Ah, razor bumps. There’s no man on earth who welcomes the sight (and feel) of them, they all want to know how to avoid razor bumps and how to avoid ingrown hairs. Way to ruin the usual pleasure of grooming yourself properly…
Unfortunately, black men have it especially bad with ingrown hairs and bumps.
I’ve mentioned before that I worked as a barber for a few years. Most of my African American clients suffered from razor bumps. Sometimes the issue was lack of any prep work before shaving. Other times they had tried various methods, but failed to reduce the irritation.
In this post I’ll do my best to bounce some ideas off the wall. Proper shaving for black males can be a bit more demanding and tricky. Let’s explore the issue and its possible solutions:
- Why black men suffer from razor bumps so much?
- How to improve shaving for black males
- Helpful African American shaving products that can help you out
- Advice on picking a proper razor for black men
Why do black men suffer from razor bumps?
The answer is simple: these beautiful curly locks a lot of black men have. While inspiring awe in straight hair people like me, curly hair can be a real pain, which is why you need to know how to avoid razor bumps.
The reason? Coarser or curly hair doesn’t grow out as easily as straight hair once it’s been cut/trimmed. Instead, it curls back into your skin, growing underneath. As you can guess, the follicle doesn’t like this, so it gets infected.
It is exactly this irritation that leads to the frustrating inconvenience we call a razor bump. Even worse – if you repeatedly shave after the inflammation has set in, the issue escalates. If you’re not careful, a bump can turn into a scar. Before you end up with scars, you need to take control back and get rid of those bumps. If you’re at your wits end and think you may always have ingrown hairs to deal with, you’re in luck. There is a way out.
There’s a few things you can try out to improve your shaving experience as a black man.
How to prevent razor bumps for black males?
You need to follow a strict routine if you want to minimize or even fully prevent these pesky boys. If you haven’t done anything yet, here’s a basic take on shaving for black males:
1. Prepare your skin
You have to clean and soften your skin up to reduce possible inflammations. You can either take a hot shower, or go for the hot towel technique.
The latter involves grabbing a clean towel and pouring hot water from your faucet over it. Apply the towel to those areas you’ll shave or areas where you have especially bad razor burns. The goal here is to open your pores for a smoother shave.
It takes time to get the skin and stubble really charged with water and open up from the heat. Make sure you are leaving that towel on there for at least five minutes. You’ll probably have to do this twice since the towel will likely cool down after just a few minutes.
Keep the razor clean and sharp
Keeping your razor in good condition is good practice even if you don’t have ingrown hairs. Razors are expensive and the cleaner you keep them the longer they last. There’s no sense in throwing money away when you only need to take a few seconds each day to clean your blades.
If you do have ingrown hairs then this alone is worth the extra effort as a dull, dirty blade only makes your condition worse.
After every shave, make sure that your blade is free of hair. Use a toothbrush to wipe away any stubborn hairs in there is needed. Hair is very acidic and will dull your blades. And dull blades are more likely to lead to ingrown hairs since the hair is not cut cleanly.
Now, you need to disinfect, so dip the whole head in some rubbing alcohol to kill any germs that might be sitting on the blade.
You can keep your cartridge style blade sharp by using a Blade Buddy from Amazon.com or something similar. These cheap little gadgets will keep your blade sharp for a long time. You’ll save money but also get a better shave for longer. Don’t try reviving an old dull blade with it since it can only maintain an edge and can’t sharpen one that is already dull.
Exfoliate the skin
One of the reasons your hair is growing up under skin is that you need to remove the top layer of skin where the cut edge of the hair is snagging.
The best thing to do is not just to wash your face but to exfoliate.
Exfoliating will remove dead skin cells and clear away your clogged pores. You only need to do this once or twice a week and the day before you shave. Especially if you have sensitive skin as it exposes the softer, newer skin underneath and may feel uncomfortable if you shave right away.
