Razor Bumps and Ingrown Hair

April 19, 2011

I recently completed my final practical written assignment for college (I finish up for good this Thursday - can you believe it?!?), and it was all about facial hair. While doing my research I came across some interesting information about ingrown hairs and razor bumps and the difference between the two so I thought I'd share my findings with you guys. A bit boring for some perhaps, but I hope it helps a few people out there who suffer from these.

There are two types of ingrown hairs: transfollicular penetration and extrafollicular penetration. Transfollicular penetration happens when the hair enters the skin without ever growing above the skin. Extrafollicular penetration occurs when the hair grows above the skin then curls around and re-enters the skin. 
Or, to put it more simply, there are ingrown hairs that get trapped under the skin and there are razor bumps which happen when the hair curls back on itself and back into the skin creating a 'loop' of hair on the surface. The two different types can be seen in the picture below (Sourced from www.dermalife.com)
The technical term for ingrown hair is 'Pseudofolliculitis Barbae' and if left untreated is can become very severe. The problem most often affects the face and front crease of the neck, but can also occur on the back of the neck and the scalp. The skin may become infected with bacteria and, consequently, form bumps over the hair. The subsequent irritation causes the skin to darken, and when severe, permanent scarring may result. Continuing to shave aggravates the problem as the bumps can get cut and bleeding occurs causing the bump to swell more and become more irritated. Some blemishes are solid small bumps and others filled with pus (nice huh?). The irritation of the hair caught under the skin can cause it to itch however it is important not to itch the skin as this will break the skin again hightening the chance of further inflamation. If left untreated these can become infected and form cysts. This can result in scarring , discolouration and severe discomfort.

Ingrown hair can occur from the hair being cut too close to the skin, or cut below the surface of the skin. Multi-blade razors, or over-stretching while shaving, can cause this as the skin is stretched taut and the hair is exposed and is cut below the natural relaxed skin-line. When the skin is then let go of, it pops up over the top of the cut hair trapping it underneath. The hair is no longer able to grow out of the follicle and turns in on itself under the skin. 
Razor bumps unfortunately can occur simply because of the natural curl in the hair. It will grown naturally out of the follicle but will curl and re-penetrate the skin. This problem is worsened by shaving close to the skin as it leaves a sharp cut point on the end of the hair which can pierce back into the skin like a needle. Dark skin tends to have much denser facial hair and it has a natural tendency to curl quite tightly. It is recorded that up to 30-40% of dark skinned gentlemen suffering from this either razor bumps or ingrown hairs (with some websites quoting this figure at closer to 70%)
So what can you do? The first thing to do is to stop shaving close to the skin as the condition will not heal quickly (or often at all) if you keep aggravating it. Letting the hair grow out until the ingrown hair lesions heal is the best treatment for ingrown facial hair. If that isn't an option, perhaps if you have to be clean shaven for work, you can use clippers or scissors to trim the hair 1/8 to ¼ inch above the surface of the skin.  In both cases regular gentle exfoliation can help the condition. . Various products which are like a mild chemical peel can also be used but only in the most severe of cases. Also, if it is just one or two present, the trapped hair can be gently removed with sterilized tweezers. The hair should only be coaxed out from under the skin and not plucked out so as to avoid scarring and possible recurrence.

I hope that helps some folks out there and that's enough of the science talk for now! 
- BE

**UPDATE:** I've done a small add-on blog entry here: Face Mapping Bloggings


Ingrown hair removal New York City said...

Shaving creams and moisturizing lotion may help to keep the skin and the pores soft for the hair not to get trapped in the hair follicle.

Barber Eile's Blog said...

Good advice!

Maura said...

It's hard NOT to want a close shave...I still get a close shave (and smooth legs!) but I exfoliate first. Exfoliating makes a lot of difference!

FunBlogger said...


Victor said...

Shaving bumps have been shown to be the result of the skin reacting to the trauma of shaving. Infection aggravates this, and one ends up with bumps. The solution is to apply something to calm the irritation and disinfect the skin soon after shaving.

Anonymous said...

does it look like a big pimple ??? do i just leave it alone i did pull out a hair in the same spot when it first started to form ,, ??? what do i do ??? should i just leave it alone? i have ha it for like a week now?

Barber Eile's Blog said...

To Anon: Ingrown hairs can get infected quite easily and they will look like a white=head pimple. If it is quite infected you need to be careful not to further aggrivate the skin. I know it's hard to leave it alone but if you must treat it try the following:
Firstly steam the skin or put a facecloth with warm water on the area to soften the skin.
Sterilize a clean, sharp needle and gently prick the head of the pimple.
wrap your fingers in tissue paper and gently using the pads of your fingers lightly squeeze the pimple until the infection is removed.
If at this point you can see the hair you can use a tweezer to just coax it out from under the skin. Do not pluck it.
Once the hair is out from under the skin place a cold facecloth on the area to stop any weeping and close the pore back up.
Let the skin heal with the hair now above the skin. Do not keep squeezing it and aggravating it.
Best Of Luck!

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