Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae), also known as shaving bumps, affects men with tightly curved (or curly) hairs. When the tip of hair grows back under the skin or into the hair follicle, it is known as ingrown hair. If ingrown hair causes a reaction in the skin, it is known as razor bumps. Razor bumps is not an infection but rather a "foreign body" reaction, much like the body would react to a splinter of wood in the skin. The condition may be worsened by methods used to achieve a close shave, such as pulling the skin tight while shaving, shaving against the "grain" or direction of hair growth, or using multi-blade razors.
Who's At Risk
Razor bumps usually affects black men who shave, although anyone with curly beard hair may be affected. Up to 80% of black men have this problem. Razor bumps may also occur in women who shave or pluck hair or undergo electrolysis.
Signs and Symptoms
Skin-colored to red bumps or pimples of the shaved area, often with a hair visible in the center.
A 100% effective treatment in treating razor bumps is to let the beard grow. Once the hairs grow long enough, they will not grow back into the skin.
- If you must continue shaving, initially let the beard grow for 30 days to eliminate ingrown hairs.
- Use a polyester skin-cleansing pad (Buf-Puf™) twice a day. Or, use a moisturizing shaving foam.
- Use of an electric shaver will help, as it does not cut as close as blades do. Special razors are commercially available.
- If you must use a blade, before shaving, wash the face with a mild cleanser, such as Cetaphil® Moisturizing Lotion, then rinse. Massage the beard area gently in a circular motion with a warm, moist, soft washcloth. This will free up the hair tips so they can be cut with the shaver. The warm water will also soften the hairs, making them easier to cut. Lather the beard area with a non-irritating shaving gel, such as Aveeno® Therapeutic Shave Gel instead of cream, and shave in the direction of beard growth. After shaving is finished, rinse thoroughly with warm water and apply a mild moisturizing after shave lotion, such as Cetaphil lotion.
- When you resume shaving, use a razor with a single blade. Razors with a double blade cut the hairs too short, allowing them to grow inward. Special "PFB" razors may also be tried, such as Aveeno PFB Bump Fighter Razor.
- Shaving every other day, rather than daily, will help. Do not pull the skin taut shaving with a razor blade.
- At night, apply a lotion containing glycolic acid to the affected areas. This exfoliates the surface skin cells and reduces the likelihood of new spots.
Some doctors recommend chemical shaving with products that contain calcium thioglycolate (Magic Shave) or barium sulfide. These chemicals dissolve the hair but may be irritating.
Consider laser hair removal. In some cases, this is the most effective measure.
When to Seek Medical Care
If none of the self-care measures help and you must continue shaving, seek medical help.
Treatments Your Physician May Prescribe
- Tretinoin cream used at night
- Eflornithine cream to try and reduce hair growth
- Topical or oral antibiotics
Bolognia, Jean L., ed. Dermatology
, pp.560-562, 1478. New York: Mosby, 2003.
Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine
ed. pp.1860-1861. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.