Curly hair looks cute on a little boy. When he gets old enough to shave, however, those same curls can become a curse, causing uncomfortable, unsightly ingrown hairs.
Curly-haired men, particularly African Americans, get curls on the cheeks and neck as well as on the head. The hair sometimes just curls right back on itself. When the tip of the hair re-enters the skin, it's called an ingrown hair.
Ingrown hairs are also known as razor bumps, because they're usually aggravated by shaving. Another term for them is pseudofolliculitis barbae. Pseudo means false; the bumps appear to be infections of the oil gland or hair follicle (folliculitis), but they aren't. The skin does, however, become irritated at the point the hair actually curls into the skin.
Women are not immune to this shaving malady. It happens sometimes after shaving the places a skimpy bikini won't cover.
The solution for both men and women: Stop shaving altogether. Short of that, following are a few other home remedies to consider:
Go with the grain. Shave in the direction your hair grows. Facial hair grows downward on the cheeks, straight out on the chin, downward below the jawbone, and upward along the lower neck, usually below the Adam's apple.
Hang up your razor for a day or two. Particularly if your razor bumps have become infected, you will do more damage if you shave over them. Giving the skin a break from the razor, and washing the affected areas with an antibacterial soap in the meantime, will usually end the inflammation.
Shave more often. Shaving more frequently, but with a lighter touch, can help prevent ingrown hairs. This applies especially to young men whose beards are just coming in.
Lift them out. Before shaving, take a straight pin, a pair of tweezers, or a beard pick and carefully lift out any ingrown hairs. Don't pick or dig at them, which can damage the skin further and open the door to infection.
Get ready to shave. To lessen the trauma from shaving, prepare your beard and your skin before you pick up that razor. Make sure your skin is softened with warm water or towels and is wet from tap water or the shower. Never apply foam or soap to a dry surface.
Avoid electric. Electric shavers sometimes cause the hair to go in all sorts of directions -- up and down, back and forth, round and round. That's no help at all when you're trying to shave with the grain.
Train your whiskers. Shave in the exact same direction (using the directions given in the first remedy) every day, and don't press too hard. After a few weeks, your whiskers will be growing out straight. Well, at least they won't be so curly.
Change your blade. If you're using a double- or triple-track razor, you're probably shaving too close for the good of your skin. Switch to a single-track, disposable razor or, better still, an old-fashioned safety razor, so you can adjust the closeness of your shave.
Sharpen up. A dull razor blade will make the problem worse. Use a new razor blade every time you shave.
Change your collar. Avoid wearing shirts with stiff, high collars that rub against the skin of your neck. The neck is the site of most ingrown hairs and razor bumps, so try not to wear clothing that will aggravate the problem.