of men had experience some form of irritation as a result of shaving. In short, it is a common problem, especially in males.
African Americans are also more susceptible to razor bumps and razor burn. While only 20% of Caucasians have experienced problems with razor bumps, varying sources claim that up to 80% of Blacks of experienced some form of razor bumps.
Black men are particularly more sensitive to razor bumps as their more curly facial hair tends to curl back on itself and cause some of the issues discussed above. Razor bumps are thus less common among those with straighter facial hair.
In addition, darker skin is also more prone toward scarring in the event that razor bumps remain untreated–further exacerbating a compounding issue among the African American population.
How to prevent razor bumps from forming
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best defense against razor bumps includes the tools and techniques that will give you a close, high-quality shave.
- Heat the face. Moist, heated hair is easier to sheer off. It also helps open the pores in preparation for the shave. Heat your face with a warm, wet towel.
- Work in a good shaving cream or soap. Using a quality shaving cream or shaving soap is helpful in the preparation for your shave. A pre-shave oil can also help to prepare the area and prevent future irritation.
- Use a sharp safety razor. A dull razor will increase the potential of razor bumps. So will a cartridge razor. The very design of your cartridge razor may be the source of your razor bumps. Such disposable razors are designed in such a way that the first blade lifts the hair away from the skin while the second blade sheers it–often below the surface of the skin, which greatly increases the likelihood of razor bumps. Make sure you have a safety razor. Make sure it is sharp.
- Stick with the grain. While going against the grain can help you get a closer shave, going against the grain will increase the likelihood of razor bumps. With a safety razor you can make multiple passes, but until you are comfortable with its ability to go against the grain without irritating and causing bumps, stick with the grain.
- Exfoliate the skin. Exfoliating post-shave is a critical step, particularly for those with curly hair that may grow back in. Exfoliating sometimes require a good scrub to help open the pores and allow the hair to grow outward instead of inward.
- Apply tea tree oil. Using a standard antiseptic like tea tree oil will help to exfoliate the skin and open the pores. Traditional after shave can include alcohol which tends to irritate and create more issues for those with facial hair prone to bumps. Your pre-shave oil can also be used as a post-shave solution here as well.
- Close the pores. Using a cold, damp cloth against the skin after you have completed your routine can help close the pores and prevent issues from reoccurring.
For those with existing razor bumps, it is best advised to give it time before jumping back into the shave game. Your best course of action is likely to take a break for a week or two, giving your skin time to heal and for the bumps and irritation to work themselves out. Then, get yourself a nice safety razor kit and start shaving like a real man.
For those who have tried and failed, you would be well-advised to visit your dermatologist and get a professional opinion on prescription (e.g. a prescription retinoid gel) that may help to clear up the issue.
Best of luck, happy shaving and hopefully this helps you in your quest to avoid unsightly and uncomfortable razor bumps.