In an age when beards are not as popular as they once were, most modern day men conform to today’s expectations of sporting a clean shaven face. A ritual most men perform almost daily; it still has its challenges and misconceptions.
Possibly more than anyone else, African American men are confronted with a particular problem that requires special attention in order to manage. Pseudofolliculitis barbae, a medical term for persistent irritation caused by shaving, is a result of what is better known as the dreaded ingrown hair. Most men have experienced this nuisance from time to time, but due to the curliness of the black man’s hair, it is an issue that constantly needs to be addressed, so that it can be avoided.
When curly hair is cut too short from a close shave, causing it to go below the skin’s surface, it has a tendency to curl inside the hair follicle as it grows, never leaving the follicle; causing it to grow into the lower layers of the skin, instead of growing up through the hair follicle and out past the skin. Hair doesn’t have to be curly to become ingrown, but this is the typical cause for black men and anyone who has naturally coarse or tightly curling hair. Ingrown hair brings with it a host of problems - from discomfort and razor bumps, to infection and scarring.
I’ve spoken with a lot of men about their shaving techniques, and have compiled what I believe to be a list of the most effective tips on shaving to achieve a problem free, flawless complexion.
- Many men chose not to use a razor, but instead use a depilatory – a chemical method of shaving – which is a viable alternative to shaving with a razor. A cream that is applied to the face, neck or head, and left on for several minutes, eliminates the need to shave everyday. Using a depilatory daily is not recommended because of its potential to irritate the skin if overused, or left on the skin too long. Depilatories should not be used if the skin is inflamed, has sores, pustules, abrasions, or is broken in anyway. Still, it is a skin friendly product when used properly; which reduces the occurrence of ingrown hair. Today’s depilatories are improved, and are often less irritating and milder than older brands.
- There is no one razor that is perfect for everyone, but what is agreed upon is – it must be sharp. Reuse a razor or blade from three to five times, and then throw it away. Seems like a waste, but a dull blade is your worst enemy. A dull blade requires shaving the skin multiple times in order to get close, which can cause irritation. Over-shaving, also, increases your chances of improperly cutting the hair, resulting in ingrown hair. Electric razor blades need to be replaced as soon as they begin getting dull. Often, this is every few months, but is based on the amount of usage. Remember to wipe razor heads with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to fight bacteria.Some men prefer a single blade, or double edge (DE) razor, over double, triple and quadruple blade razor systems because they aren’t as sharp due to less blades, and tend not to pull hair like the multi-blade razors. The housing for these razors has improved over the years, and some brands now have safety features. Although a sharp blade is best, a razor that is too sharp can sabotage your attempt to eliminate ingrown hair and razor bumps because of its ability to cut the hair too short.
- Soften hair before shaving by applying warm water, or a moist warm towel, to the skin. Immediately afterwards, lather up with a good quality shaving cream, preferably one for sensitive skin; covering the entire area to be shaved. Allow the cream to sit on the skin for a minute or two to soften the hair for easier removal.
- Always shave in the direction the hair grows. Never shave against the hair growth, despite how close the shave would be. Shaving against the hair will only cause irritation and ingrown hair. For most men, shaving “with” the hair means shaving downward, towards the floor. Avoid pulling the skin tight while shaving because this, too, will add to the likelihood of ingrown hair.
- If possible, avoid shaving everyday. Time off for your skin means time for it to heal; resulting in fresher, healthier skin. Another benefit of shaving less frequently is the hair will have more of an opportunity to grow out properly; not being constantly compromised. Over-shaving only exasperates the situation, making imperfections worse.
- Complete your shaving routine with an aftershave or toner that has both astringent and moisturizing properties. Toners help remove shaving cream residue, close pores, fight infection and refresh the skin. Products containing witch hazel are a good choice. Avoid using rubbing alcohol or alcohol based aftershaves because they are very drying and can cause ashiness. If you have ingrown hair and razor bumps, use a product specifically designed to soothe and heal the skin, reducing redness and discomfort.
- Exfoliate your skin if it is not irritated or broken out. Exfoliating’s gentle scrubbing action takes off a thin top layer of dead skin, much like shedding, revealing new, softer skin that allows hair to grow out more easily. It, also, cleans and unclogs pores and evens out skin tones. Be sure to use a mild exfoliator that is labeled for facial use. Do not exfoliate too often; limiting it to once or twice a week. Do not rub too vigorously or hard for that will damage skin tissue. If at any time irritation and discomfort occur, discontinue usage until your skin heals.
- For severe or prolonged cases of inflammation, razor bumps or breakouts, see a doctor. Dermatologists and General Practitioners are two types of doctors who deal with skin issues.
All men struggle with shaving problems from time to time. Paying attention to details, and taking time to exercise preventative measures will be worth your investment. Happy shaving!
by Aaron Marino