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Stopping Razor Bumps

Updated on March 9, 2012

I Hate Razor Bumps

When I think of all the dreaded outcomes after a fresh shave - razor burn and ingrown hairs are some of the common responses that join the irritation of unsightly razor bumps. I've always thought the unappealing spread of razor bumps resembled a rash or allergic reaction that can attack the face, legs, or any other part of the body where shaving takes place.

What are Razor Bumps

Before we get down to the nitty gritty of getting rid of or preventing razor bumps, let's explore what they are and what causes this unwanted irritation. This condition actually has a technical name – pseudofolliculitis barbae – and basically means that follicles of hair have become inflamed. "Barbae" refers to the beard, which is a common location of this irritation, although not the only place that succumbs to these bumps.

I certainly don’t have to ask the ladies how many times they've encountered razor bumps after shaving their legs or getting bikini-ready for the beach. Women who constantly shave their genital regions may also face what is known as pseudofolliculitis pubis. An outbreak of razor bumps may also take place after plucking. However, the greatest risk for this irritation is seen in people who have curly hair or possess sensitive skin. In the end, it's safe to say that razor bumps are definitely a common occurrence for both men and women who shave.

Many people often link razor bumps and ingrown hairs together because both appear after a fresh shave when hair begins to regrow. Normally, hair follows the typical growth pattern of an individual, emerging straight out of the hair follicle.

However, if you have curly hair or have used a less-than-perfect razor – the hair can curl back into the skin. The body reacts to this "foreign body" and razor bumps are usually the most common result. Redness and itchiness take over. The unlucky walk around all day with a patch of bumps that looks much like an acne breakout. To make matters worse, an infection may settle in – often bringing about inflamed papules and pustules to the surface of the skin.

When taking a look at the medical side of razor bumps, you really shouldn’t let these suckers go untreated. The worst cases produce dark and raised skin called keloid scars, which usually form on the neck, face, and the back of the head. Men with curly hair or beards are the typical victims of this occurrence.

Under normal circumstances, a man could wait until his hair grows straight out of the skin or follow the painstaking process of plucking each and every single ingrown hair in a beard to avoid razor bumps, but not everyone can follow this treatment. Let's say you're an executive who is expected to present a high level of grooming while on the job. Waiting for your beard to grow out is not an option.

Razor Bump Prevention

Unfortunately, it's not that easy to prevent razor bumps when you have a beard lingering on your chin. Those who must frequently shave are placed at a high risk for suffering an attack of razor bumps. Yet, there are still many different prevention tricks to consider:

  1. Your Razor: To start on the right foot with razor bump prevention, take a good look at the shaving equipment you use. As a rule of thumb, your chances of bumpy irritation increase when you rely on a disposable razor. I know it's tempting to grab a 10-pack of razors for around $1, but trust me - it isn't worth it for the sake of your skin. I suggest trying out a single-blade razor or the distinctive wire-wrapped blades now found on the market. There are also specialized razors, such as the Aveeno PFB Bump Fighter Razor, which are designed to prevent the formation of razor bumps. If you side with a changeable razor - I also recommend switching blades at least after every five shaves for the best results.
  2. Permanent and Aggressive Measures: You can aggressively prevent razor bumps and other associated issues by permanently removing the hair that is causing you so much trouble. Today, an increasing amount of men have turned towards electrolysis or laser hair removal for help. These procedures can cost a pretty penny, but if you're lucky - your insurance company may pick up the tab. You may also purchase special exfoliating products created to lessen the risk of razor bumps.
  3. Grow Out Hair: If this is possible, grow out a beard or other hair regions to prevent razor bumps. Once hairs reach a certain length, they don't curl back into the skin. It may get a little 'hairy' for a while, but putting off your next shave for three to four weeks can work wonders for some.
  4. Cortisone Cream and Other Prescriptions: If you are prone to razor bumps, using a mild prescription of cortisone cream can lessen your risk for bumps, especially if you're attempting to grow out a beard. There are other prescription products that combat common shaving problems, such as Benzashave - a medicated shaving foam by Dermik - recommended for both men and women.
  5. Check Your Habits: When you shave - do you go against the grain of hair growth? Do you shave everyday? Did you know that stretching the skin when shaving can cause an outbreak of razor bumps? Do you go over shaved regions twice? Sometimes, avoiding the problem is easy as altering your shaving habits - so start shaving every other day with the grain and only once over every region in order to decrease your risk of razor bumps.
  6. Pre-Shave Procedures: I usually soften my skin before a clean shave in an attempt to reduce the threat of razor bumps. If you take a look at the many different products lining the shelves of your local grocery store - companies like Edge and Aveeno offer an array of popular lubricating shaving gels. I also recommend choosing a facial scrub that offers pH balance and active antibacterial agents as a good way to prepare the face before a shave. You can also soften facial hair by using a hot, wet washcloth applied to the face for five minutes.
  7. Topical Acne Preparations: Ladies - if you wish to prevent and eliminate razor bumps - grab a topical acne preparation with 2.5% or 5% benzoyl peroxide. Use after each shave.
  8. Depilatories: If you are resistant to the possible irritation, using depilatories (such as Neet or Nair) instead of a razor to remove unwanted hair can lessen your risk for razor bumps. Women have been using this approach for years to keep their legs nice and smooth. Depilatories actually dissolve hair so you can easily wash it off. However, the chemicals used are heavy-duty and some people encounter adverse skin responses.

Razor Bump Treatments

So, you couldn't resist that dull razor as a last-minute touch up in the morning and have a face or legs full of razor bumps. What to do? First, you can start by giving your skin a rest before even thinking about shaving again. This will also give the hair a chance to grow out. For some people, this takes a minimum of three days. What you choose to do next either prolongs the irritation of razor bumps or helps clear up the problem quickly…

I suggest:

  • Antibiotics: Since razor bumps have a tendency to become infected rather easily, you need to keep an eye on their status. Use a local antibiotic to soothe irritated skin, especially if you've experienced a cut or nick.
  • Resist the Temptation: Just like acne - never pick or squeeze bumps - this will only make things worse.
  • Ask for Doctor Assistance: Consider alternatives with your doctor. I've heard good things about a treatment consisting of 13.9% of eflornithine hydrochloride called Vaniqa - a product marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb. Vaniqa is used to remove facial hair in women, but has proven effective in treating razor bumps and keeping them under control.
  • Astringent Skin Cleansers: Skin cleansers that contain ingredients, such as white vinegar or camphor oil, can effectively open clogged pores and decrease skin inflammation caused by shaving bumps.
  • Aftershave: Choosing an alcohol-free aftershave can soothe the skin and combat the inflammation that follows a fresh shave.
  • Combat the Burning Sensation: Take two uncoated aspirins and add to a teaspoon of warm water, which creates a paste that you can then use to relieve the burning sensation of razor bumps. Afterwards, use lukewarm water to wash off the paste.
  • Hydrocortisone Cream: To erase redness, apply a dab of 1% hydrocortisone cream after a shave. The hydrocortisone actually constricts blood vessels - causing less blood flow to the region. Redness, stinging sensations, and irritation will become less of an issue.

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