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Shaving, Ingrown Hairs, and Beard Bumps

I have patients that commonly present to my clinic for ingrown hairs in the beard, on the scalp, and on all body sites subjected to shaving. Certain individuals are more prone to ingrown bumps. The development of these bumps is two-fold.

First, the structure of the hair increases the risk of developing ingrown bumps. The curliness of a hair depends on the number of disulfide bonds (these are the bonds broken or created with a chemical process such as relaxers and perms, respectively). The higher the number of bonds, the curlier the hair. African Americans have a high number of disulfide bonds hence tight curls when the hair is in its natural state and hence a higher risk of developing ingrown hairs.

Second, when the hair is cut below the skin surface, which occurs with clean shaves, the hair is cut at a sharp angle. When the hair regrows, it curls into the skin and causes inflammation. This inflammation can start with a small red bump, which is commonly known as an ingrown hair bump. Over time, the hair may grow out of the skin but may cause residual scar tissue, discoloration of the skin (red or dark marks), and possibly a keloid, a type of thick scar.

A lot of the treatments are aimed at prevention. Following these simple steps can help prevent ingrown hairs in the future:

  1. Trim. Try trimming with clippers instead of razor blades. This will prevent the hairs from being cut below the skin surface therefore preventing ingrown hairs. If you desire the smooth shave appearance and want a permanent fix, consider laser hair removal.
  2. Exfoliate. Use a gentle exfoliant daily to remove dirt and debris that can clog pores and further cause ingrown hairs.
  3. Wash & Steam. Wash area at least daily and use a warm towel to perform a steam treatment to further open the pores. I tell patients to do this especially prior to a shave. This will moisten skin and help prevent razor burns.
  4. Try a Foam. Use a shaving foam without too much slip (not too slippery) so you don’t slide over hairs and miss them while shaving. This will prevent you from having to make multiple passes to one area and prevent irritation of the skin which can cause swelling and shrinkage of the pores covering hairs below the surface of the skin.
  5. Don’t Dig. A common habit is to dig into the skin and remove the trapped ingrown hair. This is the last resort, and I strongly discourage this as it can leave pock-mark or icepick-like scars and discolor the skin from injury.
  6. Use an Antibacterial Product. Try using a tea tree oil cleanser or moisturizer which has antibacterial properties.

Some individuals may be prone to acne-like lesions in hair-barren areas. These individuals will require oral or topical prescription medications. If the above steps do not help, contact your local dermatologist to find a treatment regimen that will work for you. Share any remedies that may have worked for you.