If you shave in the morning then do this the night before when you are heading to bed and your face will be ready in the morning.
There are a lot of different exfoliants for men that are formulated for different skin types. Make sure you get one that suits your oily, dry or sensitive skin to make sure you get the most out of it.
Alternatively, you can exfoliate your face while you shave by doing a wet shave routine. Using a shaving brush not only prepares your skin for a great shave, but the brush also works like an exfoliant and clears away any dead skin cells and opens the pores.
Don’t forget using a gentle soap and conditioner, this is a key step in learning how to avoid razor bumps. The soap will clean your skin so there’s no dirt risking further inflammation. The conditioner makes your hair soft, thus allowing for any razor/trimmer to glide through it easier.
If you are already showing signs of the ingrown hairs you need to get rid of those first by using an acne cream. Since they are infected, there is puss in the follicles so getting rid of that should be the first step. Once your skin is treated, then your preventative routine should be much easier.
In case you have longer facial hair, like a beard, you should also properly comb through it.
2. Keep the basic rules of black men shaving in mind
Alright, you’re ready for action. However, don’t think you can just hack your way through your curly/coarse hair. Even if you did the prep work flawlessly, it’ll be in vain if you don’t follow a few important things.
The first thing is the foam. Yes, foam. I recommend you either use a shaving foam for black men, or get a special shaving gel for sensitive skin. Aveeno’s skin relief gel from Amazon.com should do the job properly.
The second thing: never, ever shave against the grain! Black men’s ingrown hairs are very frequently caused by this. Instead, go with the grain, shaving downwards with careful, slow motions.
Why? Going against the grain gives a closer shave on the first try for sure. However, it also leads to hair ends digging below your skin’s surface. A sure way to get yourself quite a few razor bumps!
Not applying too much pressure is an equally crucial point. That’s right, let the razor slide smoothly across your skin, resting on it. Not digging into it!
You should be using a sharp razor, and if it is, then let the razor do the work. You shouldn’t need to put any pressure to get a smooth shave if your razor is nice and sharp.
Note: An exception would be you using a straight/safety razor and being on your third pass or so. In this case you can shave against the grain, as you’ve already cut enough of the hairs on the first and second passes.
The legendary Larry the Barber Man also puts an emphasis on how important shaving direction is as a treatment for razor bump prevention for black males.
3. Don’t forget the aftercare
Shaving is basically inflicting quite the few cuts on your skin. Think of it as a gentle wound, ready to get irritated/infected any time if you’re not careful.
What does this mean?
You got it: you should take a few precautions. There’s three types of products you can use to calm down your skin and prevent inflammation:
- Aftershave (the standard approach)
- An astringent like Witch Hazel from Amazon.com
- An alum block like Gentleman Jon from Amazon.com
It’s honestly up to you which one you pick. However, please don’t mix all of these! Pick one and stick to it or use them on separate shaves, never together.
Don’t skip this step! Your ingrown hairs already have bacteria. When you shave you are spreading that bacteria around. So, if you have another hair grow in under the skin, then it is more likely to become infected. Using an aftershave or Witch Hazel is not just to tighten and tone the skin, it also disinfects the skin after your shave.
Once you have picked the right product, make sure you use it after every shave. If you feel like you would like something that smells nice, then you’ll love picking out an aftershave with a classic scent.
While my situation differs as I don’t have that curly of a hair, I enjoy the witch hazel solution:
If you have especially serious razor burn/razor bump issues, consider Bump Patrol from Amazon.com. It’s essentially an aftershave specifically produced to reduce ingrown hairs in black men. Once you apply it, wait for 1-3 minutes so it dries out.
After waiting on either of these African American shaving products drying out, apply your moisturizer. This further ensures your hair will grow softer before the next cut and reduces risks of irritation.
