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Getting a jump on razor bumps

House Calls

Gerald W. Deas M.D., MPH | 7/17/2014, 11:14 a.m.
A few weeks ago, I went to get a haircut, only to find that the shop was closed, and the ...
Dr. Gerald Deas

A few weeks ago, I went to get a haircut, only to find that the shop was closed, and the barber that I had visited for many years was not there. There was no sign or reason as to why he left. Needing a cut very badly, I visited another shop in the area. When I entered, there were six barbers and a load of heads waiting to be trimmed.

After an hour or so, I was next on the list but was told that I had to have an appointment. (By the way, many patients in my office never had appointments.) At that point, I left.

I am from the old school: You went to the barber when you needed a haircut. Often, they didn’t even show you the finished job in a mirror. Today, the new man on the block is making a statement with his head. The barber is now an artist, using the head as the canvas and his razor as his brush. He is now considered the head and neck surgeon of the barber industry.

Do you know that the only person who can use an instrument as sharp as a razor outside of an operating room is a barber? In yesteryear, a surgeon who operated on folks without any consideration of sanitation would hang his blood-soaked bandages on a pole to dry out. As the wind would blow, the dried, bloody gauze would wrap around the pole, creating a red and white image like a peppermint stick. Ultimately, this image became part of the landscape in front of the barbershop. I recall my barber had one of these poles that even mechanically turned.

Today, real men are now paying more attention to their head and face and wish to make a statement. When they walk into a barbershop, they want to have a new image. Some men feel that a bald head gives them a look of defiance. Many cops get this cut. Other men have extensions, making the hair look longer. White men braid theirs. Old men color theirs to look younger, although they walk and talk like old men. Young folks are having their names sculpted into their hair. That’s all right if you have a short name, such as Sam, Lou, T.J., Gus or Abe. This style cannot be carried out if your name is Alexander. It just doesn’t fit.

Now let me get to the main subject of razor bumps, which present as a nodule, papules or pustules (small abscesses). This condition is known as pseudofolliculitis (pseu-do-fo-llic-cu-litis) barbae. It is caused by short, sharp hairs reentering the scalp after they have been cut too short. The edges of the cut hairs are very sharp and can turn into the scalp, setting up an infection. It has been reported that 50 percent of Black men and 3 percent of white men have a tendency to develop this lesion when the hair is cut too short. When a break in the scalp occurs, infection can also set in from the germs that are present on the scalp. The hands and instruments of the barber can also cause infection. When a surgeon operates, he is required to wash his hands for a certain period and is then assisted into his gloves. I don’t believe I have ever seen a barber wash his hands between haircuts. Even the razor strap used for sharpening the razor is filled with germs. Barber shops, like restaurants, should have adequate facilities for barbers to wash their hands between clients.