Folliculitis is a combination of inflammation and mild infection of the hair follicle. It can be caused from improper product use to chronic irritation. It could occur anywhere on the body where there is hair but it is mostly is seen in the groin area, arms, legs, back and face. The beard area on men can look like it has acne with pinpoint raised pimple looking lesions but are irritated/inflamed hair follicles. Secondary mild infections can make these lesions look pustular.
The biggest offender in the beard area is shaving. I want to focus on the shaving strategy and the ART OF THE SHAVE. Regardless of race or age most daily shavers struggle with razor burn, bumps or ingrown hairs or maybe all three.
Timing of the shave is important. It doesn’t matter when but it does matter where it should occur after a shower or at a sink on a moist skin.
Skin prepping should vary depending on the skin type. The majority of men don’t even consider this. It is important that the skin be warmed that the pores are open and the beard hairs have been plumped with moisture.
Normal – Normal Dry
These faces need the less prep prior to a shave. What is important is that the face is warm/moist while in the shower or immediately after at a sink prior to shaving.
An exfoliant will help to scrub bacteria and skin debris. A good exfoliant should have a texture of fine sand that can be mixed with a cleanser and worked in a circular motion all over the face with more pressure in the beard area. Rinse well with water.
Dry-Sensitive or Acne Prone
Exfoliants are a no no. A use of them can increase dryness and irritate and spread acne. The face and neck should be extra warm and moist. Cleanser should be an enzyme based for dry sensitive skin. Acne prone skin requires cleanser with salicylic acid and glycolic acid and exfoliates without grit. For faces with pustule and cystic acne shaving is out until the acne can be treated and when there is less open lesions. It is best to use a beard trimmer. Trying to clear the beard has a high risk of spreading infection throughout deeper layer of the skin along with promoting bleeding and pain from the pustule.
Seek help from a medical spa or from a dermatologist to have access to effective topical or oral medications to clear the acne and provide safe and effective cleansers. Laser and Skin Care has a dedicated acne program that will allow for treatments covered through Alberta Health Care.
Shave prep is often skipped by most men. A pre shave oil, such as American Crew Ultra Gliding Shave Oil, provides an invisible layer to cushion and provide some glide. These products are usually clear and for some with minimal stubble will get a pain free/close shave.
A shaving cream like Aveeno that has a lubricant with an oatmeal base will work for everyone. Massage it well into the skin and remoisten as needed. There has been a trend away from highly scented shaving creams due to increase problem with allergic reactions to these.
Coarser denser beard do well with a badger hair shaving brush that lifts the hair, exfoliates underneath and lubricates the skin.
The closest best shave is with a classic straight razor or a safety razor. This is definitely what defines the art in shaving. Visit an old school barber, there are a few still around or many salons will offer a “grooming specialist” to learn. For the majority, the cartridge blade is popular. Despite the marketing ploys, there is no need for more than a 2-3 blade cartridge. A shave involves going over the same area at least twice, that’s 6-9 blades! Plenty!
The Step by Step Shave
Become familiar with the directions of the beard growth. Generally cheeks to jawline hair grows downward. It’s important to keep the area to be shaved taut so pull down on the neck. Start at the middle to bottom of the earlobe of in front of the earlobe and draw the blade along the jaw to the nose and chin area. Keep rinsing the blade with warm water. Repeat on the other side. The neck often takes the brunt of nicks. The hair is usually growing upward but not always in straight lines. Keep the skin extra taut helps those valleys and folds from unwanted cuts. Again, start at below the ears and work up until the chin is reached. Remember to keep adding cream or water for efficient blading.
The lip can be a bit tricky. Draw the top lip down over the teeth and keep tight. Shave straight down in minimal passes. Avoid side swipes and slow down close to the lip margin. When attacking the lower lip and chin the hair usually grows down. Curl the bottom lip over the teeth and keep the chin skin tight and take short single downwards strokes, again avoiding slanting. Keep the area moist. Shaving is not a competition or a race so take time to learn the angles of the face.
If any areas are missed post check, re-cream and go slightly diagonal, never against the grain. That is a common culprit of creating ingrown hairs.
Lastly, rinse with cool water and dab to dry.
Some men like a post shave toner or balm, such as Aveeno Men’s After Shave Lotion, Fragrance Free. These act as an astringent to close pores as well as reduces bacterial spread and reduce irritation. Again, it is best to avoid perfume balms or heavy tick products if prone to folliculitis. Balms, unless they are considered a medical grade are not recommended for acne skin. It is better to apply a topical acne product recommended by your doctor or aesthetician.
Moisturizers are key to calm, repair and hydrate the shaved areas. For problem skin, seek advice from a skin doctor or a spa that carries science based products.
Shaving takes practice to become quick and efficient with zero nicks.
I hope this brief review of the art of shaving will help avoid the unwanted left over result of hair follicle irritation – folliculitis.
Over the counter:
Aveeno shaving cream
Zo Gentle Cleanser (can be used as a shave cream)
Zo Exfoliating Polish
Skin Medica Ultra Sheer
Visit acne treatments in the service column on our website to learn about the dedicated acne program.