Its medical name is Pseudofolliculitis Barbae:
Or, more commonly, “razor bumps” or “shaving bumps”. It appears as papules, pustules and abscesses on the skin after shaving. Repeated shaving of the bumps can lead to long-term scarring.
Despite its name, pseudofolliculitis barbae is certainly not a pseudoproblem. Bleeding, inflammation and pain are some of the symptoms.
It was first described and named in 1956:
By Dr John Strauss and Dr Albert Kligman. In their experiment, they demonstrated reduction of skin rash after stopping shaving, and recurrence upon restarting.
It cost people their career:Writing in 1974, Major Alvin Alexander of the US Army Medical Centre makes an impassioned plea for the ban on beards to be lifted within the US Military, recognising that, for many servicemen, shaver’s rash was a cause of great distress.
In 1969 the US Navy (like the Royal Navy long before) first accepted the “voluntary growth of a beard” for its personnel. Before then it was not uncommon for US Marines to be discharged due to disagreements about shaving - even in cases of severe rash (now thought to be a racist ploy, since shaver’s rash is more likely on black skin).
It’s caused by ingrowing hairs:
(And curly hairs are more likely to ingrow). Once the skin is penetrated by the ingrowing hair, an inflammatory response occurs and pustules develop. If they become infected, painful abscesses can form. Ceasing shaving for about four weeks allows beard hairs to grow and pull their ingrown tips from the skin. Take a look at this NHS article that goes into more detail about ingrown hairs.
It may be genetic:
Men with shaver’s rash frequently acknowledge that their father and/or brother(s) also have the condition; a genetic predisposition is therefore thought likely.
Women are at risk too. Major Alexander, whilst writing about shaver’s rash in the military, also mentions two women with shaver’s rash. One suffered from facial hirsutism (excessive hair growth due to raised levels of testosterone) and facial shaving caused rash; another developed rash after shaving her pubic area.
It can be treated by drugs and chemicals:
If you can’t or don’t want to grow a beard to avoid shaving rash, then you can remove facial hair with chemical creams, though this is time-consuming, somewhat smelly - and can still irritate the skin. Laser hair removal and electrolysis are other ways to remove hair.
Alternatively, shave away and treat the pustules medically. Vitamin A, a common treatment for acne, can be used; antibiotics and steroid creams may also help.
Shaving is still possible when prone to shaver’s rash:
If beards, chemicals or drugs are not your preference, then safe shaving is still possible.
Pre-shave exfoliation and hydration releases ingrown hairs and softens hair for removal; post-shave moisturisation soothes skin. A good shave foam or gel, meanwhile, can improve razor-glide, lessening skin damage.