Although laser hair removal may alleviate the suffering of those with ingrown beard hairs – a condition known as pseudofolliculitis barbae – the condition can’t be cured permanently. Dr Jonathan Smith discusses this problem.
Even though pseudofolliculitis barbae is a true inflammation of the hair follicle, the inflammation occurs due to ‘mechanical irritation’ and not because of a primary microbial infection. The condition is genetically-determined – those who develop it inherit very tough beard hair. These hairs can’t be cut parallel to the skin surface, but are dragged out of their follicles and cut off skew (ie with a sharp point). The natural recoil results in a sharp-pointed hair being trapped in its sheath – what’s commonly known as ‘ingrown’.
When the sharp point penetrates the sheath, inflammation and secondary infection occurs, resulting in red papules, yellow pustules and scarring. Unfortunately, the nature of one’s beard hair can’t be changed so that this problem is usually chronic, although it does improve as one ages and the hairs become softer.
The obvious solution to this “mechanical” problem is to grow a beard. Members of the police and armed forces regularly visit dermatologists to acquire a ‘beard pass’. Hairs can also be permanently “lasered away”, but many men don’t find this ‘loss of masculinity’ acceptable.
Systemic (antibiotics, especially tetracyclines) and topical (keratolytics and antimicrobials) therapeutic modalities are effective in the short term, but can’t cure this chronic problem.
The following shaving hints tend to bring some relief:
Use a single blade, preferably a guarded one
Always ensure that the blade is sharp – use once, maximum twice
Wait for 5 minutes once the shaving cream has been applied before starting to shave – this is by far the MOST IMPORTANT hint as the hairs are then softer when shaved
Shave in the direction of beard hair growth
Don’t pull on the skin while shaving
Lasermed offers laser treatments for ingrown beard hairs.