Skin care can be a bumpy ride. As if it weren't enough work fighting acne, you’ve also got to worry about how to prevent ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
These bumps result from follicles curling in on themselves and getting trapped beneath the surface of the skin. They can happen all over the body, but most guys struggle with them on their face and neck. They’re known medically as pseudofolliculitis barbae, if you want to add a Dr. House vibe to your morning routine.
But they’re not simply a fact of life—leveling up your shaving routine should be enough to prevent them. If they’re already here, there are ways to reduce the agony while they heal, whether you have one or 100 of them. And in the event of severe, persistent ingrowns, there are also ways you can try to remove the trapped hair yourself. However, you also need to know when it’s a task best left to the dermatologist—DIY bathroom surgery can leave you with an infection or just a wound that takes weeks or months to heal.
Razor Bumps Are More Common for Black Men
Coarse, curly hair is much more likely to turn back on itself and become ingrown, so razor bumps are a particularly vexing problem for many Black guys.
Lots of great products have hit the market lately in light of this fact. We are particular fans of Bevel, a whole line of products designed around the particular needs of Black hair and skin. (It would be at the top of our list of recommendations for anyone dealing with persistent razor bumps.)
Of course, the most fail-safe way to avoid ingrown hairs is to not shave at all—grow out your beard or maintain some perma-stubble with a beard trimmer. That’s a big part of the reason that workplace bans on facial hair are discriminatory.
How to Prevent Ingrown Hairs
The best way to prevent ingrowns is by shaving carefully with a fresh, sharp razor.
1. Start with an exfoliating cleanser.
Because razor bumps are caused by hair follicles trapped under skin, it's smart to gently scrub away any dead cells before you start.
2. Shave with a fresh, sharp blade.
This is the number-one thing—don't ever shave with a dull razor! We also recommend shaving with the grain of your hair’s growth, especially in irritation-prone areas.
Many guys find that an old-school double-edge safety razor helps prevent bumps and irritation. It's helpful that replacement blades are so cheap that there's never an excuse to not use a fresh one.
$75.00, Baxter of California
3. Hydrate and disinfect the skin immediately after shaving.
It's almost like you've wounded your face—you want to take steps to prevent infection and encourage healing.
How to Treat Razor Bumps If They’re Already Here
1. Use a soothing, gentle chemical exfoliant.
While it’s smart to use a physical scrub prior to shaving, you want to avoid any abrasion after any bumps appear. Instead, you want a gentle chemical exfoliant. Even though the word “chemical” sounds a bit aggressive, these products work gently to dissolve dead skin, neutralize bacteria, deflate the bumps, and thus encourage the trapped hairs to poke through the skin. (They’re also one of the best ways to achieve clear, radiant skin.)
2. Be patient.
Just as you must resist the urge to pop a pimple, you need to let your razor bumps heal on their own. And that sucks a lot. If you have a lot of them, many may resolve themselves within a day or two. It’s those more gnarly ones that you may need to address individually—the ones that seem to have squatted inside your skin and refuse to disappear on their own. Only once these outlier bumps reveal themselves will you need to take drastic measures.
3. Stop shaving the area, for now.
Regardless of where these razor bumps are, and even if it’s a single bump, you need to stop shaving for a while—at least until everything heals. This really should go without saying, but you’ll only further aggravate the situation. If you need to keep a fresh face, then sure, you could shave around a singular bump with extreme caution, but it’d be smarter to stick with an electric shaver for that task. Because they don't break the surface of the skin, they're an inherently bump-free way to shave.
4. Apply warm pressure while you wait.
Each day you can apply a warm press to the bumps in order to soothe and soften the skin and encourage the hair to release itself.
How to Remove the Hair Yourself
So it has come to this. The only way you should remove the hair yourself is if you can see it inside the bump—if it's not visible, be patient.
1. First, disinfect your tweezers.
Give them a thorough wash with hot water and soap.
2. Then apply a warm press to the skin.
Apply gentle but firm pressure for a minute. This softens the skin and encourages the hair to release itself.
3. Massage a physical scrub onto the bump.
The idea is to (gently!) encourage the bump to break open.
4. Use your tweezers to remove the hair, making sure to pluck as close to its roots as possible.
It's finally time to get that sucker out of there!
5. Disinfect the area with an alcohol-free toner or aftershave.
The last thing you want is for the bump to become newly infected.
6. Avoid shaving until everything heals.
Don’t give yourself a new set of problems: Let the wound heal for a day or two before you return to a normal shave.
When to See Your Dermatologist
You need to see a doctor if you have too many bumps that just won’t subside, or if you have one persistent ingrown hair so trapped you cannot locate it. Please don’t dig deep with the tweezers, and don’t go trying to squeeze the bumps, because they will only get further aggravated and will take far longer to heal, leaving little dark spots on your face for months after the bump is gone. Dermatologists have all sorts of methods up their sleeves, from prescription-grade remedies to careful, steady, and safe extractions.
Get smooth without irritation.
Originally Appeared on GQ