Keeping your skin on point will ensure you stay bump free. When your skin is rough and dry, you’re more likely to have those hairs growing under the outside layer of skin. Keeping the skin soft will allow those tougher hairs to make their way through and prevent bumps later on. Take an all over approach to preventing ingrown hairs for better results. A bonus is that your skin will look better anyway!
Important note for people with acne!! No doubt, acne is yet another nightmare for any black male who just likes to keep himself properly groomed.
The key point here would be gentle exfoliation! You can either do it manually or by using a chemical agent (like the popular Salicylic acid solution.) I can’t stress how important that is.
At the same time, I have to admit I’m far from an acne expert. I can, however, recommend you an incredibly in-depth, scientifically researched guide on understanding and battling acne.
Quite a few takeaways from this guide and you can apply them to make your shaves a smoother experience in the long-term.
Consider a good safety razor for black skin
Here’s the thing: multiple blade razors are sometimes a very poor fit with the sensitive skin of black men. Why? Because they’re very prone to putting the cut below the skin. If you remember, that’s exactly how a razor bump forms.
What might work better for you is a safety razor for black men. Safety razors are more gentle to sensitive skin, cut smoother and while they require a bit more work, will reduce your bumps for sure.
Why? Because they don’t cut below the skin. Instead, they cut parallel to the skin, ensuring exactly the safety more sensitive black skin needs.
The blade also cuts the hair cleanly. It is extremely sharp, much sharper than a regular multi blade cartridge razor. So it cuts straight across the hair making it glide right out through the skin. Other razors, especially if they are not sharp, tear the hair up leaving it with frayed edges that are begging to get caught up on your skin.
How to remove ingrown hairs
Ok, I know what you’re saying. Great I can avoid ingrown hair but I already have those bumps. How do I get rid of them?
There are a few things you can do to get rid of the ingrown hairs you already have and then all you have to do is to follow the steps in this article to keep them from coming back.
Yes, it is not the advice you wanted to hear. You want to get rid of them now. In time most ingrown hairs will go away on their own. If you just leave them alone and do everything I already recommended in this article then you will see them just go away. Doing it this way is actually your best bet since there won’t be any scars left and it is pain free.
Just wait it out after you’ve started doing things like using a sharper razor and exfoliating your skin. After a couple of weeks if you don’t see any improvement then move on to the next step.
If your ingrown is particularly stubborn, you’ll need to get more proactive and actually pull it out.
Don’t just grab tweezers and rip it out. This will hurt, it will bleed, you risk getting a scar and also spreading the bacteria around causing more razor bumps.
Instead set yourself up first.
Have some tweezers handy that you have disinfected with some rubbing alcohol. Then take a towel that has been soaked with hot water and ring it out until it is no longer dripping.
Place it over the infected area and let it stay there until it starts to cool down.
Use the sharp end of the tweezers to kind of tease out the hair. You may need to break through the skin if it didn’t open up already from the compress you used.
Work it around gently until you have the hair poking out of the skin and you can get a firm grasp of it with the tweezers.
Gently pull it out making sure you got the root an all.
Now, repeat this with the rest of the razor bumps if you have more. Some may be very stubborn and not come out so easily. Don’t force it. Give those ones some time like a few days or maybe even longer. If you try to dig it out you may get a worse infection and even push the hair further into the skin making it harder to get out even if you leave it.
Then when you are finished wash your face with a good cleansing soap and finish up with some Witch Hazel to get rid of any bacteria so it doesn’t spread.
A very good community to start your journey would be Reddit’s Wicked Edge subreddit. Quite a few of my clients were fans of Merkur straight razors. The brand’s MK 23C safety razor for black skin should be a good beginner pick for you.
Perhaps you’re not only looking for bump-free grooming on your face? In your efforts to learn how to avoid razor bumps, how to avoid ingrown hairs and in case you’re looking for shaving for black males – but on your head, we’ve got you covered.
Check out our list with the best hair clippers for black men’s hair. All of them should take proper care of your scalp (or face if you want to beard trim!) without causing you issues.